Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance) (8 page)

BOOK: Return of the Last McKenna (Harlequin Romance)
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“Great, now that I have some coffee.” He grinned. “How about
you? Getting nervous about the wedding?”

She cast a glance toward Riley across the room, talking to one
of the other customers. Riley caught his fiancé looking at him and gave her a
wide smile. “How can I be nervous when I’m marrying the man of my dreams?”

Jealousy flickered in Brody. Finn had Ellie, and wore the same
goofy smile as Riley every day. His two brothers had found that elusive gift of
true love. To Brody, a man who measured everything in doses and scientific
facts, it seemed an anomaly worthy of Haley’s Comet.

The door to the diner opened, and instead of his older brother
striding in, as Brody had expected, his grandmother entered. Stace went over and
greeted her, followed by Riley. Mary said hello, then headed straight for
Brody’s table.

Mary McKenna wasn’t the kind of woman to make social calls.
Even as she eased out of her position at the helm of McKenna Media and groomed
her grandnephew Alec to take the top spot, she spent her days with purpose.
There were lists and appointments, tasks and goals. So when she slid into the
seat opposite him, he knew she hadn’t come by to chit-chat.

“Gran, nice to see you.” He rose, and pressed a kiss to her
cheek.

“Brody. I missed you at dinner the other night.” It was an
admonishment more than anything else. His seventy-eight-year-old grandmother,
Brody knew, worried about him, and that meant she liked to see him regularly so
she could be sure he wasn’t wallowing away in a dark corner.

“Working late. Sorry.”

“Working late…baking?”

“How’d you know that’s where I was?”

“Your brothers are worse than magpies, the way they talk.” A
smile crossed her face. “Riley said you missed your regular lunch with him and
when he asked Mrs. Maguire where you were, she said you were making cupcakes. He
told Finn, and Finn told me.”

His brothers. He should have known. Finn and Riley had found
their happily ever afters and seemed to be on a two-man mission to make sure
Brody did the same. They’d done everything short of bring him on a blind date
shotgun wedding. Brody rolled his eyes. “I wish my brothers would stay out of my
life.”

“They only interfere because they love you.” She pressed a hand
to his cheek. “And so do I.”

His grandmother had been a second mother to him for so long,
there were days it seemed like it had always been just his grandparents and the
McKenna boys. They’d been a rock in a turbulent childhood for all three boys,
and stayed that way long after the McKennas graduated college, moved out on
their own and became adults. After her husband’s death three years ago, Mary had
taken over the full time running of McKenna Media, but still doted on her
grandsons with a firm but loving touch.

Brody’s gaze softened, and he covered his grandmother’s hand
with his own. “I love you, too, Gran.”

“And thank you for following up with my doctor this morning.
You know you don’t have to do that.”

“I just worry about you, Gran. Wanted to make sure he covered
all the bases.”

“You do enough worrying for five doctors.” She gave his hand a
squeeze. “I’m fine. Just suffering from a little old age.”

He chuckled. “Glad to hear it.”

Stace brought over a cup. “Some coffee, Mrs. M?”

“Goodness, no, dear. I’ll slosh out of here if I drink any
more.” She pressed a hand to the belly of her pale gray suit. “But thank
you.”

“No problem. Let me know if you want to order anything.” Stace
headed off to another table.

“I like that girl,” Mary said. “Sassy, strong, smart, and most
of all, perfect for Riley.” She returned her attention to Brody. “I just
suffered through a long, excruciating meeting with the head of Medicine Across
Borders. That’s why I came by today. Finn is meeting me here in a second, so we
can chat about the group.”

His eldest brother had become more involved with the McKenna
Foundation’s overseas mission work after he’d married Ellie and adopted Jiao, an
orphan from China. He’d been instrumental in organizing fundraisers and getting
the word out.

“Was Larry at the meeting?” Brody asked. The assistant director
had gone on his own mission a few weeks prior. Brody had always liked the older
man, who had dedicated his life to the charity. Both Brody and Larry had a
special place in their hearts for Medicine Across Borders because it took what
he and other doctors did in the United States and multiplied it around the
world.

“No, he’s still in Haiti. It’s been rough, he said.” Gran
sighed. “He lost a few patients last week. One of them a child, and it hit him
hard. He said he wished that you were there because you’re the best doctor he
knows.”

Brody shook his head. “Larry doesn’t need me.”

“I don’t know about that,” Gran said. “Larry talked to me about
that time you worked that clinic in Alabama. He said you changed those people’s
lives. They raised enough money to hire a second doctor after you left, and the
mortality rate there has dropped significantly, in part because of those
diabetes and heart disease awareness programs you started.”

“I just did my job.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” Gran said. “You always
were the one who worried too much and made it your personal mission to fix
everything. Ah, Brody, you don’t have to take so much on your shoulders.”

“I’m not doing that, Gran.”

“You do it and you don’t even realize it. You protect the
family, you protect your patients, and I suspect you’re even protecting that
pretty bakery owner. Sometimes, people have to face their worst fears and face
the worst possible outcome in order to learn and grow. Protecting them can do
them a disservice.” She read his face, and let out a sigh. “You disagree, but
maybe you’ll think about it. Anyway, Larry said to say hello to you. He should
be home in about a month. He says there’s still a lot of need for basic medical
care in Haiti, but he’s making a dent, one patient at a time.”

Brody listened to his grandmother’s news about the charity, but
his mind kept drifting to Kate Spencer. He had dodged her question, and dodged
an opportunity to tell her the truth. Why?

He knew why. Because he was starting to like her. As much as
he’d told himself he had no right to get involved with her, and no room in his
life for a relationship right now, he had started to fall for her. She was sweet
and funny and despite everything, upbeat and cheery. She was like a daisy in the
middle of a lawn that had filled with weeds.

And if he told her—

It would devastate her. She’d relive her brother’s death, hold
herself responsible for him being there.

Maybe his grandmother had a point. Maybe in protecting her, he
was hurting her more.

“Brody? Did you hear me?” his grandmother asked.

“Huh? Uh…sorry. My mind drifted for a second. What’d you say,
Gran?”

“I asked if you would deliver the speech for the fundraiser
next week. I realize it’s short notice, but Dr. Granville broke his leg skiing
in Switzerland and won’t even be stateside again in time.”

“Gran, you know I hate speeches. And hate tuxes even more.”

Finn slid into the booth beside his brother. “You and Riley,
couple of tux-phobics. What is wrong with the two of you?”

“We’re not as uptight as you, hence our more casual formal
wear,” Brody quipped.

“Nah, you’re not as debonair as me.” Finn jiggled his tie. “My
wife says I make this look sexy.”

Brody laughed. “She’s biased.”

“She is indeed.” The same smile that had been on Stace and
Riley’s faces winged its way across Finn’s. Gran sat across from the boys,
pleasure lighting her eyes. The whole family was in some kind of happiness time
warp. Brody rolled his eyes.

Riley plopped onto the seat beside Gran. “What’d I miss?”

“The hard work.” Finn shot him a grin.

“Hey, I’ve matured. Become a taxpayer, a fiancé
and
a responsible adult, all at the same time.”

Brody arched a brow. “You have two of the three. Bummer on the
third.”

Mary let out an exasperated sigh. “You boys still act like
children. My goodness. Celebrate with each other, not tease each other.”

Riley pressed a kiss to his grandmother’s cheek. “If we did
that, we’d have no fun at all, Gran. Besides, Finn and Brody are big boys. They
can take whatever I can dish out.”

“And deliver it back to you with a second helping,” Finn
said.

Mary just shook her head, and smiled. “Well as much as I would
love to sit here and chat all day with you boys, I do need to get back to the
office. So, Brody, will you do the keynote? I think it will do the attendees
good to hear about the experiences of someone who actually went overseas and
helped people.”

Brody swallowed hard. “No one wants to hear what I went
through.”

His grandmother leaned forward and covered his hand with her
own. “You need to talk about it. Maybe if you did—”

“It wouldn’t change anything.” He shook his head and bit back a
curse. “I can’t.”

His brothers cast him sympathetic looks. “If it helps, we’ll
sit in the audience and heckle you,” Riley joked. “Or just give you a
thumbs-up.”

Brody shook his head.

“Think about it.” Gran got to her feet. Her eyes were kind as
she looked down at Brody. “Promise me you’ll think about it.”

“I will.” He intended to do no such thing. But he’d never say
that to Gran. He could see the worry in her features, and refused to add to her
burdens. He’d find another reason to back out, and line up another speaker for
her. That way, she wouldn’t be in a bind and he wouldn’t be stuck delivering a
speech. Maybe Finn would do it for him. “I’ll be fine, Gran. And I’ll be at the
next family dinner.”

“Good. And since Riley will be on his honeymoon—”

“Basking on the beach with my beautiful new wife,” Riley put
in.

“—and we’ll have room at the table, I want you to make sure you
bring that bakery owner. No excuses.”

“Gran, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“I want to thank her in person for those chocolates. So don’t
forget. Sunday afternoon at two. Oh, and when she comes to dinner, tell her to
bring more of those chocolates. An old lady needs to have at least one vice, and
I’ve decided mine will be those chocolates.” Gran winked, then headed out of the
Morning Glory.

Brody tossed some singles on the table for his coffee and
started to get to his feet. Finn put a hand on his arm. “I gotta get back to the
office.”

“You have a minute. I haven’t seen you in a while, Brody. And
you know, you look like crap.”

“Hey!”

“I mean it in the nicest way possible,” Finn said.

“He does,” Riley added. “Or as nice as Finn can be.”

Finn scowled at Riley, then went on. “If you ask me, you’ve
been stewing too much and talking too little. You’re a proactive guy, Brody. One
who gets in there and makes it right. If you want my advice—”

“I don’t.” He brushed off Finn’s touch. “Thanks for the
concern, but I’m doing fine on my own.”

“Are you?” Finn asked.

Brody didn’t answer. Instead he headed out of the diner. As he
did, he realized Finn had a point. Buying a basket of chocolates, bringing
cupcakes to a retirement home and adding flour to a mix were not proactive
events. None of them were, in fact, in keeping with the kind of thing he
normally did. Brody McKenna was a hands-on guy, in a hands-on industry. And
until he found something that let him do that, he knew he wouldn’t be able to
fulfill Andrew’s last wishes, or get Kate Spencer moving forward.

And in the process, find a little peace for himself.

CHAPTER SIX

Two
days later

H
E

D
last seen Kate two
days ago. And yet, she hadn’t been out of his mind once in all that time. He’d
come so close to kissing her that night in her shop—too close. He’d called her
on Friday, making up an excuse about not being able to help that night, then
spent the evening with a bottle of Merlot and a lot of junk TV.

Hadn’t changed anything. He still thought about her too much,
still worried about her, and still didn’t see a way out of the web he’d woven.
Finn had been right—he needed a proactive approach to the problem. One that did
not involve kissing her.

Brody slipped on a pair of shorts, an old T, and his running
shoes, then grabbed his iPod and headed out into the fall sunshine. Most
mornings, he had just enough time to run the three mile circuit around his own
neighborhood, but on Saturdays, his appointments started later in the morning,
which left him extra time to extend his run to the picturesque Chestnut Hill
Reservoir.

Dozens of runners, walkers and dog owners strolled the park,
greeting the regulars with friendly waves and quick conversations. Late summer
flowers peeked through the still green foliage, while the water glistened under
the rising sun, twinkling back at him as Brody made the 1.6-mile loop. The sandy
packed path was soft under his feet, and soon he slipped into the rhythm of
running, oblivious to anyone around him.

He rounded a bend, turning into a gentle breeze skipping over
the surface of the water. Ahead of him, Brody spotted a familiar figure.

Kate.

She’d pulled her dark brown hair into a ponytail, and she’d
traded her usual jeans and T-shirt for silky navy shorts and a Red Cross
T-shirt. Her legs were long and lean, the muscles flexing with each step. She
had good form, a steady pace, all signs she ran often. Working off those
cupcakes, he presumed. He smiled to himself.

Damn she looked good. Enticing. For the thousandth time, he
wished he had kissed her back in the bakery. The magnet of attraction drew him
to her again and again. Hunger—yes, that was the word for it—hunger to know her
better, to see her more, brewed inside him.

Brody increased his pace until he drew up alongside Kate. “I
owe you an apology.”

She tugged an earphone out of her ear and glanced over at him.
Her skin glistened in the sun. “Brody. I didn’t even see you, sorry. I get into
a zone when I’m running and don’t notice anything around me.”

“Me, too.” But he had noticed her. He had a feeling no matter
what he was doing, he’d be distracted by Kate Spencer. “I wanted to apologize
for the other night. You’re right. I have no business telling you how to run
your life.”

She slowed her pace a bit and exhaled. “You might have been a
teensy bit right. I do tend to put in more time at work than I should. And yes,
sometimes use work to avoid the hard stuff.”

“I can relate to that. Though, sometimes work can be
therapeutic.”

“True. Or it can be an avoidance technique. Whichever it is,
I’ve got plenty of it to keep me busy.” She chuckled. “I appreciate the
apology.”

He shot her a grin. “You sure you don’t want to say anything
more? Bash me a bit? Because this is a prime opportunity to get me back by
telling me everything I’m doing wrong.”

“Oh, I would, but I’m trying to save my breath for
running.”

He laughed at that. They settled into a comfortable mutual
rhythm of running, their steps matching one another as they rounded the
sparkling waters of the reservoir. Geese honked as they flew overhead, their
bodies forming a perfect V. Brody and Kate neared an empty bench, and slowed
their pace.

“I’ve never seen you running here before,” Kate said when they
stopped, her words peppered with gasps as she drew in several deep breaths. She
propped a leg on one end of the bench and bent forward to stretch.

He did the same on the other end, trying not to watch her. And
failing. “During the week, I don’t have enough time to make it over here. Most
days, I do a quick jog through my neighborhood and then get to work. I run here
on the weekends.”

“And weekends are my busy time for deliveries, so I get most of
my longer runs in during the week.” She bent over to stretch her hamstrings, and
Brody reminded himself again to be a gentleman and not stare at the creamy
length of her legs.

Instead he propped his foot against a nearby post and stretched
his calves. Still his gaze stole over to Kate several times, watching as she
bent this way and that, working out the lactic acid in her legs.

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful woman.

And absolutely off limits.

Kate got to her feet, and opened her mouth to say something,
then stopped. Her eyes misted, and she turned away. Her body tensed and the good
humor left her. Brody’s gaze followed where hers had gone.

A dark-haired man in an ARMY T-shirt ran past them, pounding
the pavement at a fast clip. He had the crew cut and honed build that spoke of
current military service. The close resemblance to Andrew caused a stutter in
Brody’s chest. Kate paled, and exhaled a long breath.

“Hey,” he laid a hand on her shoulder, “you okay?”

“Yeah. That guy over there just looked so much like my brother
that for a second I thought…” She shook her head and tried a smile, but it fell
flat. “Andrew’s gone. Sometimes I forget that. And when I remember…”

“It hurts like hell.”

“Yeah.” She sighed. “It does.”

“Here, sit down for a minute.” Brody waved toward the bench,
and waited for her to take a seat. In these unguarded moments, Brody got a peek
beneath the layers of Kate’s grief.

Take care of my sister,
Andrew had
said.
Don’t let her wallow in grief. Make sure she’s
happy. Living her life.

“Thank you,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” Brody said. “I know that’s so inadequate when
you’re hurting, but I am sorry.” The words sat miles away from the true depth of
his regret. He watched emotions flicker across her face, and wrestled with what
more to say. A thousand times, he’d had to counsel patients, offer advice. And
now, when it counted, he froze.

He knew why. Because he’d started to care about her, had
allowed his heart to get tangled.

“Have you ever lost someone you were close to?” Kate asked.

Brody picked a leaf off a low-lying branch near the bench and
shredded it as he spoke. “My parents.”

“Your parents died? Both of them?”

He nodded. “When I was eight. Car accident. The whole thing was
sudden and unexpected.” And tough as hell. He hadn’t talked about that loss in
so long, but there were times, like now, when it hit him all over again.

“You were only eight? Oh, God, that’s awful.”

“I had my brothers, which made a difference, but yeah, it was
still tough.” He let out a long breath, and suddenly, he was there again,
sandwiched on that overstuffed ugly floral couch in the living room between Finn
and Riley while his grandfather delivered the news. Finn, the stoic one, seeming
to grow up in an instant, while Riley fidgeted, too young to know better. Brody
had stared straight ahead, trying to fit the words into some kind of logical
sense, and failing. “I remember when my grandfather told me. It was like my
whole world caved in, one wall at a time. Everything I knew was gone, like
that.” He snapped his fingers. “My grandparents took me and my brothers in. They
did their best, but it’s never the same as having your mom and dad around, you
know?”

“Yeah.” She watched the geese settle on the grass across from
them, and waddle fat bodies toward the water. “I spent most of my childhood with
my grandparents. My parents fought all the time, and Andrew and I hung out in
the bakery. To escape, I guess. Then, finally, they got divorced when I was in
high school. My dad moved to Florida and my mom moved to Maine, and Andrew and I
stayed here with our grandparents. That’s part of why Andrew and I were so
close. And my grandparents, too. We formed our own little family here.”

Andrew had told him that Kate had taken the divorce hard. That
she’d been heartbroken at the breakup of the family, as fractured as it was.
Andrew had taken it on his shoulders to cheer up his sister, to keep her from
dwelling on the major changes in her life. He could see in Kate’s face that it
still affected her, even after all these years. A childhood interrupted, just
like his. “I’m glad you had each other,” he said. “Like my brothers and I had
each other.”

“Yeah. But I don’t have him anymore now, do I?” She cursed, let
out a long breath, then turned to Brody. “It was my fault, you know.” Her eyes
filled with tears, and everything in Brody wanted to head off what was coming.
“I was the one that encouraged him to sign up. He kept talking about wanting to
make a difference, wanting to change lives, and he was such an adventurer, you
know? It just seemed perfect. I thought the war was over, how dangerous could it
be?” She shook her head and bit her lip. “I shouldn’t have said anything. I
should have—”

She cursed. Brody ached to tell her the truth, but how could he
do that without adding to her pain? Recount the story of Andrew’s death, and his
part in that moment, and see her go through that loss all over again. He bit his
tongue and listened instead.

“A part of me feels like…” at this her eyes misted again, and
Brody wanted to both hold her and run for the hills, “if I hadn’t encouraged
him, if I had told him to become a hiking instructor or skydiver or something
instead, he’d be here today.”

He put a hand on her shoulder. “Kate. It’s not your fault. Your
brother loved—”

“My brother died because of me, don’t you see that?” Tears
streamed down her cheeks, and she swiped them away with a quick, hard movement.
“I’m the one that encouraged him, pushed him. If I never said a word, he’d be
here today and I’d…”

He reached for her hand. “You’d what?”

She exhaled, a long, slow breath. “I’d forgive myself.”

Brody’s heart ached for her. How he knew that pain. That guilt.
“You can’t blame yourself, Kate. People do what they want to do. Andrew was an
adult. If he didn’t want to join, he would have told you. You said yourself he
loved his job.”

She shook her head. “Every day, I live with that regret. Every
day, I wish I could take the words back. I go to work and I stand there, and I
wish I could do it over. It’s like I’m standing in cement, and no matter how
hard I try, I can’t pick my feet up again.” Pain etched Kate’s features. Brody
saw now why Andrew had been so adamant about protecting his sister. She did
blame herself, and the worst thing Brody could do was add to that burden.

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.

Andrew’s words came back to him. Somehow, Brody needed to find
a way to redirect Kate’s emotional rudder.

She sat for a moment, then shifted in her seat to face him.
“Before the soldiers even knocked on my door, I knew. I fell apart right then, a
sobbing messy puddle on the floor. That pain,” she exhaled a long, shaky breath,
“that pain was excruciating. As if someone had ripped out my heart right in
front of me.” She drew her knees up to her chest, and hugged her arms around her
shins. “What if I’d said ‘be careful’ one more time, or told him I loved him
again? Would it have ended differently?”

“I think you did everything you could. Sometimes…these things
just happen.” Every instinct in him wanted to make this better for her, to ease
her pain. And somehow do it without violating the promise he had made. “When I
was in med school, I lost a patient. I’d seen him a couple times before, and had
gotten to know him during the time I was working there.”

It was a story Brody had never fully told before. The words
halted in his throat, but he pushed them forward. He had promised to help Kate,
and maybe, just maybe, knowing she wasn’t alone would do that. “He loved to walk
the city,” Brody went on. “But he was legally blind, and in a city that
busy…”

“Accidents happened.”

Brody nodded. “Construction projects springing up out of
nowhere create obstacles that he couldn’t see or anticipate. He had a cane, and
was thinking about getting a guide dog, when he was hit by a car.”

“Oh, Brody. That’s awful.”

“He was just crossing the street. One of those senseless deaths
that shouldn’t happen.” Brody sighed and shook his head. “I tried so hard to
keep that man alive. So damned hard. I kept pushing on his chest, up, down, up,
down, yelling at him to hold, to keep trying, don’t die on me—”

At some point he’d stopped talking about the patient in Boston.
His mind had gone back to that dusty hut in Afghanistan, to a moment that could
have been a carbon copy of the one at Mass General. Young man, cut down in the
prime of his life, and Brody, powerless to prevent his death.

“It was too late,” Brody went on, his voice low, hoarse. In
that instant, he didn’t see the pedestrian hit by a car, he saw Andrew’s eyes
again. So like Kate’s. Wide, trusting, believing the doctor tending to his
wounds would know what to do. So sure that Brody could save his life. “It’s in
your hands, doc,” Andrew had said. He’d given Brody his life—

And Brody had let him down.

Brody heard the choppers in his head, the pounding of the
rotors, the shouting of the other soldiers. Heard himself calling out to the
other doctors, asking for supplies they didn’t have. Too many wounded at one
time, too few resources, and too few miracles available. Brody flexed his palms,
but he could still feel Andrew’s chest beneath his hands. The furious pumping to
try to bring him back, and the silent, still response.

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