CHAPTER 1 EXCERPT FROM EVERYTHING HIS HEART DESIRES
FAST AND FLIRTY, RHONDA was built to please, and Brett Harris had been hooked the moment he saw her. She was fine in all the ways that mattered. Perfect body. Smooth lines. Plus, black leather suited her. What more could a guy want? Rhonda had been worth every dime of the sixty-two thousand that Brett had paid for her.
In mint condition, Rhonda, a deep blue 1969 Road Runner, was one of four classic muscle cars he owned. His collection included a red Camaro called Cathy, a silver Mustang, Molly, and Farah, a black Firebird. He affectionately called them his Girls. They were beauties, and they never let a guy down.
Since it was Friday, the physicians’ parking lot was almost empty. Over half of the medical staff, including Brett, took Friday as their day off. He lived for three-day weekends.
“It’s all about heaven on earth, Rhonda.” He patted Rhonda’s shiny blue fender and headed toward the catwalk that would take him to the physician’s entrance.
The brown leather bomber jacket he wore over a navy pullover and khakis warded off the crisp chill of the morning air. It was the first Friday in November. Fall was here, and soon, it would be cool enough to light up the fireplace. He loved fall.
This weekend, a warm front would keep the highs in the seventies. Glorious weather for renting a cabin at Covington Lake. His phone was filled with numbers of available women. Any one of them would be happy to accompany him.
Life was good.
He tapped in his code on the keypad and walked into the physicians’ lounge, which was as deserted as the parking lot. Brett followed the aroma of freshly brewed coffee into the kitchenette, where his pal, pediatrician Aaron Kendall, sat on a stool, eating a bowl of cornflakes.
Dressed in blue scrubs, Aaron, a former college baseball player with soulful dark blue eyes and black hair, greeted him. “Hey. I’ve asked around, and no one knows anything about a meeting this morning.”
Brett frowned. “I can’t imagine what Sheldon wants.” An hour ago, he had received a cryptic message from the chief of staff, Dr. Neal Sheldon.
Meet me at the hospital. Nine o’clock. Executive Conference Room.
It was a simple command with no explanation. Being who he was, Sheldon did not have to explain his orders. His authority was not questioned. Nevertheless, since Brett had received Sheldon’s message, his mind had been considering all the possibilities and coming up with nothing.
“Are you in trouble again?” Aaron asked.
“No.” After his last clash with Richard Lockett, the hospital’s current CEO, he had been reprimanded by the chief of staff. So, for four months, he had been the poster boy of professionalism, and the Lockett was holed up in his office, dealing with cash flow deficits at the hospital.
Aaron gave him a thoughtful glance. “What about the chief of cardiology position?”
“You know I don’t have a chance.” Not that he didn’t want to be head of the cardiology department. He’d sell his soul for the position. That was how much he wanted it.
“You’re an interventional cardiologist. That’s a huge plus when it comes to generating income for the hospital.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s all politics.” More than once, the politics had gone against him. When it came to Lafayette Falls, he was from the “wrong side of town,” so to speak.
He’d grown up poor on Trinity Road, a strip of worn asphalt that snaked through the hills outside of town. Decades before Brett was born, Trinity Road had already established a dark reputation. The desolate road had once been home to a branch of the Dixie Mafia, and it was known for its roadhouses and violence. Nothing good ever comes from Trinity Road. That phrase had become Trinity Road’s legacy, and Brett had been trying to live that down all his life.
By all rights, a penniless kid from Trinity Road should have never even made it to college, much less medical school. The chief of cardiology position was beyond his grasp.
“I don’t know why Sheldon called this meeting. I don’t have any patient complaints against me that I’m aware of.”
He took his work seriously and was good at what he did.
Aaron finished his cereal. “If you get the chance, mention the chief of cardiology office to Sheldon. You’d do a great job.”
“The only way I will get it is if everyone else turns it down.” The position meant extra work, and the three other cardiologists on staff were older than Brett and had families on top of large practices. They might balk at more responsibility. “I think Foster will step up and take it.”
Dr. Roy Foster had been on the staff for over twenty years. He was well liked, well-connected, and a better politician than Brett.
“Still, say something to Sheldon,” Aaron suggested. “Just see what his thoughts are.”
“He’d probably flatten me like a cockroach.” Brett glanced at the wall clock, which read eight forty-five. It never hurt to be early. “I’ll let you know what happens.”
“Good luck, bro.”
Brett strode down the blue-tiled hallway, thinking about the chief of cardiology position. Dr. Milam Collins had held onto the position for twenty-five years. For the past few years, Collins had been biding his time, preparing to retire. He had let things in the department slide.
Collins never insisted on the purchase of new equipment or upgrades to the cath lab. Brett had found that frustrating, but mediocre Collins was Lockett’s golfing buddy, and he had the support of the governing board of trustees and the medical staff. It was all about the good ole boy network.
In the hallway, he passed a couple of lab techs. “Hey, Hot Rod,” they greeted him by his nickname. “TGIF!”
“You got that right,” Brett replied. There was nothing like a Friday to put a little spring in your step. He usually hung out on Friday nights at the Thunderbird Bar and Grill.
Last year, he had invested a wad of cash into the Thunderbird, which was paying off nicely, as well as some other investments. His portfolio grew fatter by the day.
As he approached the elevators at the end of the hall, the doors to one of the cars slid open, and he made a dash for it. He almost ran into Mrs. Rutherford, the hospital’s stodgy dietitian, who stepped out of the elevator.
“Doctor Harris, aren’t you energetic this morning?”
“It’s Friday, Mrs. Rutherford. Best day of the week!” Brett rushed into the elevator car as the doors started to close. The hospital elevator cars were built to accommodate stretchers and medical equipment, so they were roomy enough.
He nodded at an elderly Asian couple standing in the middle of the car. He stood before the operating panel and pressed seven, where the executive offices and meeting rooms were located. He settled in the front corner as the car shuddered and began its climb.
That’s when he noticed the hot chick standing in the rear corner of the elevator, diagonal from him. Gold hair cascaded over her shoulders, creating a mesmerizing S-curve that delicately framed her cheek. She wore a short burgundy jacket with embroidered lapels over a silky top and form-fitting jeans. Knee-high brown leather boots with stack heels added a touch of sophistication to her appearance.
She looked like she had just stepped out of a high-end Ralph Lauren fashion advertisement, radiating an aura of effortless cool and timeless class. With a grin, he thought she looked as if she belonged at a polo match, on a yacht, or in his bed.
She held a couple of large, white pastry boxes from the hospital cafeteria.
He reflexively checked out her hands. Delicate clear nails and no wedding band or engagement ring. He grinned. Maybe it’s my lucky day. Maybe a lucky weekend, too.
The elevator opened on the second floor, and the Asian couple got off. While the elevator was stopped, Brett moved to the rear of the car. So he and the Ralph Lauren model stood in opposite corners.
The elevator hydraulics sighed as the door closed. He cut his eyes in her direction. Classic bone structure. High cheekbones and a straight nose. You inherited some fantastic genes, babe.
She shifted the boxes she held and looked at him. Her bold sapphire-blue eyes pinned him with a gaze that would have fired up the pistons in any man. A tiny smile played at the corner of her lips. A girl giving a guy a hint of a smile was usually a good indicator that she liked what she saw.
He ignored the dicey feeling in his gut.
“I’ve heard we’re going to have great weather this weekend,” he remarked.
The weather was always a safe conversation starter. He tapped on the handrail. For the first time ever, he wished the elevator would move a little slower.
He saw a glimmer of amusement as her smile widened slightly. “There’s a storm coming.”
A storm? He frowned. He had watched the weather report on TV before he left his house. Sunny autumn weekend, high in the seventies, and no rain. “I don’t think so.”
“Oh, I’m fairly certain of it,” she insisted with a swift lowering of her lashes.