Authors: Kate Allure
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Copyright Â© 2015 by Kate Allure
Cover and internal design Â© 2015 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by John Kicksee
Cover images Â©LenLis/Fotolia, gawriloff/Fotolia.
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systemsâexcept in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviewsâwithout permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file with the publisher.
Dr. Lauren Marks locked
the door to her small medical practice and sighed. All day she had felt an unshakable, bone-deep ennui, a quiet weariness that permeated her very soul. Brooding over it as she pulled out of the parking lot, Lauren decided it was time to take stock of her life and figure out what was missing.
Well, who am I kidding?
what's missing in my life. I just don't know how to get it, that's all!
Three simple lettersâ¦S-E-X! That was the big hole in her life. Oh, that and a husband, best friend, and partner in her medical practice, she added to her mental list.
As Lauren drove the short distance home, she ruminated about the good and the bad in her life. At thirty-six, she was the proud owner of the only medical practice in her tiny, rural hometown of Plum Banks, Illinois. It was a small general practice she had started with her new husband almost ten years ago. They had seemed so profoundly connected in those early years, so much in love, that subtle issues she should have paid more attention toâlike the fact that Ted was really a big-city kind of guy, born and raisedâhad seemed immaterial.
He had lasted nine years in Plum Banks before moving out and moving on to follow his original dream of a career in medical research at a prominent hospital. One night when she was out with friends, Ted had secretly packed his bags and left a note.
Lauren still couldn't believe he'd taken off that way. But he had left the entire practice to her in the divorce, a sign of how deeply he regretted abandoning her. Almost overnight, she had become the sole owner of the small clinic, debts and all.
With a sigh, Lauren acknowledged that she had been lucky, in a way. The initial shock of his betrayal had almost destroyed her, but somehow she had managed to pull herself together in the months following and had continued on with her life. At one point, she nearly had to close the practice due to finances, so she had looked for a second doctor to help grow the patient list and make ends meet.
She considered herself fortunate to have found Dr. Kelly Walsh, who had the funds to buy into the practice, thus helping to relieve some of Lauren's debt. If all went well, Dr. Walsh would become her full partner. Kelly was about Lauren's age and very capableâshe had quickly become a close confidant and ally. Along with some childhood pals still living in her hometown, Kelly's friendship had helped relieve Lauren's loneliness. Yes, she mused tiredly, she had friendsâ¦just not a boyfriend.
The rest of Lauren's small practice consisted of Brenda Roberts, a mostly retired nurse working part-time at the clinic, and young Jessica Smith, who was receptionist, bookkeeper, and office manager all rolled into one. Oh! She'd almost forgotten that another young woman would arrive on Monday, a summer intern named Courtney Sinclair. Lauren still couldn't believe she had hired someone sight unseen, but this had been an emergency of sorts, and she owed her old college friend Saraânow Dr. Rhodesâbig time. During her final year of med school, Lauren had been flat broke, and Sara had let her sleep on her sofa for nearly six months until she finished school. With her parents retired to Florida on a fixed income, Lauren had no one else to turn to for help.
So when Sara had sent out the urgent email yesterday to all of her contacts asking if anyone could take on an intern from Chicago, Lauren had read the attached rÃ©sumÃ© and realized this was a way to finally pay back the debt she owed her friend. Dr. Rhodes had unexpectedly received a once-in-a-lifetime job offer at Stanford University Hospital, halfway across the country, but had already hired Ms. Sinclair as a favor to a friend. Sara felt terrible about leaving the girl in the lurch without her planned summer job. The recent college graduate was already accepted to med school starting next fall but could not decide if this was really her calling. That's why she wanted to spend the summer working in a general practice.
So, without even a telephone interview, Lauren had agreed to take the intern. It was only for three months, after all. With staff vacations coming up, the extra help would come in handy. She was a little concerned the young woman would prove useless in her clinic, but Lauren trusted her friend's judgment. One way or another, she'd meet Courtney on Monday and find out.
Putting thoughts of the intern out of her mind, Lauren returned to taking stock of her life and contemplating why she was mildly depressed. She had a career she loved, a cozy home, and good friends, and while she had no family in the area, Lauren kept in close contact with her parents. Not wanting to face it, she ultimately had to conclude that the only thing missing in her life was a significant other, a romantic companionâand the much-needed sex that would come with such a relationship. But as a thirtysomething adult living in the same tiny town where she grew up, she had to admit that there were no single men her age left, truly no romantic prospects anywhere in sight. Noneâ¦atâ¦all!
Opening the door to her small bungalow, Lauren smiled slightly as she thought of a solution for at least one of her issues. She could get a dog that could at least provide a welcome home each night, a friendly, loyal companion without the other entanglements of a romance. And, being totally honest with herself, Lauren acknowledged that she was not ready to jump back into a long-term commitment. Even though the marriage had died long before Ted left, she was still mourning the loss of what she once had with him. She still needed more time for her heart to heal. After pouring herself a glass of cold chardonnay, Lauren sat on her porch swing and continued pondering where her life had gone wrong.
Lauren had met Ted
during her residency, and they had quickly become best friends and lovers. They had moved in together almost immediately, allowing her to finally vacate Sara's couch. They had definitely needed a place of their own because they had enjoyed boisterous sex, often and loudly. The two were married in a small ceremony exactly one year after meeting, and from then on, their lives had become intertwined. She had taken his name, and they became known by their friends in St. Louis as the Doctors Marks.
By then, Lauren had spent more than ten years in a big city, but she had always known she wanted to move back to her hometown. The small, close-knit community needed a doctor, and Lauren wanted to fill that role. Ted had followed both Lauren and her dream back to Plum Banks, a quaint town that bordered the Shawnee National Forest and had a population of less than a thousand. It was the kind of charming, warm place where she wanted to settle in and raise a family.
Everything had seemed perfect at firstâat least for Lauren. But the stressful, hard work of starting a practice from nothing, the mounting debts, and Ted's dissatisfaction at being in such a rural place had quickly begun to take a toll on their marriage. He had tried to hide his unhappiness, but it seemed to permeate their relationship anyway. They didn't have huge fights, so it was easy for Lauren to pretend nothing had changed, especially because the amazing sex that had been so much a part of their union did not erode as quickly as their bond of friendship.
As she rocked slowly back and forth on the porch swing, Lauren chided herself yet again, acknowledging that she should have paid more attention. She had refused to see the truth until the night she came home and found Ted gone, along with his clothes and personal things. His brief note had said that he felt responsible for the decay of their marriage, and clearly he considered it over. There had been no point in her chasing after him.
She had been truly devastated at first. But slowly Lauren realized that she, too, was no longer in love and had just been going through the motions. The shock she had felt when he left so abruptly was more about having her life suddenly and unexpectedly ripped apart. It had thrown her into a panicked depression made worse by the loneliness she faced each time she came home.
Even now, she could hardly believe Ted had managed to secure a job with a renowned hospital behind her back. It must have happened when he went to that medical conference in Chicago, she mused. A part of her also wondered if there was more to it than that. Had Ted found someone else in the city, someone who shared his goals? Lauren hadn't pursued that question. What was the point? Ted was gone and she was alone.
Now, six months later, she was slowly emerging from the fog. Lauren realized that she had needed time to let go of the dream of her marriage, to grieve its loss, and then to heal. She knew it was way too soon to jump into another deep relationship, but what truly depressed her was that when she
ready to try love again, there wouldn't be any prospects here. Lauren didn't know what she would do then, but for now she would try to put the thought out of her mind while she made a life for herself as the now single Dr. Marks.
So that evening, while reheating some leftovers, Lauren made the decision to go to the nearest town on Saturday and check out the rescue dogs at the shelter. That, she figured, would help with at least one of her problems. A friendly companion would ease some of the loneliness.
However, she didn't have a clue what to do about the lack of sex. Carrying on a torrid affair in Plum Banks was out of the question. Actually, any kind of casual sexual relationship with a local would become the biggest gossip of the yearâand, as she reminded herself for probably the hundredth time, there weren't
available guys here anyway. The nearest town, Marion, Kentucky, was thirty miles away, and she wasn't sure how to go about meeting someone there either, never having been a barhopping kind of gal. Besides, with a population of three thousand, Marion wasn't that much bigger than Plum Banks.
As Lauren sat at her small kitchen table eating dinner, she finally acknowledged that there wasn't any easy solution to her problem. Her physical state was made worse by the memories of the terrific sex she and Ted had shared here in their cozy home. It seemed like every time Lauren went to bed, she remembered their sensual nights, stirring vibrations within her that were best left dormant. Even time alone with her Doc Johnson wasn't cutting it anymore. Lauren wanted a living, breathing, warm body in her bed to bring her the release she craved. She wanted a man.
Thankfully, Lauren was so busy over the weekend with her new dog project that it provided a measure of distraction from her physical needs. On Saturday morning, she made the trip to Marion, which although tiny, did have an animal shelter. There she fell in love with Rufus, a charmingly cute beagle-setter-whatever mix. Before driving home, Lauren visited the pet store to buy things she would need to make her small bungalow “dog friendly” and even managed to get Rufus in to see the veterinarian. She was reassured that the dog was healthy, but bemoaned the fact that her community didn't have its own vet. On the plus side, she was pleased to discover that her adult rescue dog was already house-trained.
Lauren happily took Rufus on a long walk late Saturday afternoon and several more on Sunday, all of which helped to keep her attention off the one area of her life that seemed starkly lacking in hope.