Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance) (5 page)

BOOK: Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance)
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He watched her take a bite, swallow, then reach for her water.
Every time he saw her, he saw the memory of her brother. They had similar
coloring—dark brown hair, deep green eyes, high cheekbones. Andrew had been
taller than Kate, tanned from his time in the desert. But Brody could still see
so much of the brave young man in his younger sister.

A part of Brody wanted to leave, to head away from those
reminders. To bury those days in Afghanistan and his regrets deep, so deep he
would never remember them, never have them pop up and send him off-kilter
again.

Except that would be the coward’s way out, and Brody refused to
take that path.

“I used to be that way, too,” he said. “Afraid of the unknown.
Then I went on my first medical mission trip, and it cured the scare in me.”

“How?”

“You get dropped into a new place, with new people and new
equipment, and you have to sink or swim. If you sink, then other people get
hurt. So I had no choice but to buck up and get over my worries that I wouldn’t
be a good enough doctor.”

But had he been a good enough doctor? Sure he’d helped people
in Alabama, Alaska, Costa Rica, even here in Newton, MA, but when it came down
to a moment that mattered, a moment when death waited outside the door, he
hadn’t been good enough after all. He had tried his best and he had failed.

Medical school had taught him over and over again that
sometimes, people just die. Maybe that was true, or maybe it was just that the
wrong doctor had been in charge that day. He had rethought every action of that
day a hundred times, questioned every decision, and retraced his steps. But in
the end, it didn’t matter because no matter how much he did the day over in his
head, it wouldn’t bring Andrew back.

“I think just taking care of people like you do, and giving
back on those trips you take, is brave enough,” she said.

“I don’t know about that. It’s my job and I just try to do the
best I can.” Would he ever be brave enough to take on another mission? Or spend
the rest of his life afraid of regretting his mistakes?

“My whole family has always been the kind that believes in
giving to others,” Kate said. “From bringing food to the shelters to donating to
good causes, to giving people who need a second chance a job. That’s easy, if
you ask me. But doing what you do, going to a strange city or country and caring
for people…that takes guts.”

“There are others who do far gutsier jobs than I,” he said.
“They’re the ones to admire, not me.”

“I don’t know. You’ve worked the ER at Mass General.” She
laughed. “That takes some courage, too.”

He had no desire to sit here and discuss courage and himself in
the same sentence. He’d come here to keep a promise, and knew he couldn’t leave
until he did. “Courage is also about going after your dreams, which is what I
think you should do. Open that new location.” He placed his hand on the table,
so close he could have touched her with a breath of movement. “My offer to back
you stands, so just know whenever you need me, I’ll be there.”

“You barely know me,” she said again.

“What I know looks like a very good investment.”

Her cheeks filled with pink, and she glanced away. “Well, thank
you. I’ll let you know if I move forward.”

Damn. She didn’t sound any more enthused about the idea now
than she had before.

The other diners chatted and ate, filling the small restaurant
with the music of clanking forks and clinking glasses. Waiters bustled to and
fro, silent black clad shadows.

“I forgot to get more of those chocolates my grandmother wanted
when I was at the shop the other day. She wanted me to also tell you that she
liked those chocolate leaves you had in the basket,” he said, keeping the topic
neutral. Away from the hard stuff. “She said they were so realistic, she almost
didn’t want to eat them.”

The pink in her cheeks deepened to red. “Thank you.”

“Don’t be embarrassed, Kate. It’s clear you enjoy your work by
how good the finished product turns out.”

“I’m just not used to being the one in the spotlight. For
years, I was the one in the back, baking. My grandmother was the face of Nora’s
for a long time, then Andrew and now…”

“You.”

She smiled. “Me.”

“You make a good face for the company. Sweet, like the baked
treats.” The words were out before he could stop them. Damn.

“Keep saying things like that, Dr. McKenna, and I’ll never stop
blushing.” She grinned, then grabbed another breadstick from the basket.

“I wouldn’t complain.” What the hell was he doing? Flirting
with her? He cleared his throat and got back to the reason for being here—a
reason that eluded him more and more every minute. “It sounds like you enjoy
your job a great deal.”

“I do. Except when there’s a huge stack of orders and I’m short
on help. And…” She glanced at her watch. “Oh, darn, I almost forgot I have a
delivery to make tonight.” She pushed her plate to the side and got to her feet.
“Thanks for dinner, but I have to go.”

He rose and tossed some money onto the bill. “Let me walk you
back.”

She smiled. “It’s only a couple blocks to the shop. I’m fine by
myself.”

“A gentleman never lets a lady walk home alone. My grandfather
drilled that into me.”

“A gentleman, huh?” The smile widened and her gaze assessed
him. “Well, I wouldn’t want you to disappoint your grandfather.”

They headed out the door, back into the rain. Brody unfurled
the umbrella over them, and matched his pace to Kate’s fast walk. He noted the
shadows under her eyes. From working hard, maybe too hard. She was doing exactly
what Andrew had predicted—spending her days baking and wearing herself into the
ground. Not taking care of herself. Hence the microwave dinners and shadows
under her eyes. “Do you make many deliveries yourself?”

She shook her head. “My grandparents make the daytime
deliveries—they enjoy getting out and seeing folks in the neighborhood, but they
don’t like to drive at night, so I handle those. I don’t mind, but when I’ve
been working all day…well, it can make for some long days.”

“You need not one assistant, but a whole army of them.”

She laughed. “I agree. And as soon as Joanne gets back and I
have some time to run an ad and do some interviews, I’ll be hiring, so I don’t
end up in this boat again.”

They had reached the shop. Brody waited while she unlocked the
door and let them inside. He set the wet umbrella by the door. Kate turned
toward him. “Thanks for walking me back.”

“No problem.”

“And, I’m really sorry about having to send you to another
bakery for the cupcake order. If there was a way to fit that in my schedule,
believe me I would. I just had too many existing orders and not enough time.”
She grinned and put her hands up. “There’s only one me.”

“You could get a temp,” he said. “I’ve hired them when my nurse
is on vacation. And during busy seasons.”

She waved that suggestion off. “Trying to find someone trained
in cooking and willing to work just those few days…it’s almost more work to do
that than it is to just handle it myself. And right now, my time is so limited,
I can’t imagine adding to my To Do list.”

She reminded Brody of himself when he had been an intern in
medical school, burning the candle at both ends, and sometimes from the middle,
too. “How are you going to get all the orders done? And make deliveries and do
paperwork and all the stuff that goes with owning your own business?”

“Working hard. Working long hours. I do most of the baking
after the shop closes, which means for very long nights sometimes.” She
shrugged. “I’ve done it before. I can do it again.”

He saw the tension in her face, the shadows under her eyes, the
weight of so much responsibility on her shoulders. Andrew had told him, in that
long, long conversation that had lingered long into the night while Brody prayed
and medicine failed, that his sister had poured her whole life into the shop,
giving up dates, parties with friends, everything, to keep it running when the
economy was down, and get it strong enough to take on the next challenge of
expansion. Baking made her happy, especially during the tumultuous years of
their childhood and after their parents’ divorce, Andrew had said, and seeing
his older sister happy had become Andrew’s top mission. The business had meant
as much to Andrew as it did to Kate. Andrew would never let it falter, even for
a few days.

Nor would he want Brody to just keep throwing words at the
problem. He had tasked Brody with making sure Kate moved forward, found that
happiness again. That meant doing what Brody did best—digging in with both
hands.

“What if I helped you?” Brody said.

“You?” She laughed as she crossed the room and flipped on a
light. “Didn’t you tell me you’re all thumbs in the kitchen?”

“Well, yeah, but I can measure out doses.” The urge to help
her, to do something other than buy a damned basket of chocolates, washed over
him in a wave. She wouldn’t let him back her next location, and he didn’t know
enough to just go out there and buy one for her, but he could take up some of
the slack for her. He followed her into the back room. “I’m sure I can measure
flour and sugar and…whatever. And if I can take the temperature of a patient, I
can add stuff to an oven. I may not have the best handwriting in the world—”

At that, she laughed.

“But I can handle putting some flowers on some cupcakes.”

“I appreciate the offer, but I’m sure you’re busy with your
practice, and this would be a heck of a job to just jump into. I’ll be fine.”
She had pulled a paper off the wall and read it over. The order that needed to
be delivered, he surmised. At night, maybe to a less than desirable
neighborhood, alone.

A thick stack of orders were tacked to the wall, waiting to be
filled after she did this one. Piles of bakery supplies lined the far counter.
Sacks of flour and sugar, tubs of something labeled fondant. A huge work load
for anyone. Not to mention someone still reeling from a big personal loss.

Once again the urge to walk away, to distance himself from this
reminder of his greatest mistake, roared inside him. If he did this, he’d be
around Kate for hours at a time. At some point, the subject of her brother would
come up. How long did he think he could go before the truth about why he was
here came out?

Promise me.

Damned if he’d let her struggle here on her own. Andrew
wouldn’t want that.

Once she was stronger, ready for the rest, he would tell her
how he had come to be in her shop that day. Andrew had warned Brody that his
sister looked tough, a cover for a fragile heart, and cautioned him against
telling Kate the truth. Brody suspected Andrew did on his deathbed what he’d
done all his life—protected the sister he loved so much.

And now he’d given Brody that job. He’d deal with the rest when
he had to, but for now, there was Kate and Kate needed help. He took a step
closer. “Let me help you, at least with the delivery, and if we work well
together, then maybe I can help you in here, too.”

“I don’t know. I—”

“It’ll only be for a few days, you said so yourself. And I’ll
work for free. We can get that cupcake order done for my brother and I can be
the hero of the wedding.” He grinned. “Just let me help. I’ll feel better if I
do.”

She leaned closer, her green eyes capturing his. “Why?”

“Because you need the help. And I…I need something to occupy my
nights.”

“Why?”

He could have thrown off some flippant answer. Something about
being single and bored, or a workaholic who needed more to do, but instead, his
gaze went to the far corner of the room, where a sister had pinned up an article
about a brother who’d given his all, and the words came from deep in Brody’s
heart. Not the whole truth, but something far closer than he’d said up until
now. “I’m working through some stuff. And I just need something to…take my mind
off it, until I find the best way to handle it.”

She worried her bottom lip, assessing him. “Okay, we’ll start
with the delivery. It’s a simple one, just getting those cupcakes,” she pointed
to a stack of boxes on the counter, “over to a local place for a party they’re
having tonight.”

“Okay.” He hefted the boxes into his arms, careful to keep them
level, then followed Kate out the back door and over to a van she had parked in
the alley between her shop and the one next door. The words Nora’s Sweet Shop
reflected off the white panels in a bright pink script. Kate slid open the side
door, and he loaded the boxes on racks inside the van.

She climbed into the driver’s seat and waited for him to get in
on the passenger’s side. “Before we go, I better warn you, that this place can
be a little…rowdy.”

“Rowdy? In Newton?”

“Sort of. You’ll see.” She put the vehicle in gear, a bemused
smile on her face. He liked her profile, the way the streetlights illuminated
her delicate features.

They headed down the street, bumping over a few potholes. Kate
drove with caution, keeping one eye on the road and one on the cargo in the
back. He kept quiet, allowing her to concentrate on the still congested city
roads. A few turns, and then they pulled into the parking lot of the Golden Ages
Rest Home.

“A rowdy rest home?” He arched a brow.

She just grinned, then parked the van, got out and slid open
the side door. “I hope you wore your dancing shoes.”

“My what? Why?”

But Kate didn’t explain. He grabbed several of the boxes and
followed her into the building. Strains of perky jazz music filled the foyer. No
Grandma’s basement decorations here. The rest home sported cream and cranberry
colored furnishings offset by a light oak wood floor and a chandelier that cast
sparkling light over the space. A petite gray haired lady rushed forward when
Kate entered. “I’m so glad you’re here. The natives were getting restless.” She
placed a hand on Kate’s arm. “Thank you so much for helping us out again. You
are an angel.”

BOOK: Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance)
13.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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