Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance) (14 page)

BOOK: Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance)
5.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

The general finished his speech, then began introducing the
vendors who had donated their time and products to the event. “And I’d also like
to introduce Miss Kate Spencer, owner of Nora’s Sweet Shop. She lost her
brother, Andrew, in Afghanistan last month. A tragic accident, that occurred
while Andrew and members of his team were accompanying a medical team helping
local villagers. Kate, come on up here.” The general waved to her.

She hesitated. “I don’t know if I’m ready for this,” she
whispered. She spun toward Brody. “Go with me? At least until the stage?”

“Of course.” He took her hand, and they walked across the room
and over to the stage. Kate gave Brody a smile, then climbed the few steps and
crossed to the podium. “Thank you, General Martin. I’m afraid you’ve given me
too much credit. I didn’t do anything but make cupcakes. It’s all of you who
made the sacrifices and gave of yourselves. I hope these desserts thank you, at
least in some tiny measure, for all you have done. I know my brother was proud
to be in the National Guard, but not as proud as I was to call him my
brother.”

A roar of applause and hearty agreement went up from the crowd.
Kate gave them all a smile, then climbed back down the stairs and took Brody’s
hand again. “Thank you.”

“You did great.” She’d been poised and brief, and delivered a
speech that touched people with a few words. He’d never seen another woman who
could do so much, and touch so many, so easily.

Damn, he liked her. A lot.

And because he did, he would tell her who he really was, and
what had happened in that dusty hut, and pray it all worked out. In his
practice, he’d seen a thousand times that the truth gave patients power. To make
their own decisions, to handle a diagnosis. Kate needed that, and Brody was done
waiting to give it to her.

“I’m just glad I got through it without crying.” She smiled
again, but this time her eyes shimmered. “It’s still hard to talk about him
sometimes.”

“I understand. More than you know.” He led her through the
crowd and toward the banquet tables. Maybe they could slip out for a few minutes
and he could talk to her. Or maybe it would be better to wait until they had
left, and they could find a quiet place to talk alone.

Along the way, several troops got to their feet to offer
condolences, and thank-yous for the cupcakes. Brody’s feet sputtered to a stop
when a familiar face rose to greet Kate. “Hey, Kate. Nice to see you again.”

“Artie! Oh my gosh, it’s been so long since I’ve seen you!” She
let go of Brody’s hand and gave the tall man a big hug. “How have you been?”

Artie Gavins, one of the other men in Andrew’s unit. Brody
forgot what his job had been, but he knew his face. He’d bandaged it the same
day that Andrew had died. A serious man, who the others had dubbed “Straight
Line” because he rarely cracked a smile. Andrew said Artie kept them all on
track, but had also respected the other man’s common sense approach.

“Fine, just fine,” Artie said. Then his gaze traveled past
Kate, and landed on Brody. It took him a second, but Brody could see him making
the connection in his brain, processing the man in the suit jacket and tie, and
connected him with the doctor in a khaki coat and jeans that he’d known last
month. “Doc? Wow, I can’t believe it’s you. Hell, I almost didn’t recognize you
all dressed up and wearing a suit and tie.”

Brody put out his hand and shook with the other man. “Good to
see you, too.”

And it was. There’d been so many wounded that day, so many to
tend to. Seeing one of the men as hearty and hale as ever, gave Brody more
reward than any paycheck ever could.

Still, he prayed Artie wouldn’t say anything else. Brody didn’t
want Kate to find out who he was like this. He wanted time to explain it to her,
time to get the words right, and here, in a public place, among all these
people, wasn’t the right place or time. “We, uh, better get back to the dessert
table,” he said to Kate. “I think we forgot to unload one of the boxes.”

“Oh, yes, we need to get that done. Wouldn’t want anyone to
miss out on dessert.” She gave Artie’s shoulder a squeeze. “We’ll catch up
later.”

“We will. Nice to see you, Kate, Doc.” Artie took his seat
again.

Brody hurried through the rest of the crowd with Kate, and back
over to the banquet table. He wanted to pull Kate aside, but they were pinned in
by the banquet tables and people were already lining up for food. No discreet
way to duck out of the room.

“I didn’t know you knew Artie,” she said. “What a small world.
How did you meet him?”

“He was…my patient once.” Brody cast a glance down the long
white tableclothed space. The hungry crowd was closing the gap between the
chicken cordon bleu and dessert.

“Wow, and you remember him? That’s pretty impressive, Doc.”

“There are certain patients I never forget.” Understatement of
the year. “Listen, can we get out of here? I really want to talk to you.”

“I can’t leave. I promised the general I’d stay and eat with
the troops. Plus, I’d love to catch up with Andrew’s unit. It makes me feel
closer to him. Why don’t you stay? I promise, none of them bite.” She
grinned.

“I…I can’t. I…” How could he explain it? The gap had closed,
and the diners were now ten feet away. In that crowd was Artie, and most like
Sully and Richards, the other two who had been on that mission with Andrew, also
wounded, also part of the mad rush between Brody and the other doctor to save
lives. “I…I need to talk to you, Kate.”

She put a hand on his arm “Are you okay? You look…pale.”

He glanced at the troops heading toward them, then at the woman
who had just talked about the one army man who wouldn’t be coming home, and the
guilt hit him again in a wave so hard, he had to take a breath before he spoke
again. “No, I’m not okay. Not at all.”

“What is it?”

Andrew’s last words rushed over Brody.
Don’t tell her. She’ll only grieve more.

But that bequest warred with everything Brody knew to be true.
A patient couldn’t mend if they were in the dark about their ailment. Kate’s
heart was hurting her, and keeping the truth from her even one second longer
wasn’t going to help her heal. No amount of cupcake baking or location scouting
could do what the simple truth could.

He was standing in a room with the bravest people in the world,
and standing across from one of the bravest women he had ever met. He was doing
her a disservice by keeping this tucked inside one minute longer. “Remember I
told you about that patient I lost when I was on the medical mission?”

“Uh-huh.” She pivoted a cupcake to the right, straightened
another, until the frostings were aligned and the colors made straight lines in
the flag design.

“That patient was someone you know.”

She jerked her head up. “Someone I know?”

The hungry troops had reached the cupcakes. They exclaimed over
the design as they selected one and moved on. “We need to go somewhere private,
Kate.”

“What, now?”

“Yes. It can’t wait any longer. In fact, what I have to tell
you shouldn’t have waited as long as it has.”

“Kate, I’ve saved a seat at the head table for you,” the
general said. “Come on and join me for dinner.”

She glanced at Brody then back at the general. “I will, sir.
Can you give me one second, please?”

The general nodded. “Take all the time you need.”

She grabbed Brody’s hand and they scooted along the wall, and
out of the ballroom. Kate glanced back at the room as the doors shut. “I only
have a minute, Brody.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. Then he
withdrew the card he had carried for so long and handed it to her. A parade of
emotions washed over her face. Confusion, shock, hurt.

“How…how did you get this?” she asked.

The moment had come, and dread rumbled in Brody’s gut. How he
wished he didn’t have to tell her this, didn’t have to watch the happiness dim
in her eyes. “Artie knows me…because I was his doctor.”

“You said that.”

“I was his doctor in Afghanistan. In fact, I treated several of
the troops in that room.”

“Wait. You were in Afghanistan? When?”

He let out a long breath. “I was part of a medical team that
was going from village to village, helping provide care to people too poor or
too far from a doctor, and also tending to those who had been injured because of
the war. A National Guard unit had been dispatched to serve as protection for us
because it was still a dangerous area.” He met her gaze. “It was Andrew’s unit,
Kate.”

“I don’t understand. How did you know my brother? Is that how
you got my card?”

“Remember that town I told you about? The one with the mountain
range? We were there for several days and while we were, Andrew received one of
your care packages.”

She clutched the card tighter, her face pale. “I sent him those
baskets every week, like clockwork. Lord only knows how the military got them to
him, but they did.”

“He loved those baskets.” Brody chuckled a little at the memory
of big, strong Andrew, as happy as a kid on Christmas when he received a box
from home. He’d handed out cupcakes to all, boasting about his sister as he did.
“I know he kidded you about them, but he kept every card, and talked about you
all the time. When I met you, I felt like I already knew you.”

“He talked about me?”

He nodded. “He was a good guy, your brother. Really good. It
was probably a boring detail, just going from town to town with a couple
doctors, but he treated it like the most important mission he had ever been
on.”

A smile wavered on her face. “That was Andrew. His whole life
was about taking care of other people.”

“He did a good job at it,” Brody said.

“That still doesn’t explain why
you
have the card I sent him.”

Brody let out a long breath. He crossed to the brick wall and
laid his palm against the cold, hard stone. The words stuck in his throat,
churned with bile in his gut, but still he pressed forward. “I got to know your
brother while he was with our group. We talked a lot. We had a lot in common,
you know, both being from around here, and both being Red Sox fans and…”

“That’s good. I’m glad he made a friend.” Her voice broke a
little.

“He was my friend,” Brody said, turning to Kate. “I need you to
know that. I cared about him a lot. And I wanted to save him. So badly, I really
did.”

“What do you mean?”

In the room behind them, the party rolled on. Someone laughed
at a joke, and the band shifted into a pop song. Forks clanked, voices
hummed.

Brody bit his lip. Damn. “All he ever talked about was you, and
this shop, and getting back here to help his family out. He loved all of you
very much, and he wanted nothing more than to see a chain of Nora’s Sweet Shops
someday. He told me you’d be scared to death to do it alone, but I should
encourage you to go after your dreams. He worried about you. Worried that you’d
get scared, or be too overwhelmed by his death, to keep going forward.” Brody
swallowed hard. Forced the words out. “He wanted me to make sure you did that.
It was his dying wish.”

“You…you were with him when he died?”

Brody nodded. He wanted to look away when he said the next
part, but Kate deserved the truth, deserved the unvarnished, painful as hell
truth. So he met her gaze, and said it. “I was his doctor.”

“His doctor?” She pressed a hand to her forehead. “When were
you going to tell me?”

“I tried to. A thousand times. But I didn’t…” He sighed. “I
didn’t want to hurt you.”

“You took care of him?”

“He was badly injured, and so were several other guys. That
blast…it hurt them all. Some worse than others. The second doctor on the team
was overwhelmed, less experienced, and there was a lot to deal with, all at
once. It was chaos, Kate, sheer chaos. I did my best, believe me, but his
injuries were too severe.”

The words hung in the air between them for a long, long time.
He watched her process them, her eyes going wide with disbelief, then filling
with tears, then narrowing with anger. “You…why didn’t you save him? What kind
of doctor are you?”

“I tried, Kate, I tried. But you’ve got to understand, we were
in the middle of nowhere, and our supplies were low. We’d just come from a
village that had a lot of wounded and sick people, and we were on our way to the
rendezvous spot for a resupply, when Andrew’s truck went over the IED. All of
them were hurt, and we had to try to help everyone, all at the same time. We did
our best, but Andrew was badly injured. There was nothing I could do for
him.”

“Did he…” She bit her lip, swiped at the tears on her cheeks.
“Did he suffer?”

People asked that question and never wanted the truth. They
never wanted to know that their loved one had been in pain, or lingered with a
mortal wound. They wanted death to be quick, painless, as simple as closing your
eyes. “He wasn’t in any pain,” Brody said, which was the truth. The one thing
they’d had in good supply was painkillers. “And we talked a lot during his last
hours.”

“Hours? He suffered for
hours?
Why…why didn’t you get more help? Call in a helicopter? Do something…else? Why
did you…let him die?”

“I didn’t let him, Kate. I did everything I could.”

“But it wasn’t enough, was it?” She shook her head, then
glanced down at the card. When she raised her gaze to his, those emerald eyes
had gone stone cold. “And so you came here, came to me, on what, a mercy
mission? Take care of the grieving older sister?”

“It wasn’t like that. I—”

“I don’t care anymore, Brody. I don’t care what you intended or
what you meant. You let my brother die and then you stood in my shop and watched
me cry and never said a word.” She flung the card at him. It pinged off Brody’s
chest and tumbled to the carpeting. “Stay away from me. I’m not your pity case
anymore.”

BOOK: Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance)
5.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Corner II by Richardson, Alex
A Young Man's Passage by Julian Clary
Hard Cash by Collins, Max Allan
Shades of Neverland by Carey Corp
Gareth and th Lost Island by Patrick Mallard
My Everything by Heidi McLaughlin
Mediums Rare by Richard Matheson
Enders by Lissa Price
Flip This Zombie by Petersen, Jesse
Love and Lattes by Heather Thurmeier