Authors: Julie Kenner,Kathleen O'Reilly
Tags: #Romance: Modern, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Adult, #Romance - General, #Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance
Julie is known for her “flair for dialogue and eccentric characterizations.”
“Funny and sassy, her books are a cherished delight.”
“Kenner has a way with dialogue; her one-liners are funny and fresh. Her comic timing is beautiful, almost Jennifer Crusie-esque.”
All About Romance
“Kathleen O’Reilly’s ability to write steamy, moving love stories leaves me breathless. I wouldn’t miss one of her stories for love or money.”
New York Times
bestselling author Julia London
“Romance is alive and doing just fine, thank you, in the capable hands of Kathleen O’Reilly.”
The Romance Reader
“If you rearrange the letters in ‘Kathleen O’Reilly’ it spells ‘AUTO BUY.’ Also, amazingly, ‘REALLY GOOD BOOKS.’”
National bestselling author
’s first book hit the stores in February 2000, and she’s been on the go ever since. Julie’s books have been on lists as varied as those of
Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble and
magazine. Julie lives in Georgetown, Texas, with her husband, two daughters and several cats.
wrote her first romance at the age of eleven, which to her undying embarrassment was read aloud to her class. After taking more than twenty years to recover from the profound distress, she is proud to finally announce her career—romance author. Now she is an award-winning author of nearly twenty romances published in countries all over the world. Kathleen lives in New York with her husband and their two children, who outwit her daily.
To Brenda, for a decade…and more to come!
April 1, 1980
HE WORLD HAD NEVER SEEN
four such dejected children. It was the evening of April Fools’ Day, normally a time for hoaxes and pranks, but for the Franklin family, it was a dark day indeed. The full moon glowed with an eerie orange light, casting shadows on the barren midwestern farm and the small garden of gravestones, one newly dug.
Even the animals were smart enough to stay away when the events of April Fools’ began to unfold. The cows watched warily from the far side of the pasture; owls hooted nervously, waiting for midnight to pass.
In the distance, the lights from the old farmhouse were all out, except for the last remaining guttering sparks of a kitchen fire nearly extinguished. Mother and Father Franklin were safe in their bed, pretending the day had passed without incident. It was only the children who were still awake, counting the ticks of the clock to midnight, counting the moments when their world passed from disaster back to normal once again.
The oldest boy, Cam, kicked at the marble gravestone, choosing to defy the fates, as was his way. His
eye was blackened from a spirited encounter earlier in the day. At school, Leo Meeks, a larger and older student, had the spineless audacity to taunt Cam about the legend of the Franklin Curse, never an easy subject with any of the Franklin children. Cam, choosing to ignore the school principal’s stern warning, had lit into the bully, but had discounted the newly waxed floors. So instead of ramming his fist into Leo’s meaty face, he had instead rammed his own face into the nearest bank of lockers.
“She should have told us,” he demanded of absolutely no one in particular, proceeding to kick at the stone until his foot began to ache. “She should have told somebody before she died. We can beat this. We just need to know how.”
The eldest daughter, Devon, popped up from behind the lightning-split elm tree, a position she had chosen because it was statistically unlikely that lightning would strike twice in the same place. The tree also provided an excellent vantage point. “You heard Mom. Grandmother was batty as a fruitcake. There’s no way to beat it, Cam. You and Reg are wasting your time.”
The youngest child, Darcy, dug her hand in the grass, and happily picked out a four-leaf clover. “Look! It’s a lucky clover. I think it’s a sign from Grandmother that we’re not cursed after all.”
Devon looked at the clover and scoffed, “That’s a weed.”
Darcy first sniffed then folded the clover in her pocket. “It’s a pretty weed, and I think Grandmother would want us to keep it…even if she was batty.”
Reg, who was the most scholarly of the four, shook
his head, his keen gaze scanning the night skies as if the answers were in the stars. “She wasn’t that batty. She said it started in the eighteenth century, with Olivia d’Espry, but she doesn’t know the story—she doesn’t know why. That’s what I want to find out.”
Cam muttered something vaguely scatological in disagreement, because he sensed manure when he heard it. “It’s just a story,” he muttered.
“The pieces fit,” Reg countered. “Olivia came from France to New Orleans with her father. Our family tree cuts through New Orleans, too.”
“And that’s when Great-grandpa Franklin first wrote about the curse,” Devon said. “Or great-great. Or something. Anyway, back when he was in New Orleans.”
“Archives don’t lie,” Reg said. “History doesn’t lie. It makes sense.”
“The hell it does,” Cam said. “It is what it is.”
“It will make sense,” Reg said. “I’m going to figure it out. I’m going to stop it.”
They all looked at him, not believing, but then Reg’s watch alarm began to chirp. Midnight.
Another day had passed. Another year’s reprieve. Another year to hope.
April 1, five years earlier, 9:30 p.m.
what the bone-headed insurance company is telling you. That’s my social-security number, there are no inverted digits and I didn’t steal it.”
Safe on the other side of the E.R. ward, Dr. Jenna Ferrar watched the scene unfold, and shook her head in chagrin. Cameron Franklin’s belligerent tone would get him nowhere with Bertrice, the guardian of hospital registrations, a woman secretly known as Ballbuster Bertie. After four years of this, you’d think he would know better. Apparently not.
Still, Jenna didn’t understand how Bertie could get mad at somebody with a cast on his arm, and those deep, honey-brown eyes that had the ability to snuff out a woman’s virginity with one smoldering glance.
Every year on April Fools’ Day, he was in her E.R. with something new. Last year it was a broken leg sustained while hang gliding. The year before, it was a motorcross accident, complete with a distal radius fracture and more lacerations than Alfred Hitchcock could ever imagine.
Even with all the medical trauma, she still wanted to
pull him behind the curtain and show him how doctor was meant to be played.
What she couldn’t figure out was why Bertie was immune. Every other female in the E.R. had spent many a private moment in the staff lounge, fantasizing about Cam Franklin—including Jenna.
Paging Doctor McSlutty…
Feeling the familiar pangs, her medically trained scrutiny drifted over his anatomy in a purely nonprofessional manner.
The sling on his arm did nothing to detract from the finely tapered torso, the shaggy mane of sun-streaked brown hair and the ass that…well, in her line of work there were few backsides she wanted to see nude. But
…two bulbous cheeks lovingly gift-wrapped in faded Levi’s…da Vinci couldn’t have sketched it any better.
Discreetly, she raised a hand and fanned her own flushed cheeks.
Three years ago, she’d almost invented a tetanus scare in order to ask him to drop his trousers. In the end, she chickened out—pesky medical ethics and potential for malpractice. But even knowing those risks, the temptation had been strong.
Seeing there was no hope for gratuitous nudity this year, either, she stuffed her hands into the pockets of her lab coat and watched Bertie and Cam argue with ever-increasing wrath.
Before she could intervene, her cell phone beeped. It was her sister.
“What?” she answered, her eyes still focused on Cam, thinking that no man should look that sexy when he was irate and medicated.
“Are you okay?” asked Janie.
“Your voice sounds goofy. A little wobbly. Why is it wobbly?”
Jenna cleared her throat, erasing some of the lust, which was always a problem when Cam was around. “Better?”
“Ah, yes. Now there’s the crisp, no-nonsense sister I know and love. I need a favor.”
“No, I will not go out with Tony’s business partner,” she insisted, hoping to get off the phone soon. The patients were starting to notice the argument at the desk, and Larry the Security Guard had already peeped over there twice.
“No fix-ups. That wasn’t the favor. Can you talk to Mom?”
“Why can’t you do it?”
“You’re the doctor.”
“You’re the mother, the wife, the managing director of a billion-dollar foundation. That’s not peanuts. That should count.”
“I’m afraid of her.”
“I’m afraid of her, too. It’s why we’re hardened and driven and overcompensate in all other areas of achievement. In many ways, that very terror is responsible for our success. Embrace your fears. Call her yourself.”
“She wants me to come to San Diego with her. To a spa.” Janie dragged out the words like a death sentence.
“Go. Sounds like fun.”
“You’re not listening to me, are you? Because if you were really listening, you would have expressed the appropriate levels of shock and horror at the idea of spending a weekend with Mother. A weekend that
involves mud and creepy levels of nakedness. It could scar me for life.”
“You are scarred for life, get over it.” Tough love was the motto in the Ferrar family, except when it came to men. Then they were mush. Jenna cast a mush-filled look at Cam and sighed.
“You won’t go? You could go. I’ll tell her that you should go.”
“I’m needed here. I have to save lives.”
“That’s a likely story.”
She noticed that Bertie seemed ready to kill. Not so unlikely. “Can’t go.”
“I hate you.”
“No you don’t.”
“I could hate you.”
“No you won’t. Who would go shopping with you and tell you that fleece sweatpants are actually flattering and you don’t need to feel guilt for dressing like a frump? No one, because the people that love you are the ones that will lie.”
“You’re going to make me go?”
“Grow a pair. Tell her no,” encouraged Jenna, who had lusted after Cam Franklin for four years, and had done exactly nothing. Yes, there was irony. Janie would never know.
“I can’t tell her no, she’s my mother,” pleaded Janie, but Jenna heard the resignation in her voice.
“Hanging up now, sis.”
Jenna ended the call and started toward the reception desk, thinking that maybe it was time for her to grow a pair, as well.
“You don’t need to call the police. There is no crime,” Cam was saying, almost a bellow, but not quite. Safely behind the bulletproof glass partition, Bertie jumped up and glared, eyes promising death. “If you don’t back away from my window, there will be crime, mister.”
Cam leaned forward and pressed his nose to the glass. “Try me, you little pencil-pushing gnome.”
Uh-oh. Name-calling. Not good.
Briskly Jenna moved through the crowd of four sniffling sneezers, two achy backs, eight cases of dental malaise and one tiny tot, currently running a temp of 99.3. All in all, it was a relatively quiet Thursday night for Manhattan—except for World War III at the Admissions window.
“Bertie? Is there a problem?”
“Is an asshole considered a problem, Dr. Ferrar? I think not. I consider it an official hazard of duty, and if this patient thinks he can pull a fast one on Bertie, he can think again.”
The patient in question—Cameron Franklin, age thirty two, one hundred and eighty-three pounds, unmarried, employed by King, Franklin and Cross Development, O positive blood type and no communicable diseases—turned toward her and, as usual, Jenna had to stifle her sudden case of labored breathing. Those tiger-bright eyes always made her squirm.
“Can you make her practice reason and logic? Do we have to take the word of some mindless, faceless, corporate bureaucrat over what? Five years of actual hospital history? My social-security number has not changed. It’s the same one I was born with, the same one I had last year. The same one you wrote in your pa
perwork the year before, and the year before that. If you love the records so much, look at your own paperwork.”
That last bit was directed at Bertrice, who for the first time in twenty years on the job, actually looked uncertain. She stared down at the manila folder in front of her, thumbed through a few pages and frowned. Then, she picked up the next folder, thumbed through a few more pages and scowled. Finally she looked up at Cam, sulky and unhappy, like a two-year-old missing her favorite toy. “I think the records are wrong,” she mumbled.
Jenna knew that Cam would pick up on the halfhearted tone. He did.
“All of them? Even the ones that you wrote? Last year? And the year before? No way. There is no freaking way that you could make a mistake,” he told Bertie, voice dripping with sarcasm.
“I don’t make mistakes,” Bertie defended. It was true. Although lacking in her customer-service skills, Bertie was meticulous. However, sometimes, the unthinkable could happen.
Jenna coughed discreetly. “Bertrice. Normally I wouldn’t dare correct you, but I think that’s his correct social-security number.”
“See? If Doc Ferrar believes me, don’t you think you should?”
Cam beamed, those kissably full lips curving upwards. Jenna, who was more driven by token gold-star signs of approval than she cared to admit, beamed back.
Bertrice picked up the pile of folders and raised her brows. “I don’t think I should. But I will. This is gonna take a while to fix, and if you think I’m going to hurry, well, mister, I’m going to make me a new definition for
slow. In fact, I’m going to be so slow, they’re going to put me in the dictionary right next to the turtles. And don’t go anywhere, neither. ’Cause we know where you live and I’ll hunt you down.”
After Bertrice left, Cam turned to Jenna and dragged his hand through his thick hair, tousling it. Not surprisingly, it made him look even more bedable.
“I thought a hospital was a place for mercy and charity, a patient-centered haven nurturing the physical well-being of the wounded and infirm.”
“Nah. You’ve got us confused with those hospitals on TV. In real life, it’s all about preventative care. If the customer service is hell, maybe people will stay away. We keep hoping, but no such luck. Speaking of ineffective diagnosis, what are you in for this year?”
“What is parkour? It sounds exotic and slightly poisonous.”
“It’s running. Well, running on an industrialized path, and you jump and climb over stuff. Very stylized.”
“You do this in the city?” she asked, thinking it was a miracle no taxi had smashed him flat.
“Oh, yeah. Construction sites are actually the best.”
“And that’s how you got hurt?”
“Sort of. I was doing this monkey vault on some scaffolding for one of our buildings, jumping from one cross-brace to another, followed by a flawless underbar through the top-level beam and then ending with a cat leap to the top of this old warehouse next door. It was great, everybody should try this, the wind rushing through your ears, like you’re flying, but right when I was reaching for the brick on the warehouse, this goose
decided to dive-bomb me and I lost my focus, and the rest can be found in my X rays. Dislocated shoulder.”
It was apparent he loved what he did, but sometimes his eyes gleamed a little too bright, were a little too focused. It was then when Jenna worried.
“Cam, one of these days, you’re going to kill yourself.”
Sadly, he didn’t even look concerned. “Then that’s one less patient you’ll have to treat.”
“I’d rather up my stats the old-fashioned way, instead of being Dr. Death Angel. And by the way, you could help out by staying home on April Fools’.”
He met her eyes, serious, intent. “So you believe the curse is true?”
It was a discussion they’d had every year and every year, she was just as uncomfortable. However, she knew enough to keep her impassive-doctor face in place. “It doesn’t matter whether it exists or not. Even without a curse, you’d still end up in my E.R. on April One because you have to be all Mr. Stupid-Head. It’d be flattering to think this is all an elaborate and painful ruse to get my attention, but I don’t think it is.”
“If I wanted to get your attention, you’d know,” he told her, flashing her a smile that indicated he had some ideas. Possibly involving the loss of clothing. Instantly her blood pressure spiked, and Jenna worked to remember who she was. A doctor. Professional. Detached. Capable of coherent speech no matter what sort of debauched images were rolling around in her head.
“Cam, next year, stay home.”
“I’m not going to let it beat me,” he said, the smile disappearing from his face.
Jenna stared pointedly at the sling on his arm. “It’s already beat you.”
Before he could argue more, her pager beeped, and she shot him a long, frustrated look, because all of her brilliant advice was passing straight through that stubborn head.
Some of her concern must have seeped through, because then Cam leaned over to kiss her cheek, a patronizing yet still sweet gesture. However, Jenna was no fool.
She twisted and found herself mouth to mouth—exactly as she intended. His lips moved over hers, warm, persuasive, instantly morphing from surprise to seduction with an ease that spoke of an ego-shattering amount of practice. His fingers lifted to her throat, an oddly intimate touch that stoked her more than most of her sexual experiences.
When he pulled away, she was pleased to see the dilated pupils, the shallow breathing. Exactly as she intended.
she told herself,
say something provocative and sexy.
However, Doctor McSlutty was nowhere in the building.
Her pager beeped again, and he waved his good hand. “See you next year.”
They were the cocky and dismissive words of a fool, and Jenna fisted her hands in her coat before she hit something—or someone.
“No,” she snapped, ignoring the curious looks of the staff. It wasn’t often she lost it with a patient, but so what? She was human. Mostly.
“I don’t want to see you next year,” she lectured in her best I-Am-God voice. “Be a stranger.”
At first she thought her words were falling on deaf ears, and she turned to walk away. However, she could
feel the heat of his eyes on her, thinking, considering. It probably wouldn’t make a bit of difference, but at least she’d tried.
Tried? That wasn’t trying. If she really wanted to make a difference, she needed to do something more. Something risky. Something daring. Something she’d always wanted to do.
Then, while her stomach was still convulsing with the aftereffects of sexual palpitations, Dr. Jenna Ferrar got a bold and slightly idiotic idea.
She’d have to wait three hundred and sixty-four days before implementation, but some things were worth waiting for.
Her fingers brushed over her lips, still feeling the heat. Yes. It was definitely idiotic, but even worse, three hundred and sixty-four-days was a long, long time away…