Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance) (4 page)

BOOK: Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance)
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“And what about a phone number?” Nora piped in. Kate shot her
grandmother a glare, but Nora just smiled. “In case we need to get a hold of
you.”

Brody rattled off a number. “That’s my office, which is where I
usually am most days. Do you want my cell, too?”

“No,” Kate said.

“Yes,” Nora said. Louder.

Brody gave them the second number, then paused a second, like
he wanted to say something else. He glanced across the room, at what, Kate
wasn’t sure. The cupcake display? The awards and accolades posted on the wall?
“So, uh, thanks,” he said, his attention swiveling back to her.

“You’re welcome. And thank you for the order.”

“You said spread the word.” He shrugged and gave her a lopsided
grin. “I did. I’m sorry it wasn’t more.”

She chuckled. “I appreciate all business that comes my
way.”

Again, he seemed to hesitate, but in the end, he just nodded
toward her, said he’d call her if he thought of anything else, then headed out
the door. Kate watched him go, even more intrigued than before. Why did this
doctor keep her mind whirring?

“Why did you keep trying to fix us up?” Kate asked Nora when
the door had shut behind Brody.

“Because he is a very handsome man and you are a very
interested woman.”

“I’m not at all.”

“Coulda fooled me with those googly eyes.”

Kate grabbed the order pad off the counter and tucked the pen
in her pocket. “My eyes are on one thing and one thing only. Keeping this shop
running and sticking to the plan for expansion.” Her gaze went to the article on
the wall, the only one that truly mattered. To the plans she’d had, plans that
seemed stalled on the ground, no matter how hard she tried to move them forward.
“Because I promised I would.”

* * *

Brody tried. He really did. He put in the hours, he
smiled and joked, he filled out the charts, dispensed the prescriptions. But he
still couldn’t fit back into the shoes he’d left when he’d gone to Afghanistan.
After all his other medical mission trips, he’d come back refreshed, ready to
tackle his job with renewed enthusiasm. But not this time. And he knew why.

Because of Andrew Spencer.

Every day, Brody pulled the card out of his wallet, and kicked
himself for not doing what he’d promised to do. Somehow, he had to find a way to
start helping Kate Spencer. He’d seen the grief in her eyes, heard it in her
voice. Andrew had asked Brody to make sure his sister moved on, followed her
heart, and didn’t let the loss of him weigh her down, and do it without telling
her the truth. That he had been the one tending Andrew when he’d died.

She doesn’t handle loss real well, Doc.
She’ll blame herself for encouraging me to go over here, and that’ll just
make her hurt more. Take care of her—

But don’t tell her why you’re doing it. I
don’t want her blaming herself or dwelling on the past. I want her eyes on
the future. Encourage her to take a risk, to pursue her dreams. Don’t let
her spend one more second grieving or regretting.

When Brody had agreed, the promise had seemed easy. Check in on
Kate Spencer, make sure she was okay, and maybe down the road, tell her about
the incredible man her brother had been, and how Brody had known him. But
now…

He couldn’t seem to do any of the above.

Maybe if he wrote it down first, it would make the telling
easier. He could take his time, find the words he needed.

The last patient of the day had left, as had Mrs. Maguire, and
Brody sat in his office. His charts were done, which meant he could leave at any
time. Head to his grandmother’s for the weekly family dinner, or home to his
empty apartment. Instead, he pulled out a sheet of blank paper, grabbed a pen,
then propped the card up on his desk.

I never expected to bond with Andrew
Spencer. To me, he was my guardian—and at times, a hindrance to the work I
wanted to do, because he’d make me and the other doctors wait while he and
his fellow troops cleared an area, double checked security, in short,
protected our lives.

All I heard was a ticking clock of sick
and dying people, but he was smarter than me, and reminded me time and again
that if the doctors died, then the people surely would, too. That was Andrew
Spencer—putting the good of all far ahead of the good of himself. He risked
his life for us many times. But the last time—

Brody’s cell rang, dancing across the oak surface of his desk.
He considered letting it go to voicemail, but in the end answering the phone was
easier than writing the letter. “Hello?”

“Dr. McKenna, this is Kate down at Nora’s Sweet Shop.” Even
over the phone, Kate’s voice had the same sweet tone as in person. Brody liked
the sound of her voice. Very much. Maybe too much. “I’m calling because there’s
a problem with your cupcake order. I…I can’t fill it. My assistant had to go out
of town today because her first grandchild came a little early, and that leaves
me short-handed with a whole lot of orders, not to mention a huge one due
tonight. Anyway, I took the liberty of calling another bakery in town and they
said they’ll be happy to take care of that for you. No extra charge, and I
assure you their work is as good as mine.”

Kate Spencer was in a bind. He could hear the stress in her
voice, the tension stringing her words together. He thought of that card in his
pocket, and of the promise he’d made to Andrew to help Kate. Now, it turned out
that Brody’s order had only added to her stress level.

“Anyway, let me give you the name and number of the other
bakery,” she said. “They’re expecting your call, and have all my order
notes.”

Brody took down the number, jotting it on a Post-it beside the
letter he’d been working on. His gaze skimmed the words he’d been writing again.
That was Andrew Spencer—putting the good of all far
ahead of the good of himself.

It was as if Andrew was nudging Brody from beyond the grave. Do
something, you fool. You said you would. “Is there any way I can help?” Brody
asked.

She laughed. “Unless you can come up with an experienced baker
in thirty minutes who is free for the next few days, then no. But don’t worry,
we’ll be fine. I do feel bad about the last minute notice on changing suppliers,
but I assure you the other bakery will do a great job. Thanks again for the
business, and please consider us in the future.”

“In case I ever have another wedding to buy a cake for?”

“Well, you
are
a doctor,” she said
with a little laugh. “You know, most desirable kind of bachelor there is. God, I
can’t believe I said that. Something about being on the phone loosens my tongue
to say stupid things.” She exhaled. “I’m sorry.”

“No, no, I’m flattered. Really. Most people who come to see me
are complaining about something or other. It’s nice to get a compliment once in
a while.”

She laughed again, a light lyrical sound that lit his heart.
For the first time in days, it felt like sunshine had filled the room. “Well,
good. I’m glad to brighten your day. Anyway, thanks again.”

“Anytime.” She was going to hang up, and his business with Kate
Spencer would be through, unless he found a reason to buy a lot of chocolate
filled baskets. He glanced again at the words on the page, but no brilliant way
to keep her on the line came to mind.

“Thank you for understanding, Dr. McKenna.” She said goodbye,
then the connection ended. He stared at the phone and the number he’d written
down for a long, long time. He read over his attempt at the letter, as half
hearted as his attempts to keep his promise, then crumpled it into a ball and
tossed it in the trash. Then he got his coat and headed out the door, walking
fast.

Thirty minutes wasn’t a lot of time to change a future, but
Brody was sure going to try.

CHAPTER FOUR

W
IND
battered the
small building and rain pattered against the
windows of Nora’s Sweet Shop. A fall storm, asserting its strength and warning
of winter’s imminent arrival. Kate sat at her desk, flipping through the thick
stack of yellow order sheets.

She had two corporate orders. Three banquets. And now, the
McKenna wedding—well, no, that one was safely in another bakery’s hands. A lot
of work for one bakery, never mind one person. On any other day, she’d be
grateful for the influx of work. But today, it all just felt…overwhelming. She
glanced over at the folder on her desk, filled with notes about expansions and
new locations, then glanced away. That would have to be put on hold. For a long
time.

Always before, baking had been her solace, the place where she
could lose herself and find a sweet contentment that came from making something
that would make people smile. But ever since Andrew’s death, that passion for
her job had wavered, disappearing from time to time like sunshine on a cloudy
day.

Now, without her assistant on board, she knew getting the job
done would take a Herculean effort. Best to just roll up her sleeves and get it
done.

She glanced at the dark, angry sky. “I can’t do this without
you,” she whispered to the storm above. Thunder rumbled disagreement. “We were
supposed to expand this business together, take Nora’s Sweet Shop to the masses.
Remember? That’s what you always said, Andrew. Now you’re gone and I’m alone and
trying like hell to stick to the plan. But…” she released a long, heavy sigh,
“it’s hard. So hard. I’m not the risk taker. I’m not the adventurer. You were.
And now, the shop is in trouble and I…I need…help.”

The bell over the door jingled. Kate jerked to her feet. For a
second, she thought she’d round the corner and see Andrew, with his teasing grin
and quick wit. Instead, she found the last answer she’d expect.

Brody McKenna.

He stomped off the rain on his shoes, swiped the worst of the
wet from his hair, and offered her a sheepish smile, looking lost and sexy all
at the same time. A part of her wanted to give him a good meal, a warm blanket,
and a hug. She stopped that thought before it embedded itself in her mind. Dr.
McKenna embodied dark, brooding, mysterious. A risk for a woman’s heart if she’d
ever seen one.

“Dr. McKenna, nice to see you again.” She came out from behind
the counter, cursing herself for smoothing at her hair and shirt as she did.
“Did you have a problem with the other bakery?”

“No, no. I haven’t even called them yet.” He shifted his weight
from foot to foot. The rain had darkened his lashes, and made his blue eyes seem
even bluer. More like a tempestuous sea, rolling with secrets in its depths. “I,
ah, stopped by to see if you had eaten.”

She blinked. “If I had eaten?”

“I live near here and every night when I walk home, I see the
light on.” He took two steps closer. “Every morning when I leave for work, I see
the light on in here.” He took another two steps, then a few more, until he
stood inches away from her, that deep blue ocean drawing her in, captivating
her. “And it makes me wonder whether you ever go home or ever have time to have
a decent meal.”

“I…” She couldn’t find a word to say. No one outside her
immediate family had ever said anything like that to her. Worried that she’d
eaten, worried that she worked too hard. Why did this man care? Was it just the
doctor in him? Or something more? “I won’t starve, believe me. I have a frozen
meal in the back. I’ll wolf it down between baking.”

“That’s not healthy.”

She shrugged. “It’s part of being a business owner. Take the
bad with the good. And right now, the good is…well, a little harder to find.”
She didn’t add that she planned on keeping herself busy in the kitchen because
it kept her from thinking. From dwelling. From talking to people who were no
longer here.

Brody leaned against the counter, his height giving him at
least a foot’s advantage over her. For a second, she wondered what it would be
like to lean into that height, to put her head against his broad chest, to tell
him her troubles and share her burdens.

Then she got a grip and shook her head. He was asking her about
her eating habits, chiding her about working too much. Not offering to be her
confidante. Or anything more.

“Listen, I eat alone way too often,” he said. “Like you, I work
a lot more hours than I probably should and end up trading healthy food for fast
food.”

She laughed. “Doctor, heal thyself?”

“Yeah, something like that. So why don’t we eat together, and
then you can get back to baking or whatever it is you’re doing here. It’s a
blustery night, the kind when you need a warm meal and some good company. Not
something packaged and processed.”

Damn, that sounded good. Tempting. Comforting.

Perfect.

Despite her reservations, a smile stole across Kate’s face.
“And are you the good company?”

“That you’ll have to decide for yourself.” He grinned. “My head
nurse thinks I’m a pain in the neck, but my grandmother sings my praises.”

She laughed. “Isn’t that what grandmothers are supposed to
do?”

“I do believe that’s Chapter One in the Good Grandma
Handbook.”

Kate laughed again. Her stomach let out a rumble at the thought
of a real meal. Twice a week she went to Nora’s for dinner, but the rest of her
meals were consumed on the run. Quick bites between filling baking pans and
spreading icing. Brody had a point about her diet being far from healthy. “Well,
I am hungry.”

“Me, too. And I don’t know about you, but I…I don’t want to eat
alone tonight.”

She thought of the gray sky, the stormy rumbles from the clouds
and the conversations she’d had with her dead brother. “Me, either,” Kate said
softly.

Brody thumbed to the east. “There’s a great little place down
the street. The Cast Iron Skillet. Have you been there?”

The rumble in her stomach became a full-out roar. “I ate there
a couple times after they first opened. They have an amazing cast iron chicken.
Drizzled with garlic butter and served with mashed sweet potatoes. Okay, now I’m
salivating.”

“Then drool with me and let’s get a table.”

Drool with him? She was already drooling over him. Temptation
coiled inside her. Damn those blue eyes of his.

She hesitated for a fraction of a second, then decided the work
had waited this long, it could wait a little longer. She wasn’t being much use
in the kitchen right now anyway, and couldn’t seem to get on track. Not to
mention, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a meal that hadn’t come
from the microwave. She grabbed her jacket and purse from under the counter,
then her umbrella from the stand by the door. “Here,” she said, handing it to
him, “let’s be smart before we go out in the rain.”

But as Kate left the shop and turned the lock in the door, she
had to wonder if letting the handsome doctor talk her into a dinner that sounded
a lot like a date was smart. At all.

* * *

The food met its promise, but Brody didn’t notice. He’d
been captivated by Kate Spencer from the day he met her, and the more time he
spent with her, the more intrigued he became. What had started as a way to get
to know the person whom Andrew had raved about, the one who had written that
card to her brother and sent Andrew so many care packages he’d joked he could
have opened a store, had become something more. Something bigger.

Something Brody danced around in his mind but knew would lead
to trouble. He was here to fulfill a promise, not fall for Andrew’s sister.

Kate took a deep drink of her ice water then stretched her
shoulders. She’d already devoured half her dinner, which told Brody he’d made
the right decision in inviting her out. Like him, he suspected she spent more
time worrying about others than about herself.

For the tenth time he wondered what had spurred him to invite
her to dinner, when he’d gone over to the shop tonight to just check in on her,
ask her how business was going, and somehow direct the conversation to
expansions. Drop a few words in her ear about what a good idea that would be
then be on his way, mission accomplished. Once again, his intentions and actions
had gone in different directions. Maybe because he was having trouble seeing how
to make those intentions work.

“I forgot…what kind of medicine do you practice?” she asked, as
she forked up a bite of chicken. The restaurant’s casual ambience, created by
earth tone décor and cozy booths, had drawn dozens of couples and several
families. The murmur of conversation rose and fell like a wave.

“Family practice,” Brody said. “I see kids with runny noses.
Parents with back aches. I’ve administered more flu shots than I can count, and
taped up more sprained ankles than the folks at Ace bandage.”

She laughed. “That must be rewarding.”

“It is. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people over the years,
their families, too, and it’s nice to be a part of helping them live their lives
to the fullest. When they take my advice, of course.” He grinned.

“Stubborn patients who keep on eating fast food and surfing the
sofa?”

He nodded. “All things in moderation, I tell them. Honestly,
most of my job is just about…listening.”

“How so?”

“Patients, by and large, know the right things to do.
Sometimes, they just want someone to hear them say they’re worried about the
chances of having a heart attack, or scared about a cancer diagnosis. They want
someone to—”

“Care.”

“Exactly. And my job is to do that then try to fix whatever
ails them.” Which he’d done here, many times, but when it had counted—

He hadn’t fixed Andrew, not at all. He’d done his best, and
he’d failed.

“Where did you start out? I mean, residency.” Kate’s question
drew Brody back to the present.

“Mass General’s ER. That’s a crazy job, especially in Boston.
You never know what’s going to come through the door. It was exciting and
vibrant and…insane. At the end of the day, I could have slept for a week.” He
chuckled. “The total opposite of a family practice in a lot of ways. Not to say
I don’t have my share of emergencies, but it’s less hectic. I have more time
with my patients in family practice, which is nice.”

“I have a cousin in Detroit who works in the ER. I don’t think
he’s been off for a single holiday.”

“That’s life in the ER, that’s for sure.” Brody got a taste of
that ER life every time he went on a medical mission trips and again in
Afghanistan. “That’s one of the perks Doc Watkins told me about when I took over
the practice. There are days when all those runny noses can get a bit
predictable, but by and large, I really enjoy my work.”

“Same with cupcakes. Decorated one, decorated a thousand.” She
laughed. “Though I do like to experiment with different flavors and toppings.
And the chocolates—those leave lots of room for creativity.”

“Do you ever want to step out of the box, and do something
totally different?”

“I have plans to.” She fiddled with her fork. “My brother and I
always wanted to expand Nora’s Sweet Shop, to take it national, maybe even start
franchising. Andrew was the one with the big, risky ideas. I’m a little more
cautious, but when he talked, I signed on for the ride. He was so enthusiastic,
that he got me excited about the idea, too.”

“And have you expanded yet?” Brody crossed his hands in front
of him, his dinner forgotten. Here was what he had come here to discuss, though
he got the feeling it wasn’t a subject Kate really liked visiting.

She shook her head. “I’ve thought about it. Even found a
property in Weymouth that I saw online, but…” Kate sighed, “ever since Andrew
died, it’s been hard to get enthusiastic about the idea again. I know he’d want
me to push forward but…it’s hard.”

Guilt weighed heavy on Brody’s shoulders. Maybe if he’d been a
better doctor, if he’d found a way to save Andrew, her brother would be here
now, and Kate wouldn’t be debating about opening another location. She’d be
celebrating with Andrew.

Promise me.

Andrew had asked him to watch out for his little sister, to
make sure she was moving on, living her life. Taking her to dinner was part of
that, Brody supposed, but he knew Andrew had meant more than a platter of
chicken Alfredo and some breadsticks.

“You should expand anyway. Your brother would want you to,”
Brody said, wondering if she knew how true that was. “And if it’s a matter of
financing, I can help if you want.”

She laughed. “You? What do you know about franchising or
opening new locations?”

“Uh…nothing. But I think it sounds like a great idea and if you
need financial backing—” Was that what he was going to do? Throw money at the
problem and send it away? “—then I am more than happy to provide that.”

“You hardly know me. Why would you give me money, just like
that? And how can you afford it?”

“I’m a McKenna, and part of being a McKenna means having money.
I inherited quite a lot when my parents died, and my grandparents were good
investors. Even after paying for medical school and my own practice, I’ve been
left with more than I know what to do with.” He leaned forward, wishing he had
the magic words he needed. “I’ve tasted your cupcakes and chocolates. That’s a
business worth backing.”

“Well, I appreciate the offer, but…”

“But what?”

“I’m not ready for expanding or any kind of a big change yet.”
She toyed with the fork some more. “Maybe down the road.” She raised her gaze to
his. Green eyes wide, looking to him for answers, support. “I think part of it
is fear of the unknown, you know? Andrew was good at that, just leaping and
looking afterwards. I’m one of those people who has to peek behind the curtains
a few times before I do anything.” She twirled some noodles onto her fork. “I’m
the one in the back of the scenes, not out there leading the charge.”

BOOK: Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance)
6.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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