Книга - Newborn Needs a Dad


Newborn Needs a Dad
Dianne Drake

Newborn Needs a Dad

Dianne Drake

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

Table of Contents

Cover Page (#u2ea08c0a-f9e4-5383-877a-75717274821f)

Title Page (#u12150619-7f5a-58da-9301-42fed30a6e87)

Dear Reader (#u002f048b-948d-5e3c-905c-00d0adc6fa3f)

Chapter One (#u6a1b8103-f7a3-5952-a9ca-555963b53989)

Chapter Two (#u31acfa19-779a-5322-8499-2e70a81edfd0)

Chapter Three (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Four (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Five (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo)

Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo)

Epilogue (#litres_trial_promo)

Copyright (#litres_trial_promo)

Dear Reader

Welcome to the most idyllic spot I can imagine—White Elk. It’s a perfect little village, nestled in the valley between three looming mountain peaks called The Three Sisters by the locals. The people are friendly, the village is picturesque and, according to Indian lore, The Three Sisters protect everyone within their shadows.

Does White Elk exist? In a sense, yes. My husband’s parents retired to a place much as I envision White Elk to be. It’s lovely. The people there smile at strangers and welcome them in. And the mountains…I love to stand in the valley and look up at them, but, more than that, I love to go up to the various peaks and look out across the valley. I’m a city girl. I’ll admit it. But when I write these books I rarely set them in the city because I love to escape, just for a little while. I hope you love your visit to the little village of White Elk as much as I did!

Wishing you health and happiness!

Dianne Drake

PS I love to hear from my readers. Please visit my website at www.DianneDrake.com. Also, feel free to e-mail me at Dianne@DianneDrake.com, and tell me about the places in this world you love.

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.


WHAT a beautiful little village! Dr Gabrielle Evans breathed a sigh of relief, shutting off her car in the parking spot marked Guests, in front of the quaint White Elk Lodge. She’d lived in large cities too many years. Indoctrinated herself to fast pace and convenience. Nothing about the village called White Elk seemed fast, or convenient and, right now, that suited her just fine. She was tired and, physically, she needed this stop. Surprisingly, it seemed right for her emotionally, too. Even if only for a night. Maybe two, if the bed was comfortable, the food good, a fire in the fireplace inviting, because she did have just the slightest backache, she was hungry, and the mood to settle in and be cozy was dropping down over her like a soft blanket. So much so she could picture herself sitting in front of a great stone fireplace, feet up, dozing off from pure contentment.

Nesting. Which was to be expected in her condition.

Besides, hadn’t she seen a little boutique on Main Street, one with the name Handmade for Baby? That was all the excuse she needed for a short holiday here. That, and her swollen ankles. Pregnant-swollen was what she called it when her patients had the same problem. Pregnant-swollen ankles, pregnant-swollen belly. Not to worry, she would say. It’s a temporary condition.

Well, temporary condition or not, she felt like stopping. Something about White Elk appealed to her sense of esthetics. It was a homey little town, its narrow streets lined with pine trees and old-fashioned streetlamps, and white picket fences surrounded the cottage homes she’d seen from her car on the way in. Cottage homes…she’d always wanted to live in a cottage. All in all, everything she’d seen so far in this Alpine-styled village was the antithesis of her steel-and-chrome condo back in Chicago, where she lived in the middle of a mixed residential and industrial area, overlooking a frantic, elevated railway on one side and the bumper-to-bumper Chicago interstate system on the other. Her wake-up call in the morning was the honking of agitated motorists trying to inch their way through impossible traffic and her lullaby at night was the clacking of the old train over the el rails.

And here in White Elk…no traffic. Just a few lazy drivers on the street, none who seemed agitated, none who seemed in a hurry. That, alone, could have been an enticement to stay over, if everything else she could see around her hadn’t already drawn her in. Besides, the drive back to the airport was still another ninety miles, and her reservation home to Chicago wasn’t until tomorrow. Meaning she was going to stay in a hotel room for the night somewhere. So, why not here? “And it’s not like I’ve got anything to hurry back to,” she said aloud, a habit she’d developed since she’d learned she was pregnant. Talking to her unborn baby…it’s what she urged her patients to do, and in this case, she took her own advice. Chattered away to him all the time. “Anyway, what’s the hurry getting back? It’s not like I have a job waiting for me any more. Right now, I’m here, and here seems very nice. You should see it, Bryce. People smile. Perfect strangers wave.”

Yes, a night or two here was exactly what the pregnant doctor needed, which was why she prescribed it for herself.

Gabby pulled out her cell phone and dialed the number posted under the wooden, hand-carved Welcome sign nailed to a lodgepole. It was a lazy thing to do, but all of a sudden she felt like being a little lazy. After the day she’d had, she deserved some laziness and a nice cup of hot chocolate on top of that! “Hello,” she said, when the woman who called herself Laura Stewart answered the phone. “I was wondering if you have a room available for one night.” She glanced across the street and discovered the little shop White Elk Confectionary, specializing in chocolate. Fate? “Maybe two nights,” she added, because she really did want that chocolate. Sure, it was almost spring—technically spring had sprung a few days ago, but there was still snow on the ground here, in patchy spots, so in Gabby’s mind she was allowed her craving for hot chocolate. “One person,” she added. Well, almost two.

According to Laura, there were plenty of rooms available, so Gabby crawled out of her rental car, stretched her aching back, decided not to look down in the inevitable lost cause of locating her puffy ankles, which she couldn’t see now anyway, and forced herself not to waddle when she walked inside, although several friends back home had recently commented on her waddling.

“That didn’t take long,” the friendly-looking strawberry blonde at the desk said as Gabby dropped her overnight bag on the floor and her purse on the desk.

“I was just outside. Called from the parking lot. These days, if I can find a way to be lazy, I do it.” She smiled. “Actually, I look for ways to be lazy and the more pregnant I get, the lazier I want to be.”

“Don’t blame you. Been in your condition three times myself, and if ever there’s a time to be pampered…”

If there was someone there to pamper you, Gabby thought, her eyes going immediately to Laura’s ring finger. A simple gold band there said it all. She had someone to pamper her, where Gabby did not. But that was fine because, normally, she didn’t need pampering. In fact, she prided herself on her independence.

“Is this your first?” Laura continued.

Instinctively, Gabby laid her hand on her belly. Yes, her first. Unexpected. Very welcomed. “Yes, it is,” she said, not really sure she wanted to go any further. People reacted differently to her situation and it wasn’t a matter of feeling awkward in her very pregnant, very unmarried condition so much as it was that she didn’t want to make people feel awkward around her. She was a medical doctor, she knew how these kinds of things happened, and in a moment of weakness, well, it had happened to her. No excuses, no apologies. “And I saw a lovely little baby shop down the street. I thought I might go take a look after I’m rested. I haven’t really started baby shopping yet.”

“You haven’t?” Laura seemed genuinely surprised. “I think I was out buying baby bootees about ten minutes after the test strip confirmed my pregnancy…with my first. With my second it took about an hour, and with my third about a day.” She glanced down at Gabby’s belly. “I’m surprised you could hold off this long.”

It wasn’t so much that she was holding off as it was she was scared to make plans. “Oh, I’ve figured that I’d probably do a big binge shop when the time comes. You know, go crazy, buy everything in the store. But I haven’t had time.” And she’d had patients who’d put all their hopes and dreams into a miracle baby, like hers, only to be heartbroken. Even though she had only two months to go, she wasn’t ready to invest herself in so many hopes. “Who knows, maybe Handmade for Baby will be the lucky recipient of all my saved-up baby-shopping urges once I’m rested.”

Laura laughed. “Janice Laughlin will love you forever. She’s the owner. Anyway, speaking of getting rested, I think we should get you to your room. The ski season’s over now, except for a few brave souls who hang around hoping for late snow. So, you can have your choice of rooms—one here in the lodge—something small, a large suite. Or you can have a cabin all to yourself.”

“You have cabins?” That sounded like the coziness she wanted. “With a fireplace?”

“With a fireplace.”

A cabin with a fireplace in a ski-resort community, baby shopping, hot chocolate…Suddenly, Gabby was looking forward to her next couple of days. It was like this was exactly the place she was meant to be. Yes, nesting. Her patients talked about it all the time—finding the place you wanted to be, settling in, dwelling on your pregnancy. Now, for the first time, she believed she understood what that meant, and if this was, indeed, nesting, it agreed with her because she wasn’t feeling so bleak, so alone, like she had too many times these past months. “A cabin…Yes, I’d love a cabin with a fireplace.”

“It’s a little bit of a hike to get up there,” Laura warned. “Not steep, but not so convenient to the parking lot as the lodge is.”

“In spite of the obvious, I’m in good shape. Just a little tired right now because I’ve been on the road for a while, and I really hate traveling. Generally, though, I’m active and a nice walk back and forth will do me some good.” Especially now that she didn’t get all the exercise she had when she’d worked every day.

“Good. But I still don’t want you lifting anything heavy, so I’ll have my daughter carry your bags up to the cabin when she gets home from school in a couple of hours…”

Gabby shook her head. “Not necessary. All I have is an overnighter, and I can carry it myself. I didn’t expect to be staying so I didn’t bring much with me.” Actually, she wasn’t sure what she had expected when she’d set out on this trip. A quick announcement to Gavin Thierry, letting him know he was about to become a father, then a quick retreat? Certainly she hadn’t expected much from him. After all, there’d been no lasting relationship. But to find out what she had…“Thanks, anyway, for offering.”

Laura spun around the register for Gabby to sign, then handed her the cabin key when the paperwork was completed. “We have a dining room here, but if you’d like…” she took a look at the name on the register “…Gabrielle, I can have someone bring dinner to your cabin later on.”

“Call me Gabby.” Her father had been the only one ever to call her Gabrielle, and hearing someone else call her by that name now hurt. “And I appreciate the offer, but I’d rather come down to the dining room, if it’s all the same to you. I think getting out, keeping myself active, is a good idea.” As an obstetrician, it’s what she prescribed for her patients. Then scolded them when they didn’t take her advice.

“Well, if you need anything, call the main switch. Oh, and so you’ll know, we do have a small hospital in the village, not that I think anything will happen. But to be on the safe side in case, well…you know…there’s the White Elk Hospital, and it’s pretty nice. Very good in general services for adults and, believe it or not, well known for its pediatric practices. And what we lack in bigtown medical services we make up for in some very nice, very competent doctors and nurses.”

Glowing praise that intrigued her, and she caught herself wondering what it would be like working in a small town like White Elk. And raising her son here. “Well, I’m not due yet, so let’s hope I won’t be needing any medical care while I’m here.”

Wasn’t this what she wanted? A fresh start, someplace other than a large, impersonal city like Chicago? That’s what she’d told herself when she’d sold her share of the medical practice to her partners and, just last week, had started the process of putting her condo on the market with the expectation of finding someplace else to start her new life. She was looking for something different, something she wasn’t quite able to define. That’s what she kept telling herself, anyway. What it was or where it would be were still great big questions, but she trusted that she would know it when she saw it.

Could it be White Elk? The feel was right, it was definitely different from what she’d had, but it was also so small. Moving here from Chicago would be a huge culture shock and with all the other drastic changes going on in her life now, she wasn’t sure she should even think about one like this. White Elk had nice shops and a bed in a cozy cabin for a night but, generally, she liked a few more amenities around her, and a few more luxuries. This was a place where you spent a nice holiday, but to settle here?

Crazy thoughts. Pregnancy thoughts—a combination of hormones, flailing emotions over the news of her baby’s father’s death, and a whole lot of uncertainty. That’s what it had to be. Her thinking was a little skew these days as she had someone else to consider now, and her decisions didn’t affect only her. Besides, she needed to work, needed to settle somewhere the red carpet was out for an obstetrician, and what were the odds of that happening here?

“To get to your cabin, go out behind the lodge, take the first trail to the left, and I’ve got you in the first one you’ll come to. It’s got the best view of the Three Sisters.”

“Three sisters?”

“Our three mountain peaks. They overlook the valley and, according to Indian legend, take care of the people who live here. Of course, we have busy ski resorts on each of the peaks now, which is what has made White Elk thrive.” She smiled. “Tourists. We love them to pieces here.”

“With so many tourists I’d say the Three Sisters are doing what they’re supposed to.” Watching and protecting…the very same things she did for this baby she’d be delivering in a while. The same things she wished she had someone to do for her, which simply wasn’t in her future.

The hike to the cabin was pleasant, the air cool and brisk, but not as cold as it could have been for the last week of March. Along the trail, little purple and yellow crocuses poked their heads out of the remnants of the last snow, giving Gabby the hope that the full burst of spring was just around the corner. By the time that happened, she’d be a mother, settled in wherever she was supposed to be. “A mother,” she said, simply to remind herself. Sometimes she still couldn’t believe it. This little boy inside her was a dream coming true in a way she’d have never expected in a million years. Of course, now that she knew of Gavin’s death, she was a little sad. They hadn’t been romantically involved. Outside of what she’d seen of him as a doctor, she hadn’t even known him well enough to tell her son what kind of person his father had been other than smart, kind, considerate. Bryce did deserve to know, but what could she say? Your mother was feeling very lonely, and very vulnerable when she met a pleasant, handsome man at a medical symposium, spent a night with him and conceived you as a result.

Unfortunately, that’s all there was to the story. It had taken her weeks to find Gavin, and weeks to get up the courage to come tell him what had happened that one night they’d spent together. But by then it had been too late. Meaning there was nothing to add to the story and Bryce would never know his father. Gavin had no family in Spotswood, where’d she’d just visited. None that she could find. And no one there who could tell her about his family either. Sad for her son, sad for her.

Gabby stopped for a moment, and thought about picking a few of the flowers for her cabin, but decided to leave them as they were, a tiny bit of inspiration fighting against the elements. “You know we’re going to be fine,” she said to her unborn baby. “It’s just a little tough right now. I wanted you to know about him and I’m sorry I didn’t find him sooner. But we’ll work it out, just you and me, and I promise that if there’s any information available about him…” Information, but no father.

It wasn’t like she was afraid of raising a baby as a single mother, because she wasn’t. In fact, from the instant she’d discovered she was pregnant, she’d been shocked, excited, scared, in awe after a lifetime being told, and believing, it wouldn’t ever happen to her, that she could not get pregnant. She’d been injured in a riding accident years ago. Too much scar tissue, the doctors had said soon after. Too little hope. When she’d been fifteen, that hadn’t really had much of an impact on her. When she’d turned thirty, it had. But she’d lived with it, accepted it.

Then, after all those years of believing, as the patient, and even as a doctor, that nothing could happen, she’d had the recurring feeling that maybe, just maybe she might be pregnant. Missed period one month and she’d convinced herself it was stress, that her job was demanding. Missed period the second month and she’d gone to the local pharmacy for a home pregnancy kit, then had sat it on the bathroom countertop and stared at it for three days before she’d opened it. After that she’d waited another two days before she’d actually gotten around to using it. Then, when that test strip had gone from pink to blue, she’d run, not walked, but run to the corner pharmacy, bought another kit, done another test. Then gone back to that same pharmacy one more time, one more kit.

A kindly pharmacist who’d seen her grabbing yet another test kit off the shelf had suggested she go see an obstetrician, and offered to make a referral if she needed one. But she was an obstetrician, and a very pregnant one, she was coming to realize. Also a very overwhelmed one. “Right now, your only problem is that your mother’s very tired. But I’m on my way to fix that situation immediately.”

Bryce Evans. Her miracle baby. She couldn’t wait for his arrival into the world. Nothing other than that really mattered. And she was so happy…

“Thanks for making a house call. We’re not busy right now, but with David out of town, it’s like I’m doing the work of a dozen different people and there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done that needs to be.”

Dr Neil Ranard handed the bottle of pink bubble-gum-tasting liquid over to Laura. They called it bubble-gum tasting, and he’d successfully convinced a number of his young patients that was the case, but to him it tasted like…medicine. Nasty, nasty medicine. “Just give her the dose listed on the label and she’ll be fine. There’s a sore throat bug going around the elementary school and Emily is one of the many. Also I’ll want to check her again in a couple of days, but she’ll be ready to come to the clinic by then.” Yes, he still made house calls. In a small town, that was possible, and he really liked getting back to personal medicine. Two years away had taught him so many things, but the biggest lesson learnt was that everything he needed was here. He was a small-town doctor, and that’s exactly what he wanted to be.

“Can you stay for dinner, Neil? I have only a handful of paying guests checked in right now, and I’m making enough food for an army. Can’t get out of the habit of cooking for a lodge full of people when the season shuts down, I guess.”

“Wish I could, but I really should get back. With Walt Graham retired now, and Eric Ramsey being tied up with the twins—they’re both down with sore throats—we’re a little short-handed in emergency. And I’ve still got a few appointments to take care of at the clinic before I go make hospital rounds. But thanks. I appreciate the offer.” At the White Elk Hospital and Clinic, he was the pediatrician, but family practice was also his responsibility, as well as covering Emergency when it was necessary, and doing the occasional mountain rescue. It was a varied job, and in such a small setting every doctor was called on to do pretty much whatever they had to. Medical convention aside, he loved it. Where else would he be so fortunate as to be involved in so many things?

“Can’t you wait five minutes, while I get something together to send back with you? It’s better than what you’ll get at the hospital, and you know hospital food is what you’ll end up eating.” She grinned. “Think about it, Neil. Institutional cooking versus home cooking.”

Home cooking, a luxury he hadn’t even had those months he’d been married. It sounded good, actually. Anything resembling a normal life sounded good. Otherwise, for him it would be whatever the hospital cafeteria special was. “OK, you’ve convinced me. Mind if I go sit in the dining room and pour myself a cup of coffee while I wait?”

Laura dismissed Neil with the wave of an unconcerned hand, and he ambled into the empty dining room, went straight to the service bar and poured his coffee, then took a seat by the window that gave him the best view of the Three Sisters. Magnificent view, and one he had so little time to admire these days. It was also the view that had drawn him back home, even when he’d vowed, almost three years ago, not to return. But he’d returned, in part because he liked skiing when he had the time. And the fresh air. Most of all, he liked the nice people. All that, and the exciting nature of his medical practice. Here, in White Elk, he had it all. Or most of it. Because the memories of his short-lived marriage were here, too. As were the memories of the day his wife had run off with his brother.

But the good outweighed the bad. That’s what he kept telling himself and maybe someday he’d even convince himself of it, because some of the memories were bitter. And forever unresolved.

Neil stretched out his long legs and leaned back in the wooden chair, trying to empty his mind of everything. Movement at the opposite end of the dining room caught his attention, though…attention in the form of one very pretty, very pregnant woman who was sizing up the various tables, obviously looking for one with the best view.

He studied her for a moment. She looked almost lonely, ambling from table to table the way she was, all by herself. And here he was, occupying the one with the view he knew she had to be looking for. Immediately, Neil sprang to his feet, and even thought to motion her in his direction, like he was the maître d’. But as he plucked his coffee mug up off the table and stepped away from it, she found her seat on the opposite end of the room, in a spot overlooking the town—all the shops, and the people bustling up and down the sidewalks.

Funny, he thought, how people had different ideas of what was perfect. Personally, his idea of perfect went to something wild, something without people. Hers went to just the opposite, it seemed.

“Your dinner, Neil,” Laura said, setting the brown paper bag full of plastic containers in front of him. “There should be enough to get you through the next couple of days, and if there’s not, come back. There’s always more where that came from.”

“Appreciate the home cooking,” he replied absently, unable to take his stare off the woman, who was now seated with her back to him.

Laura, noticing his intent stare, smiled. “She checked in several hours ago,” she whispered. “Not from around here. She registered her home address as Chicago and I don’t know a thing about her other than that.” She paused, then chuckled. “Except the obvious.”

“And that she looks lonely,” he commented out loud, although he’d meant the remark to stay in his head.

“You know, she did look a little lonely, come to think of it. I thought she was mostly tired, though.” Laura shrugged it off as she scurried over to the other table to take Gabby’s dinner order, while Neil stayed there, sipping his coffee, watching a while longer than he really should have, given his schedule.

Strangers came to town all the time. In fact, the town’s economy was built on people coming here to stay for a while, whether to ski, or shop, or simply have a nice holiday. He barely even noticed them unless they had a medical problem. So what was it about this woman that caught his attention…not only caught it, but held it?

Nothing, he said to himself. Absolutely nothing at all. Right now, he didn’t get involved. Not with anyone. He was married to his work, and he owned a part interest in a hospital. That was enough to keep him out of trouble, keep him fairly contented, keep him reasonably happy. Life was good. Why try for anything else?

Thinking about what had happened the last time he’d tried for something different was what propelled him back to his feet, and carried him right out the door. When he got to the entrance, though, Neil stopped and turned back to look at her, and that’s when he saw her face. She was…beautiful. Stunning. Honey-blond hair falling gracefully to her shoulders, her blue eyes cast downward. Almost shyly…eyes that could only have been blue. And perfect lips. He was observing her as a physician, of course. Only as a physician.

She was what that pregnant glow was all about. He wasn’t sure he’d ever truly seen it before, but now that he’d seen her, he knew what it looked like.

In that brief moment when his eyes were still fixed on her, she glanced up at him, stared outright for a long moment, then looked away. That’s when Neil knew he’d better leave before good judgment was overcome with something he didn’t understand, and he intruded where he clearly wasn’t wanted. But once outside on the walkway, he looked back up to the window where she sat, and…was she staring at him? It seemed she might have been.

Handsome face. Rugged. Nice firm jaw, nice straight nose. With his wavy black hair, she imagined dark brown eyes. Or green. No…they had to be dark brown.

It was a face that should have been familiar, but nothing in her memory could place him. His eyes haunted her, though. So familiar. But she didn’t often forget a man so handsome. Yet in that span of mere seconds, when their gazes had crossed, it had been like she’d been looking into eyes she’d looked into before. The same, yet not.

Just pregnancy hormones kicking in. Still, at first glance, he’d seemed so familiar. Then, at second glance, he didn’t at all. His was one of those faces that would plague her for a while, though, until she placed him, or forgot him.

“Who was that?” she asked Laura, as Laura placed the handwritten menu on the table in front of her. Potato, vegetable and salad choices were the same with every meal, and she had her choice of meat, poultry or fish.

“Neil Ranard. He owns the family practice clinic at the hospital. And, actually, he’s part owner of the hospital. Specializes in pediatrics, but all the docs there do a little bit of everything.”

Would she have known him from some medical event—a seminar they’d both attended, perhaps? Or maybe a medical convention?

In theory, that sounded good, except she rarely ever had time for seminars, and as for medical conventions…She’d been to exactly one, and it hadn’t been the White Elk doctor she’d fixed herself on there. So that left…Honestly, she didn’t know. And she didn’t want to keep thinking about it. “I think I’d like the vegetables only, if you don’t mind. Bryce and I don’t seem to do so well with meat these days.”


Gabby laughed, self-conscious. “My baby. I’m going to name him Bryce, and I guess I’m getting in the habit of using his name. Thinking of him as a person.” She’d been in the habit from the moment she’d known she was pregnant. It was going to be a boy, and she would name him Bryce after her father, a decision made the instant she’d thrown away the third pregnancy kit. Bryce…that was the only way she could make sense of things.

Laura laughed. “Boys are nice. At least, that’s what I’ve heard. We’ve got three girls, and I’m not sure if I’d know what to do with a boy now, after so many years.”

“To be honest, I’m not sure I’m going to know what to do with a baby, boy or girl.”

“You’re…alone?” Laura asked, hesitant.

“Well, I was until about seven months ago.” Noncommittal response that would suffice. Smiling, she patted her belly. “But that’s sure not the case now.”

“I talked to my girls too…in the womb. Read books to them, sang to them, played music for them. My husband thought I was crazy, but for the whole time I was pregnant, I wasn’t alone, and I needed to make that connection.” She shrugged. “Anyway, I’d better get back to the kitchen.”

Once Laura was gone, Gabby turned her attention back to the window, wondering if she’d see the man, Neil Ranard, again, but he was gone. Oh, well…

“I’ll take both of them.” Two quilts weren’t too many, and both were so adorable. So were the fifteen newborn outfits she’d bought, along with the crib accessories, the bootees, the hats…There were so many baby things she’d never thought about before and, so far, she’d bought every single thing she’d looked at. This morning her ankles were normal, her back felt fine, Bryce was kicking up a storm, and she was totally in love with Handmade for Baby. It was an amazing little store, fronted on the main street right next to a candy store. She hadn’t been in there yet, but she would. And she intended to browse through the little maternity boutique that Debbi Laughlin, the babystore clerk, had recommended.

“You staying here long?” Debbi asked. She was seventeen at most, with short, spiky yellow hair, a pierced eyebrow, and an engaging, warm smile.

“Just another day, then I’ll be going back to Chicago.”

Debbi arched her eyebrows over the mention of Chicago and Gabby’s gaze fixed on the little silver ring anchored there that bobbed up and down. “I’ve always wanted to go there. Maybe even save my money and move there, go to college…anywhere but here.”

“You don’t like it here?” Gabby asked. So far, she hadn’t found anything in White Elk she didn’t like.

“It’s OK, if you’re old, I suppose.”

Old, like she was? Gabby laughed inwardly at the thought. Thirty-three wasn’t old, but to someone Debbi’s age, it was ancient. “Well, I think it’s a nice little town.”

“Little’s the thing. I don’t like little. It’s boring.”

And Gabby didn’t like big any more, but she supposed she’d have thought a small town was the end of the world when she’d been younger. She and her dad had always lived in a big city—Chicago, New York, San Francisco—and that’s what she knew. All she knew. But those pregnancy hormones were changing her in ways she hadn’t expected, for now her ideal seemed just the opposite of Debbi’s and in some ways the opposite of the ones she’d become comfortable with in herself until she’d gotten pregnant. “Well, then, you’d like Chicago, because there’s nothing little about it.”

“What do you do there?” Debbi asked, as she folded the first quilt into a box.

“I’m an obstetrician. That means—”

“I know what it means. My uncle’s a doctor here.”

Was she related to Neil Ranard? “Dr Ranard?”

Debbi shook her head. “Dr Ramsey. He works with Dr Ranard when the twins aren’t sick. Which they are right now, which is why I’m here and my mother isn’t. She’s helping Uncle Eric.”


“My cousins. Both of them down with a sore throat and I told my uncle I wasn’t going anywhere near them, so my mother’s there helping take care of them and I’m here, doing this.”

And not loving it, Gabby thought. Too bad. Life was too short not to love what you were doing.

Debbi folded the second quilt into another box, then sat it in the stack with at least fifteen other boxes. “So, did you come to take over for Doc Graham?”

“Who’s Doc Graham?”

Debbi blew a bubble with her gum, then popped it. “The obstetrician. He retired so he could have more time to hike, and go skiing. If it were me, I’d retire and get out of here.”

“No. I’m not here to replace Doc Graham. I’m just traveling through, and decided to stop and do some shopping.”

Debbi nodded, but the expression on her face showed that she thought Gabby was crazy for intentionally staying in White Elk when she didn’t have to. “So, what do you want me to do with all this stuff?” she asked.

Good question. Gabby hadn’t thought that far ahead, and her first response was to give Debbi the address to her Chicago condo and have every last thing shipped there. But for some reason she didn’t understand, she decided instead to have it sent back to her cabin at the lodge and figure out what to do with it later. Farewells with Debbi were brief, but she felt compelled to tell the girl to look her up if she ever made it to Chicago. Debbi’s response was to roll her eyes, plug the earpieces back into her ears and listen to some tune Gabby was sure she’d never heard of.

Next, she visited the candy shop, then the maternity boutique, sending more packages back to her cabin from both shops, as well as stopping at the corner toy store and showing amazing restraint by buying only one stuffed teddy bear and a little wooden train set Bryce wouldn’t play with for years. Shopping done, she felt amazingly good. Refreshed. Full of energy. So she wandered down the street, in the direction of the hospital. Deliberately.

What a cute hospital! Not at all institutional-looking, like where she’d worked back in Chicago. That was a real brick-and-mortar structure, nine stories tall, spanning several blocks, if you included the various clinics and asphalted parking lots. This hospital was quaint, made of logs, resembling a mountain lodge more than it did a hospital. If not for the sign out front indicating that it was, indeed, White Elk Hospital, she would have walked right on by, looking for a more regular-looking institution.

So, she was there. Wondering what came next. “Maybe I’m crazy,” she whispered to herself. “But if they do need an obstetrician…” That’s what Debbi, the store clerk, had implied. But why had she deliberately come here? To apply for the job? No way. Quaint was nice for a visit, and while she wasn’t big-city obsessed like Debbi, she was reasonably sure that she agreed with the girl on the fact that White Elk was too small.

But here she was anyway. It must have been the nesting thing again. Had to be. More rushing hormones telling her to settle down, make a real home for this baby, and White Elk Village was a nice candidate for all those things. Except the idea was ridiculous. Her opportunities here would be too limited. Besides, nobody needed a seven-months-pregnant obstetrician. And at seven months pregnant, the obstetrician didn’t really need a full-time job. Money wasn’t a problem, but time on her hands was. She did want to work. Loved working, and she already missed it.

“But I’ve never lived in a city smaller than Chicago,” she said to Bryce, “and I’m not sure your mother is cut out for small-town living.” Even though this small town was tugging at her. “And don’t go telling me I can make a go of it anywhere I want because I’m not sure I can. There are so many things to consider, like my career, and your education.”

“Excuse me? Can I help you with something?”

The sexy, smooth voice startled Gabby out of her mental conundrum, caused her to gasp and grab her belly. She rounded to face him, and caught herself staring into the most gorgeous dark brown eyes she’d ever seen. Dark brown, like she’d thought they should be. Glad they were.

“I thought I heard you say something.”

She shook her head. “I was just…taking a walk, trying to get a little exercise, and I think I got myself turned around.” Well, that was a bit of a lie as she knew exactly where she was. “I stopped for a moment to get my bearings and you probably heard me muttering to myself. Bad habit. I do that when I’m nervous.” Better to admit that than to tell him she was engaged in a debate with her unborn child, and her unborn child seemed to be winning the argument at the moment. Muttering made her look eccentric, debating with an unborn baby made her look just plain odd.

“You’re staying up at Laura’s lodge, aren’t you? I thought I saw you there last night.”

Gabby nodded. “It’s up at the top of the hill, isn’t it?” she said, pointing in the direction she knew perfectly well. Was that really her, feigning the helpless woman? Good thing she had pregnancy hormones to blame it on, because there wasn’t anything helpless about her. Her father had raised her well in that aspect, and she took great pride in her independence.

“It’s a pretty long walk, going uphill the whole way. Maybe I could call someone to come get you? A friend, a husband…”

“It’s not so bad,” she said. “Besides, I’m here by myself.”

He glanced at his watch, then at the hospital. “How about I get my car and drive you back? It’ll only take five minutes.”

This would have been such a nice meeting had she not been pregnant, but she was, so this was only about chivalry. He was a pleasant man coming to the rescue of a damsel who didn’t need rescuing. End of story. “Thanks, but I’ll walk.”

“Then maybe you should come inside and sit down for a few minutes before you attempt going back up.” He gestured to the hospital. “Ten minutes. Find a nice, comfortable chair, put your feet up…”

“My doctor thinks I should be a little more active than that. She’s of the opinion that healthy, pregnant women should be active women. But like I said, thanks.”

“Then I’ll walk with you.”

“Because I’m pregnant? Are you one of those people who believes a pregnant woman isn’t capable of doing anything? Because if you are…”

He thrust his palm out to stop her. “Whoa, I was only trying to be polite. Something my mother taught me.”

“Maybe she should have also taught you that pregnant women can take care of themselves just fine.”

He chuckled. Deep, sexy. “Actually, she did. And she’d send me to bed without supper for acting the way I have been.” He took a step backwards and thrust out his hand. “Hello, my name is Neil Ranard. Can we start over?”

Gabby took his hand and nodded. “And I’m Gabrielle Evans. People call me Gabby…even the ones who accost me, then try to lecture me on the street.”

“Then I’ll have to call you Gabrielle so you won’t be reminded of this rather inauspicious first meeting. It’s nice to meet you, Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle…it sounded so nice the way he said it. Sounded almost right and, strangely, she didn’t object. Didn’t object to the twinkle in his eyes either. Sexy, but mischievous. And, yes, even at her rather advanced stage of pregnancy, those thoughts still did pop into her mind. A good-looking man was a good-looking man and even her whacked-out hormones wouldn’t deny that. Neil Ranard was handsome and, like she’d thought yesterday, something about him seemed vaguely familiar. “Do I know you?” she asked. “Have you come to Chicago for any reason lately?” It had to be something in Chicago as until yesterday she hadn’t left the city for nearly two years.

“Actually, I’ve never been to Chicago, outside a layover in the airport, and that was probably five years ago. Maybe six.”

“You’re not famous, are you? I wouldn’t have seen you on television, or in a magazine?” Or on the cover of a romance novel?

“Sorry. I’m only famous in my own mind. And even then, it’s highly overrated, if not totally ignored, except by my mother and her sister.”

“I guess you’ve got one of those faces, then,” she said, still wondering why she couldn’t shake herself of the feeling. “Look, I appreciate you being concerned about me, but I’m fine, and there’s no need to help me get back to the lodge.”

“What if I said that Laura makes the best cheesecake in White Elk Valley, and you’re my excuse to go have a piece?”

“Then I’d say you’re a terrible liar. But I appreciate the gesture.” With that, Gabby turned and started the climb back up the hill to her cabin. She’d only gone ten steps, though, when she stopped and spun back around. He was right on her heels. “Are you following me?”

“Actually, I thought I’d go to the lodge and have a piece of cheesecake. Talking about it made me hungry for it.”

“Liar!” she exclaimed, fighting to control the laugh bubbling up inside her.

He arched playful eyebrows. “I’d never lie about a good piece of cheesecake.”

“But you were looking at your watch just a minute ago, which tells me you’re in a hurry to get back to work. So you really don’t want that cheesecake right now, and you’re using it as a pretty lame excuse to make sure I can get myself back up the hill. Which I can do perfectly well without anybody’s help.”

His face went serious. “I know it’s none of my business, but how long has it been since you’ve seen a doctor, Gabrielle?”

“If I’m not mistaken, I’m looking at one right now.”

“I mean an obstetrician.”

She smiled. “If I’m not mistaken, you’re looking at one right now.”

“No kidding? You’re an obstetrician?”

“No kidding. And if I’m not mistaken, you might be in need of one here for a few weeks. According to Debbi, at Handmade for Baby.”

Obvious surprise blinked across his face. “You’re applying for a job?”

“Not really a full-time job. But I could fill in until your new obstetrician arrives. As it turns out, I left my old position a few weeks ago, so I’ve got the time.”

“I’ve got to admit, you’ve caught me off guard. We were just having a staff meeting, wondering what we were going to do, and here you are, on our front walk.”

As they always said, timing was everything. She hadn’t meant to apply for a position, although she’d thought about it. Hadn’t meant to stay here in White Elk, although she’d thought about that, too. Yes, after Debbi had mentioned that their former obstetrician had just left, the idea of staying awhile had tempted her. Now here she was, making it happen. “Well, I do come with an obvious condition.” She raised her hands to her belly. “Two months to go. But I’m healthy, fit to work, and if you need me for a while…”

“Do we need you? Our obstetrician’s been phasing himself out without phasing someone else in to take his place. We thought he had a while to go before he finally left so we weren’t too worried, then one morning he woke up and just couldn’t do it any more. It was time for him to leave.”

Something she understood all too well. That’s exactly what had happened to her in Chicago. She’d known she was going, hadn’t known when, then one day it had been time. “Well, my credentials will check out, and I can give you some personal references.”

“We’ll need you for six weeks at the longest. I’ve got someone else coming in to take over after that, on a temporary basis until we can find someone to fill the full-time position. But we had this big gap between Walt and the temp.”

“Six weeks sounds good.” So did temporary. And this was perfect timing, wasn’t it? She could work for six weeks, part-time, have her baby after that, and put off trying to figure out, for a while longer, what came next in her life. “Unless something unforeseen and early changes my plans.”

“In which case, I’ll be glad to deliver your baby.”

An offer she could hardly refuse. Pregnant and employed again. If only for a little while for both conditions. She liked it. In fact, she was excited to be working again, and didn’t doubt for a minute that she could handle it. So she extended her hand to the incredibly handsome Dr Neil Ranard, and instantly a little chill shot up her arm. “When do I start?” she asked, her hand lingering in his just a fraction of a second longer than it should have.

“Five minutes ago OK with you?”

Reluctantly, she pulled her hand from his and crammed it into her jacket pocket. “Five minutes ago is perfect.” Then she shivered again.

Just the chilly air, she told herself. What else could it be?


WELL, it wasn’t a busy schedule. Fallon O’Gara, the nurse practitioner—a bright-eyed woman about Gabby’s age, with wild red hair streaming down her back, a wide, cheery smile that came naturally and a laugh that bubbled through the air—handed Gabby a schedule with all of two afternoon patients for her to see. “That’s it? Just two?”

“Walt Graham did help in the emergency department when he wasn’t busy, but I’m not so sure we should put you on that schedule, too. Neil…Dr Ranard…said he wants you on obstetrics only, and I can’t change that without his authorization. So, until I hear further, yes, that’s it, unless someone else schedules an appointment with you.”

“But can I change the schedule if I want to? Or maybe wander down there and put myself to work?” Sitting around all afternoon, twiddling her thumbs, would make her feel useless, and since she was on a campaign to prove that pregnancy in the workplace still had a place, she decided she was going to have to change some minds here. Or, at least, one specific mind.

Fallon laughed. “He warned me that you were a little headstrong. Told me to hold my ground with you.”

“Not headstrong. I just like to work.” She patted her belly. “We like to work.”

“Well, Neil wants me to do a physical on you before you start anything. I know you’re only a short-time, part-timer, but he’s pretty stringent about keeping his staff healthy. And since you’re so far along, I think it’s best.” She thrust out her hand to stop Gabby before she could protest. “I know you’re an obstetrician and you know better than any of us how you’re feeling and what you can handle, but rules are rules, and like I said…”

“Neil is pretty stringent.” Translated to mean thorough. In her estimation, that made him a good doctor.

“On the bright side, if I don’t find any problems, I’ll bet you can talk him into letting you take your turn in Emergency.”

“So let’s do this check-up.” To be honest, she hadn’t had one in a few weeks, and she was due for one. “But can we do it after I see my first patient? It looks like her appointment was thirty minutes ago, and unless another one of your staff has already seen her, I don’t want to keep her waiting any longer.”

Fallon waved her off when a mother wrestling four little ones came through the door. They were carrying balloons and painted drawings and a vase with flowers, on their way to visit daddy, who was resting comfortably in the orthopedics ward with his leg in traction. Happy, eager, smiling faces…When she’d been young, she’d always said she wanted lots of children when she grew up. Being the only child of a single father, she’d thought a large family would be nice. She still believed that, but she was contented with one child. Elated, actually.

“So, how are you feeling today, Mrs Blanchard?” Angela Blanchard, who was sitting on the edge of the exam table, covered only in a blue paper exam gown, looked…frustrated. Not unhappy, but not happy, either.

“Not as good as you, since you’re working and I’m not,” she snapped. “Sorry. I’m not having a good day.”


“Is there some way to get this thing delivered early? Induce labor, maybe?”

A quick survey of Angela’s chart revealed she was due two weeks after Gabby. She was healthy and there was nothing of alarm going on except, perhaps, her attitude. “Would it make any difference if I said that you’re over two thirds of the way there and the rest is downhill from here?”

A laugh broke through Angela’s mood. “The one thing I could always count on with Doc Graham was that he would be at least as grumpy as I was. And now I’ve got a doctor who smiles. Guess that means I have to smile, too, doesn’t it?”

“It helps. You ought to try it.” Gabby sat the chart aside and extended her hand to Angela. “Hi, I’m Gabby Evans, and I’ll be smiling at you for the next few weeks. Five or six, if I’m lucky.”

“So we’re due almost the same time,” Angela responded, taking Gabby’s hand. She was a small woman, with short-cropped brown hair and dark brown eyes. Almost a pixie…a pixie with a sizeable tummy spread, side to side.

“Just a few weeks apart, and I know what you mean, wanting to get it over with. There are times I’d really love to see the floor again.” She wrapped the blood-pressure cuff around Angela’s arm and pumped it up. “Or my ankles. But I guess that comes soon enough, doesn’t it?” Then she listened for the dull sound of the blood pressure through her stethoscope. It was high. Not alarmingly so, but enough that Gabby took a second reading to make sure. Again, it registered barely on the high end of normal.

“Did Doc Graham ever diagnose you with hypertension?”

Angela was instantly alarmed. “No, why?”

“You’re on the verge. Nothing to worry about yet, but I want to keep an eye on it. So, do you live far from here?” she asked Angela.

“No, about twenty minutes.”

“Good, then I’d like you to stop in tomorrow for another blood-pressure check.”

“Should I be nervous about this?”

Gabby shook her head. “Could be nothing. Could be because you’re stressing. Of course, even bringing it up puts you under more stress, which could raise your blood pressure. But I want to stay on top of this, keep it under control if it’s the start of something, or rule it out if it’s not.” The only real concern was that, according to Doc Graham’s notes, Angela’s blood pressure had been normal all along. “And in the meantime, reduce your salt intake, stay away from highly processed foods with a lot of sodium in them, and if you’re not walking, walk.”

“I walked. In fact, that’s all I did until Doc Graham made me quit working. I manage the kitchen up on the older Sister…”

“Older sister?”

“The mountain peak to the south. It’s the older Sister. The one to the west is the middle Sister, and the one to the north is the younger Sister. Anyway, I’m at Pine Ridge Ski Resort up on the older Sister. Head chef, temporarily sidelined to paperwork. Which is driving me crazy, making me grumpy, probably responsible for raising my blood pressure.”

“So besides the obvious, let me guess. When you’re at a desk, you’re not exercising, and probably eating away your frustration? And getting angry thinking about what you’d rather be doing?”

Angela laughed. “Something like that. And I should know better, being a chef and a dietician, but I’ve been having a craving for salty things lately.”

“Well, elevated blood pressure isn’t necessarily a problem when it’s still in the high normal range the way yours is, so don’t stress over that. But like I said, I want to keep an eye on it and make sure it isn’t about something other than your change in lifestyle and…” Gabby smiled, thinking about the chocolate craving she’d been having for a while “…bad habits. So, for the next few days I’d like to see you every day to get a reading. Oh, and get back to the kitchen, at least on a part-time basis. Cook a little and use common sense.” She scribbled a hasty note on her prescription pad. “According to your chart you’re perfectly healthy, and I think it’s good to stay working as long as you can. Light duty, though. Maybe some baking. The note gives you permission to get back into the kitchen on a limited basis, and I trust you’ll use good judgment in deciding whether or not you feel like it.”

“Really?” She read the note twice, blinking her surprise both times. “You’re going to let me go back to work?”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not particularly an advocate of inactivity during pregnancy. People treat pregnancy like it’s an illness, but I prefer to treat it like a normal condition, one the body’s prepared to deal with.”

“But Doc Graham said…” She stopped, frowned, then smiled. “I can work a little?”

Gabby laughed. “There’s old-school and new-school thinking here. My dad, also an obstetrician, was a brilliant doctor, but he was very old school. Like Doc Graham. He thought pregnancy was a time when a woman should rest, put her feet up, be pampered. I, on the other hand, believe in the benefits of working through a pregnancy, if a woman’s physical condition allows it. And studies back that up. My dad and I used to argue over this all the time.”

“And who won?”

“He did with his patients. I did with mine.” And neither of them ever budged from their position. “So, in other words, be indulgent. Of course, you’re the one who has to define what indulgent is, according to your condition. Now, how about I do the rest of your physical, then we’ll talk about the really important things, like decorating baby’s room.”

“So tell me about your hospital.” Gabby caught up to Neil in the hall and fell into step with him. Big steps, tall man. Broad shoulders that swayed naturally with his steps. Neil Ranard had an impressive stature, and for Gabby to notice was something out of the ordinary. Usually she didn’t pay attention, because most men looked her directly in the eyes, and she had a definite preference for tall. But he was tall, taller than Gabby by a good head, which put him well over six feet. Nice, considering how her five-feet-eight height towered over so many people. And intimidated so many men. “Tell me the five most important things I need to know in order to succeed here.”

“Well, the first is that coffee breaks are essential. Do you prefer your coffee with, or without, cream and sugar?”

“We’re on our way to a coffee break? That’s why you’re in such a big hurry?”

“Believe me, at the end of ski season, you look for any excuse you can find to take a break. For five months we’re ridiculously busy. There’s hardly enough time to catch your breath. Never enough time to sit down and put your feet up. Sometimes you’re on call for days. Meaning, no coffee breaks whatsoever. Then the season changes and there’s time to take a break, so you do even if you don’t necessarily want one, because you know that will change in due course and soon you’ll bemoan the fact that you don’t have time to take a break. The two phases of our medical life here—with, and without, coffee breaks—are a vicious cycle.”

“And you like that, don’t you? I see it in your eyes.”

Neil laughed. “Or maybe I just like to complain.”

“Ah, the foibles of being self-indulgent. I just had a talk with my patient about that.”

“My foibles have more to do with leaving here and being so damned grateful to come back, under any circumstance, break or no break. I was away for a while, working in a clinic in Los Angeles, somehow deluding myself into thinking that I wanted steady hours, five days a week. It was a job most doctors would envy, because I was able to live like everybody else does. You know, getting up in the morning, going to work, coming home in the evening. Weekends for tennis and golfing, which I absolutely hate, but did anyway because I had the time. It was so amazingly normal it drove me crazy inside four months. Probably because it wasn’t…enough. Wasn’t personal the way it is here in White Elk, and by the time I’d worked to the end of my contract, I was more than ready to come back here, where nothing is normal. For me, that makes it better.” He motioned Gabby around the corner to the staff lounge, where he practically lunged at the coffee pot. “How do you take yours? I mean, I’m assuming you still allow yourself a little caffeine at this stage of your pregnancy.”

“Caffeine in moderation is fine, and there’s always decaffeinated coffee if the caffeine causes side effects. But I don’t like coffee.” She turned up her nose. “Used to, but after I got pregnant I lost my taste for it. Started craving hot chocolate.”

“But you do like the coffee breaks, don’t you?”

“As long as I can sit down and put my feet up then, yes, I like the coffee breaks.” Which is exactly what she did. She sat down in one chair, then Neil nudged another one across the room to her, so she could prop up her feet.

“Is this your first?” he asked, sitting down next to her.

“Yes. And just so we can get past this awkward moment, I’m not married, don’t plan to be married, I’m not involved in any kind of relationship with the baby’s father or anyone else, and I’m very much looking forward to single motherhood. And in case that sounds defensive, I really don’t mean for it to be, but I’ve said this by rote a few dozen times and that’s just the way it comes out now.” So, if that wasn’t an ice-breaker, nothing was. “And it’s not a secret, Neil. People will ask, they’ll want to talk, and that’s fine. If I’m going to be here for a couple of months, I’d rather everyone knows this isn’t one of those circumstances where they need to whisper and speculate. My pregnancy is the best thing that ever happened to me, and I’m ecstatic.”

“I’m glad. When I was in family practice in Los Angeles, I saw too many pregnant patients who weren’t ecstatic, and it made me…sad. Sad for the mother, sad for the baby.” A deep frown confirmed his sentiment, but he wiped it away after a sip of coffee, and his normal sunny smile returned. “So, you asked me about the hospital, didn’t you? Five important things everyone needs to know…Well, as you’ve seen, it’s small. That’s important because we like the intimacy. We have forty beds that can expand to fifty, if we have to. Sixty in a dire emergency. Also, we offer general service here, no elective major surgeries, emergency major surgery only when it’s vital, and most minor procedures are welcomed. We specialize in pediatrics, not so much because that’s what we set out to do but by virtue of the fact that the two co-owners have pediatric specialties in their backgrounds, meaning we do get a few more peds referrals than we normally would. Although it’s not technically a pediatric hospital.” He paused, then grinned. “Was that four or five things?”

“Technically, four. So, you were in pediatrics?”

“Still am, but for White Elk and the whole Three Sisters area, it’s too limiting, so I have a secondary specialty in family practice. Like my partner, Eric Ramsey. He was a pediatric surgeon, but to be flexible enough to work here he had to expand his horizons. So, besides a couple of doctors who seem to be the proverbial jacks-of-all-trades, we also have a state-of-the-art trauma department, headed by Eric, a full obstetrics department headed by, well, you, for the moment, a neonatal nursery, a good orthopedic set-up, and we also coordinate mountain rescue from here. Just a couple of ticks off full service on a very small scale—and growing, I guess you’d say. And now that’s more than five.”

“And I’m more than impressed. So, you’re a co-owner?”

He nodded. “The hospital was struggling when I came back, and Eric Ramsey and I bought it in order to keep it going. In an area such as this you can’t afford to have the hospital go under, because that affects the whole local economy. A ski resort area—and we have three ski resorts in the vicinity—needs a hospital nearby. So Eric and I decided to invest, and see if, together, we could get it back on track. So far, so good, if you don’t count the fact that everybody here is grossly overworked and underpaid.” He chuckled. “I get credit for the good stuff and I let Eric take credit for the bad. Although I think he says it the other way around. Anyway, you’ll meet him when he gets over his sore throat…caught it from his twins. He’s the one who coordinates mountain rescue, by the way.”

“How many more doctors do you have?”

“Two full-time orthopedists, Kent Stafford and Jane McGinnis, John Ellis, who’s another family practitioner, only he’s part-time, in semi-retirement now, and we have a part-time rehabilitation specialist, Jackie Pennington, who comes in from Salt Lake city two days a week. Oh, and an obstetrician on the way, but not for another few weeks. We have nurse practitioner Fallon O’Gara, whom you met earlier and who practically runs the hospital—she’s probably the most essential team member we have. And we have a couple of respiratory therapists, three physical therapists, and a dozen staff nurses. We also have a few doctors who come in to help out in the clinic on a rotating basis once or twice a month—a cardiologist and a rheumatologist. Then there’s Henry Gunther, a retired anesthesiologist, on call. He moved here to engineer the ski train—trains were his hobby—so he’s always close by when we need him. Then we have a number of volunteers and support staff, and that’s about it. White Elk Hospital. Struggling, but surviving.”

“Seems adequate for the area.” And impressive. White Elk Hospital appeared to be a well-run medical facility, even if Neil did admit to a few shortcomings, and it was almost too bad she wouldn’t be part of it for long. It could have been what she was looking for, professionally, anyway. Someplace nice, where people cared about each other

“Most of the time it is. And the one thing I failed to mention is that we all take our turns in the emergency department and trauma, even if that’s not our specialty. At present, we don’t have enough funds to staff it regularly, so we all get our chance to work there. I’m hoping that before the start of next year’s skiing I’ll be able to hire one more physician, another trauma doc, and bring in a couple of moonlighters. But Eric and I are still talking it over, crunching numbers, crossing our fingers.”

“It sounds…compact.” And not at all complicated, like so many of the large hospitals were—hospitals where the doctors fit into their own little niche and rarely, if ever, wandered out of it. Some might say there were advantages to staying where you belonged, but she liked the idea of working different areas, especially if the doctors’ medical qualifications suited that. Her own father, an obstetrician, had been a general field surgeon in the army and she’d had training in general surgery, too, at his urging.

“Coming from Chicago, the way you do, I suppose it would.”

“Well, coming from Chicago, the way I do, I have a different appreciation for what medicine should be.”

“Which is?”


“In an ideal world,” Neil said.

“In a real world, if that’s how you want it to be. Where I worked, everything was complicated. The more complicated it became, the further away the patients seemed to get. I got used to it, I suppose, but…” She frowned. Shrugged. “It was OK then, but not any more.”

“What changed you?”

“I’d like to attribute it to my pregnancy hormones but, to be honest, I haven’t been happy for a while. Not unhappy either. Just existing. Nothing was wrong, nothing was bad. But nothing made me happy about my work, and I think to be a good doctor…to be the best doctor you can be…you need to be happy about your work. My dad always was. He jumped out of bed in the morning and couldn’t wait to get started. He thrived in the complicated system, turned it into his playground and worked it to the advantage of his patients. I suppose I thought I should, too, which is why I stayed in practice with him so long, doing just that. But…” She shrugged again. “I wasn’t suited to the manipulations, I guess you could say. I became too restless to be as effective as I wanted to be and decided I finally needed to make a change. Getting pregnant was the last shove I needed. Don’t know what that permanent change is yet, but I’ll know it when I see it.” She was positive of that.

“So you came here, to White Elk, looking for…happiness?”

Not even close, but that was a complication she felt no pressing urge to discuss with him. “Handmade baby clothes and peace of mind. And I’ve already found the handmade baby clothes.”

“I’m done for the day,” Gabby said, plopping down onto the exam table in emergency room one. In the past two hours she’d seen one scheduled patient, one walk-in and done a regular pelvic exam on one of the staff nurses. It wasn’t an overwhelming schedule, which was fine with her. Working again felt good. She’d missed it, and she was glad to be back in any capacity.

Neil, who was sitting on a chrome stool across from her, looking all rigid and uncomfortable whilst reading an outdated medical journal, glanced up, took off his reading glasses and tucked them into his pocket. “Did you have a good first day? It wasn’t too much for you, was it?”

“Good first day, yes. Too much, no. In fact, it was a little slow.”

“Like I said earlier, you’ll learn to appreciate those lulls since they don’t come too often.” He put his journal aside, and stood up. “Look, are you up to a quick dinner? We’re not busy right now. Fallon is down the hall stitching up a kid who took a header off his bicycle, and that’s all we’ve had this past hour. So I was thinking about going across the street to the café before I have to come back and spend the night in emergency on call. You’re welcome to join me, unless you have other plans.”

“Plans? My plan this time yesterday was to go back to Chicago and get my condo ready to sell. Now here I am, working in a place I’d never heard of until…” she glanced at her watch “…twenty-nine hours, forty-two minutes ago. Meaning no plans, and I’ve love to join you.”

“So, what do you eat?”

“Lately, everything I can get my hands on. A little light on meat, but other than that no dietary restrictions, no self-imposed taboos. Just point me in the direction of food and I’ll show you what I eat.”

“Then you’ll love Catie’s Overlook, because they fix a little bit of everything.” Neil hurried down to exam three to check on Fallon, who was coming along nicely with her patient. In fact, the procedure was finished and she was at the lollipop stage—the hardest part of the ordeal, trying to get her young patient to choose between red and green. Neil took a look at the stitches, wrote an antibiotic prescription, gave the boy both the red and the green, and sent him home with his mother. Then off with his white lab coat and on with his denim jacket. A quick gesture to Gabby and they were on their way.

“So what’s the specialty of the house?” she asked. Heading down the hall, his strides were long, and his heels clicked briskly on tile floor. She liked that confidence in him, liked the way he held the door open for her but didn’t overstep his bounds by taking hold of her arm as she half expected him to do. “And are the portions huge? Because I eat a lot these days. I tell myself it’s because Bryce is going to be an athlete and he’s storing up the calories early.”


“My son. I’m calling him Bryce Evans, after my father.” She sighed wistfully. “That was the first decision I made after I found out I was having a boy. A fitting tribute, I think.”

“I take it your father’s not with you any more?”

Not her father, not Bryce’s father. Things should have been different. “Not any more. Just when I was ready to make the big move, he made a bigger one. Too young, too soon.”

“I’m sorry, Gabrielle. I get the feeling you and your father were close.”

“We were.” Stepping up onto the curb, she stopped for a moment as Bryce kicked, and laid a hand on her belly. Then she smiled. “But it’s an amazing circle of life, isn’t it? I lose one Bryce who meant the world to me, and another one’s about to enter my life who means even more.”

What an amazing woman. He didn’t think he’d ever met anyone like Gabrielle Evans before. Confident, selfassured. Maybe a little too defiant with her self-reliance, probably a reaction to her having a baby alone. He guessed that she probably fought against things she didn’t have to, but that was OK. It made her even more interesting. So why was it that he’d met her now, when the timing was so wrong on so many different levels? “Table for two, Helen,” he said to the waitress who greeted them at the door. “Oh, and this is Dr Evans. She’ll be working as our obstetrician for the next few weeks.”

Helen looked down at the lump under Gabby’s coat with a dubious frown, then nodded. “Which Sister?” she asked. Catie’s Overlook boasted the best view in town—windows overlooking each of the Three Sisters.

“Older Sister. Better view, more lights.” Not that it really mattered, since he’d seen each of the Sisters from every angle more times than he could remember, but he thought Gabrielle might like the nicer view.

“Angela Blanchard works up there,” Gabby commented as Neil pulled out the chair for her.

It was quaint, old-fashioned, all wood, and surprisingly not as uncomfortable as it looked. But on the other side of the room there were cozy, romantic booths, where several couples sat all tucked into each other. He’d done that, once upon a time. In fact, he’d brought Karen here, and he’d been the one so distracted by the moment that he hadn’t noticed the obvious—that she had eyes for him, but not him alone. Well, not any more. He’d sworn off relationships a while ago, and he wasn’t yet in the mood to swear back on. If he ever did, there would be no cozy booths and candlelight, though. Next time, it was going to be a matter of practicality. His one and only promise to himself was head before heart. A down-to-earth partnership.

“She came into the clinic today,” Gabby continued.

“Grumpy?” Neil asked, as he took his seat, purposely keeping his back toward the row of romantic booths. “She usually is lately.”

“No, not grumpy. More like frustrated with her situation. And with her inactivity. So I gave her permission to return to work, be active again on a limited basis, which is what she wanted. It had a pretty good effect on her mood.”

“Ah, going against Walt Graham’s sage advice to stay home and keep your feet up for nine months. His wife had seven children, and we always teased that she kept getting pregnant so she could take the nine-month holiday. Because Walt wouldn’t let her do a thing. He waited on her hand and foot, and hired someone to do it for him when he wasn’t there.”


“He was lost after she died. Lost a lot of the joy in his life, I think. Woke up one morning a few weeks ago and said it was time to do something else, and he did. He quit his practice. Now he’s out hiking in the woods, skiing, doing the things he never had time to do before. But he’s a good man, and a good doctor with old-fashioned ways.”

“He sounds a lot like my father. Dad always had my mother on a pedestal. It’s hard for me to even imagine the kind of love he had for her, but I think that’s what Walt Graham must have had for his wife, because Dad never got over her after she died. Never dated, never looked at another woman, never took off his wedding ring.”

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