Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance)

BOOK: Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance)
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What happens when the hero comes home?

Dr. Brody McKenna has just returned home from serving as a
medic in Afghanistan, and he has one more mission to fulfill....

Standing outside Kate Spencer’s sweetshop, he takes a deep
breath. Going through that door will take courage, for he’s here to keep a
promise made to his dying friend. He’s prepared for tears or anger—not the deep
attraction he feels for sparky-but-stressed Kate. One spontaneous offer of help
later, this hero is surrounded by cupcakes, candy canes—and the greatest
enticement to forget his past and take a new kind of risk.…

The McKenna Brothers

Three billionaire brothers.
Three guarded hearts. Three fabulous stories.

Meet the gorgeous McKenna Brothers in this brand-new trilogy
from the wonderfully witty
New York Times
bestselling author Shirley Jump.

Rich, handsome and successful, they’re the most eligible
bachelors in Boston!

Find out what happens when the oldest brother, Finn, finds
himself propositioned by the intriguing, feisty Ellie Winston in

One Day to Find a
Husband
July 2012

Discover whether straight-talking Stace Kettering can tame
notorious playboy Riley in

How the Playboy Got
Serious
August 2012

Returning hero Brody is back home and has a secret…but can he
confide in Kate Spencer? Find out in

Return of the Last
McKenna
September 2012

Dear Reader,

I’m almost sad to write this Dear Reader letter because it
means the McKenna brothers trilogy has come to an end. I loved each and every
brother, and had a lot of fun writing their stories. Not only did these books
let me return home to the place where I grew up, but they also presented lots of
challenges and interesting story lines.

Heidi, the dog who first appears in Finn’s book, is based on
my own real-life golden retriever, who died a few years ago. I enjoyed being
able to bring her to life again on the page and having her become a big part of
the McKenna family. But most of all, I really enjoyed writing about the military
and its heroes. My father is retired from the military, and my husband is former
military, so the sacrifice our troops make every day is very dear to me. I hope
you enjoy Brody’s story, and can relate to Elena’s grandma’s addiction to
cupcakes (that one is all, uh, me. I love cupcakes!).

I love to hear from readers, so please visit my website (
www.shirleyjump.com
) or visit my blog (
www.shirleyjump.blogspot.com
), where I share family recipes
and writing news. Stop on by and share a recipe, a favorite book, or just say
hello!

Happy reading!
Shirley

Shirley Jump

Return of the Last McKenna

New York Times
bestselling author
Shirley Jump
didn’t
have the willpower to diet or the talent to master under-eye concealer, so she
bowed out of a career in television and opted instead for a career where she
could be paid to eat at her desk—writing. At first, seeking revenge on her
children for their grocery-store tantrums, she sold embarrassing essays about
them to anthologies. However, it wasn’t enough to feed her growing addiction to
writing funny. So she turned to the world of romance novels, where messes are
(usually) cleaned up before The End. In the worlds Shirley gets to create and
control, the children listen to their parents, the husbands always remember
holidays and the housework is magically done by elves. Though she’s thrilled to
see her books in stores around the world, Shirley mostly writes because it gives
her an excuse to avoid cleaning the toilets and helps feed her shoe habit.

To learn more, visit her website at
www.shirleyjump.com
.

Books by Shirley Jump

HOW THE PLAYBOY GOT SERIOUS*
ONE DAY TO
FIND A HUSBAND*
THE PRINCESS TEST
HOW TO LASSO A COWBOY
IF THE
RED SLIPPER FITS
VEGAS PREGNANCY SURPRISE
BEST MAN SAYS I DO

*The McKenna Brothers trilogy

Other titles by this author
available in ebook format.

To the most heroic military man I know—my husband, who served
his country, and has made me proud to be his wife in a thousand different ways.
Not to mention, he’s the kind of guy who brings home cupcakes just because I had
a hard day. He knows me well!

CHAPTER ONE

B
RODY
McKenna checked
his third sore throat of the morning, prescribed the same prescription
as he had twice before—rest, fluids, acetaminophen—and tried to count his
blessings. He had a dependable job as a family physician, a growing practice,
and a close knit family living nearby. He’d returned from his time overseas none
the worse for wear, and should have been excited to get back to his job.

He wasn’t.

The six-year-old patient headed out the door, with a sugar-free
lollipop and a less harried mother. As they left, Helen Maguire, the nurse who
had been with him since day one, and with Doc Watkins for fifteen years before
that, poked her head in the door. “That’s the last patient of the morning,” she
said. A matronly figure in pink scrubs decorated with zoo animals, Mrs. Maguire
had short gray hair and a smile for every patient, young or old. “We have an
hour until it’s time to start immunizations. And then later in the afternoon,
we’ll be doing sports physicals.”

Brody’s mind drifted away from his next appointment and the
flurry of activity in his busy Newton office. His gaze swept the room, the jars
of supplies, so easy to order and stock here in America, always on hand and
ready for any emergency. Every bandage, every tongue depressor, every
stethoscope, reminded him. Launched him back to a hot country and a dusty dirt
floor hut short on supplies and even shorter on miracles.

“Doc? Did you hear me?” Mrs. Maguire asked.

“Oh, oh. Yes. Sorry.” Brody washed his hands, then dried them
and handed the chart to Helen. Focus on work, he told himself, not on a moment
in the past that couldn’t be changed. Or on a country on the other side of the
world, to those people he couldn’t save.

Especially not on that.

“Lots of colds going around,” he said.

“It’s that time of year.”

“I think it’s always that time of year.”

Helen shrugged. “I think that’s what I like about family
practice. You can set your watch by the colds and flus and shots. It has a
certain rhythm to it, don’t you think?”

“I do.” For a long time, Brody had thought he had the perfect
life. A family practice for a family man.

Or at least, that had been the plan. Then the family had
dissolved before it had a chance to form. By that time, Brody had already
stepped into Doc Watkins’s shoes. Walking away from a thriving practice would be
insane, so he’d stayed. For a long time, he’d been happy. He liked the patients.
Liked working with kids, liked seeing the families grow and change.

It was good work, and he took satisfaction in that, and had
augmented it with volunteer time with different places over the years—a clinic
in Alabama, a homeless shelter in Maine. When the opportunity to volunteer
assisting the remaining military overseas arose, Brody had jumped at it.

For a month, he’d changed lives in Afghanistan, working side by
side with other docs in a roving medical unit that visited villagers too poor to
get to a doctor or hospital, with the American military along for
protection.

Brody had thought he’d make a difference there, too. He
had—just not in the way he wanted. And now he couldn’t find peace, no matter
where he turned.

“You okay, doc?” Mrs. Maguire asked.

“Fine.” His gaze landed on the jars of supplies again. “Just
distracted. I think I’ll head out for lunch instead of eating at my desk.”

And being around all these reminders.

“No problem. It’ll do you good to take some time to enjoy the
day.” Mrs. Maguire smiled. “I find a little fresh air can make everything seem
brighter.”

Brody doubted the air would work any miracles for him, but
maybe some space and distance would. Unfortunately, he had little of either.
“I’ll be back by one.”

He stepped outside his office and into a warm, almost summer
day. The temperatures still lingered in the high seventies, even though the
calendar date read deep into September. Brody headed down the street, waving to
the neighbors who flanked his Newton practice—Mr. Simon with his shoe repair
shop, Mrs. Tipp with her art gallery and Milo, who had opened three different
types of shops in the same location, like an entrepreneur with ADD.

Brody took the same path as he took most days when he walked
during his lunch hour. He rarely ate, just walked from his office to the same
destination and back. He’d done it so many times in the last few weeks, he half
expected to see a worn river of footsteps down the center of the sidewalk.

Brody reached in his pocket as he rounded the corner. The paper
was crinkled and worn, the edges beginning to fray, but the inked message had
stayed clear.

Hey, Superman, take care of yourself and come
home safe. People over here love and miss you. Especially me. Things just
aren’t the same without your goofy face around. Love you, Kate.

Brody had held onto that card for a month now. He ran his hands
over the letters now, and debated the same thing he’d had in his head for weeks.
To fulfill Andrew’s last wishes, or let it go?

He paused. His feet had taken him to the same destination as
always. He stood under the bright red and white awning of Nora’s Sweet Shop and
debated again, the card firm in his grip.

Promise me, Doc. Promise me you’ll go see
her. Make sure she’s okay. Make sure she’s happy. But please, don’t tell her
what happened. She’ll blame herself and Kate has suffered enough
already.

The promise had been easy to make a month ago. Harder to
keep.

Brody fingered the card again.
Promise
me.

How many times had he made this journey and turned back instead
of taking, literally, the next step? If he returned to the thermometers and
stethoscopes and bandages, though, would he ever find peace?

He knew that answer. No. He needed to do this. Step forward
instead of back.

Brody took a deep breath, then opened the door and stepped
inside the shop. The sweet scents of chocolate and vanilla drifted over him,
while soft jazz music filled his ears. A glass case of cupcakes and chocolates
sat at one end of the store while a bright rainbow of gift baskets lined the
sides. A cake made out of cupcakes and decorated in bridal colors sat on a glass
stand in a bay window. Along the top of the walls ran a border of dark pink
writing trimmed with chocolate brown and a hand lettered script reading Nora’s
Sweet Shop. On the wall behind the counter, hung a framed spatula with the name
of the shop carved in the handle.

“Just a minute!” a woman called from the back.

“No problem,” Brody said, stuffing the card back into his
pocket. “I’m just…”

Just what? Not browsing. Not looking for candy or cupcakes. And
he sure as hell couldn’t say the truth—

He’d come to this little shop in downtown Newton for
forgiveness.

So instead he grabbed the first assembled basket of treats he
saw and marched over to the counter. He was just pulling out his wallet when a
slim brunette woman emerged from the back room.

“Hi, I’m Kate.” She dried her hands on the front of her apron
before proffering one for him to shake. “How can I help you?”

Kate Spencer. The owner of the shop, and the woman he’d thought
of a hundred times in the past weeks. A woman he’d never met but heard enough
about to write at least a couple chapters of her biography.

He took her hand, a steady, firm grip—and tried not to stare.
All these weeks he’d held onto that card, he’d expected someone, well, someone
like a young version of Mrs. Maguire. A motherly type with her hair in a bun,
and an apron around her waist, and a hug ready for anyone she met. That was how
Andrew had made his older sister sound. Loving, warm, dependable. Like a down
comforter.

Not the thin, fit, dynamo who had hurried out of the back room,
with a friendly smile on her face and her coffee colored hair in a sassy
ponytail skewed a bit too far to the right. She had deep green eyes, full
crimson lips and delicate, pretty features. Yet he saw shadows dusting the
undersides of her eyes and a tension in her shoulders.

Brody opened his mouth to introduce himself, to fulfill his
purpose for being here, but the words wouldn’t get past his throat. “I…I…uh,” he
glanced down at the counter, at the cellophane package in his hands, “I wanted
to get this.”

“No problem. Is it for a special person?”

Brody’s mind raced for an answer. “My, uh, grandmother. She
loves chocolate.”

“Your grandma?” Kate laughed, then spun the basket to face him.
“You want me to, ah, change out this bow? To something a little more feminine?
Unless your grandma is a big fan?”

He glanced down and noticed he’d chosen a basket with a Red Sox
ribbon. The dark blue basket with red trim, filled with white foil wrapped
chocolates shaped like baseballs and bats, couldn’t be further from the type of
thing his staid grandmother liked. He chuckled. “No, that’d be me. I’ve even got
season tickets. When she does watch baseball, my grandma is strictly a Yankees
fan, though you can’t say that too loud in Boston.”

Kate laughed, a light lyrical, happy sound. Again, Brody
realized how far off his imaginings of her had been. “Well, Mr. Red Sox, let me
make this more grandma friendly. Okay? And meanwhile, if you want to put a card
with this, there are some on the counter over there.”

“Thanks.” He wandered over to the counter she’d indicated, and
tugged out a card, then scribbled his name across it. That kept him from
watching her and gave his brain a few minutes to adjust to the reality of Kate
Spencer.

She was, in a word, beautiful. The kind of woman, on any other
day, he might have asked out on a date. Friendly, sweet natured, with a ready
smile and a teasing lilt to her words. Her smile had roused something in him the
minute he saw her, and that surprised him. He hadn’t expected to be attracted to
her, not one bit.

He tried to find a way around to say what he had come to say.
Promise me.

He’d practiced the words he needed to say in his head a hundred
times, but now that the moment had arrived, they wouldn’t come. It wasn’t the
kind of subject one could just dump in the middle of a business transaction, nor
had he quite figured out how to fulfill Andrew’s wishes without giving away why.
He needed to lead up to it, somehow. Yeah, easier to climb Mt. Everest.

“So…how’s business?” he asked.

“Pretty good. We’ve been growing every year since we opened in
1953. Mondays are our only slow day of the week. Almost like a mini vacation,
except at the beginning of the week.”

“You make all the cupcakes and candy things yourself?”

She shook her head and laughed. “I couldn’t. It’s a lot of
work. Nora’s Sweet Shop has been a family business for many years, but…” she
trailed off, seemed to look elsewhere for a second, then came back, “anyway, now
I have a helper who’s invaluable in the kitchen. Why, you applying?”

“Me? I’m all thumbs in the kitchen.”

“That can be dangerous if there are knives involved.” She
grinned. “But seriously, baking is something you can learn. I never had formal
training. Learned it all at my grandmother’s knee. And if a hopeless case like
me can grow up to be a baker, anyone can.”

“Sounds like you love working here.”

“I do. It’s…therapeutic.” The humor dimmed in her features, and
her gaze again went to somewhere he couldn’t see. He didn’t have to be psychic
to know why sadness had washed over her face. Because of choices Brody had made
on the other side of the world.

Damn.

Brody cleared his throat. “Work can be good for the soul.”

Or at least, that’s what he told himself every time he walked
into his practice. Ever since he’d returned from Afghanistan, though, he hadn’t
found that same satisfaction in his job as before. Maybe he just needed more
time. That’s what Mrs. Maguire said. Give it time, and it’ll all get better.

“And what work do you do, that feeds your soul?” She colored.
“Sorry. That’s a little personal. You don’t have to answer. I was just
curious.”

“I’m a doctor,” he said.

She leaned against the counter, one elbow on the glass, her
body turned toward his. “That’s a rewarding job. So much more so than baking.
And not to mention, a lot more complicated than measuring out cupcake
batter.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he said. “Your job looks pretty
rewarding to me. I mean, you make people happy.”

“It takes a lot of sugar to do that.” She laughed. “But thank
you. I try my best. Three generations of Spencers have been trying to do that
here.”

Brody’s gaze drifted over the articles on the wall. Several
contained accolades and positive reviews for the sweet shop, a third generation
business that had enjoyed decades of raves, as evidenced by some of the framed,
yellowed clippings. Brody paused when he got to the last article on the right.
The page was creased on one side, as if someone had kept the paper in a book for
a while before posting it on the wall. A picture of a handsome young man in
uniform smiled out from the corner of the article.

S
HOP
O
WNER

S
B
ROTHER
D
IES
IN
A
FGHANISTAN

Brody didn’t have to read another word to write the ending. In
an instant, he was back there, in that hot, dusty hut, praying and cursing, and
praying and cursing some more, while he tried to pump life back into Andrew
Spencer.

And failed.

Brody could still feel the young man’s chest beneath his palms.
A hard balloon, going up, going down, forced into moving by Brody’s hands, but
no breath escaping his lips. Andrew’s eyes open, sightless, empty. His life
ebbing away one second at a time, while Brody watched, helpless and frustrated.
Powerless.

BOOK: Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance)
12.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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