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Perfect Chance
 

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Perfect Chance


  Table of Contents

  Cover Page

  Excerpt

  About the Author

  Books by Amanda Carpenter

  Title Page

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Copyright

  “G-goodbye!”

  Another pause, as Chance scrutinized her face. Then he straightened and demanded, “Why?” He seemed so angry.

  Mary’s eyes rounded and then she looked down at her tangled fingers. “Oooh…I’m…sooo…busy.” This was too hard. It was a fine, brave attempt, but she just couldn’t come out and say that she’d heard he was a womanizer and a cheat.

  “You’re not that busy,” he said in a low, clipped voice. “Why are you running away from me? You were just fine when I left you last night.”

  Another, more poised woman might have said, So I’ve changed my mind. You’re not my type. Get lost, soldier. Mary’s head ducked farther down and she muttered at her fingers, “I don’t want to be one of your conquests!”

  AMANDA CARPENTER was raised in South Bend, Indiana, but lived for many years in England. She started writing because she felt a need to communicate with people from other walks of life. She wrote her first romance novel when she was nineteen and has been translated into many languages. Although she has many interests, including music and art, writing is her greatest love.

  Books by Amanda Carpenter

  HARLEQUIN PRESENTS

  1384—PASSAGE OF THE NIGHT

  1596—CRY WOLF

  1635—A SOLITARY HEART

  Don’t miss any of our special offers. Write to us at the following address for information on our newest releases.

  Harlequin Reader Service

  U.S.: 3010 Walden Ave., P.O. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269

  Canadian: P.O. Box 609, Fort Ene, Ont. L2A 5X3

  Perfect Chance

  Amanda Carpenter

  CHAPTER ONE

  MARY paused to lean against the counter of the nurses’ station as she surveyed the emergency room in the Newman wing at Memorial Hospital.

  It was July 4th, the busiest day of the year.

  It was midafternoon and she was already tired, having been on shift since eleven the night before. She rubbed at the back of her neck and thought longingly of the shower she would have when she got home.

  Then a fresh influx of people rushed in. Urgent words swirled around and she snatched at a few of them: a boating accident, seven injured, two badly. She darted around a small group of young men who were soaking wet, caught a powerful whiff of beer from them, and rushed toward one of the more serious cases.

  A dark-haired girl, maybe six or seven, was being cradled in the arms of an adult. Mary checked her over quickly. The girl had a compound fracture, there was an expertly applied tourniquet above the knee, and she was unconscious. The poor little thing. Her pulse was fluttering and too rapid, her skin ashen under her tan, and she was covered in a cold sweat.

  “She’s in shock.” The deep, gravelly voice sounded overhead.

  “I see that. Bring her this way.” Mary ran with him over to a cubicle. A sobbing woman tried to follow but was diverted from the front desk by Sandy, who needed her to fill out forms. With relief, Mary heard Sandy’s soothing voice assuring the woman that her daughter was going to be fine.

  The man laid the little girl carefully on the gurney, and whipped around to the nearby cabinet. He and Mary collided as they both reached for a blanket at the same time. She whoofed at the impact; it was like running into a brick wall. He snapped, “Why don’t you go find a doctor?”

  Oh, not again! The top of her head seemed to ignite like a torch. “I am a doctor!”

  Some people laughed; some people apologized. This one gave her a hard, narrow-eyed stare and muttered grimly, “You’d better be.”

  She yanked the blanket out of his hands and shook it over the child. “Get out of my way.”

  He backed up rapidly. As she prepared an IV, Mary called out sharply, “Julie, I need you.”

  The nurse came at a run, and together they got the girl stabilized, bandaged and ready for X rays. Mary glanced around for the father. There he was, leaning against the wall, watching everything with hawklike intensity. Overlong blond hair fell into sharp hazel eyes, and his tanned, chiseled face was thoughtful. He’s awfully calm, she thought, and she glared at him. No parent should be that calm when his daughter’s facing surgery. I’m a doctor and I’m not that calm. What’s the matter with him?

  She tried to gentle her voice. “What’s your daughter’s name?”

  His attention shifted to her and his eyebrows rose slowly. “Erin Morley. But she’s not my daughter. Her mother’s out in the lobby.”

  “Oh.” Mary paused. Well, he’s still to calm. She asked, “Would you go get her mother? I need to know if Erin is allergic to anything.”

  “I asked on the way to the hospital. She’s not allergic to any medications.”

  At that moment the mother walked into the cubicle and went to lean against the man, her face streaked and traumatized. The man patted her back soothingly as she confirmed what he’d told Mary, and with the little girl admitted to the hospital, Julie wheeled her gurney to X ray while Mary moved to another patient.

  Victor, the other doctor on duty, was still with the other seriously injured patient, a man with a head wound. She passed the cubicle where he was working, sleek dark head bent and handsome features absorbed in his task. He glanced up and nodded to her. She waved back and attended to others from the boating accident, all minor injuries now, listening sympathetically to compulsive telling and retelling of the story.

  Mary was a small woman, with a slight, coltish build and delicate, irregular features that made her look far younger than her twenty-six years, but she was capable of a mighty big fury when she was roused to it. Her large blue eyes flashed as she heard of the crash. Four young students had been drinking and driving a speedboat that had collided with a large yacht filled with passengers. She recognized a few faces from the faculty of the local university. They were all very lucky; apparently, due to the quick action of someone on the yacht, there had been no drownings.

  Drinking and driving was hardly regulated enough on land to suit Mary. People could have died, and did die in such accidents, and there wasn’t even any law to prohibit drunken speedboating. She had been born and raised in Cherry Bay, and had heard many stories similar to the one she heard now. It never failed to outrage her.

  The last patient needing attention was one of the drunken young men, waiting sullenly in one of the cubicles. He needed stitches in his arm, and she attended to him in thin-lipped silence.

  One of his friends was standing beside him, glowering. Except for their size, they looked like petulant, unrepentant boys.

  They were arguing in a heated undertone about the accident. “Didn’t I tell you? You should have let me drive,” said the one Mary was stitching.

  The other one sneered, “Let you drive? For God’s sake, Peter, you can’t even sit up straight.”

  “God, my dad is gonna kill me. And you, Trevor— he’s gonna kill you, too. Do you know how much that boat cost him? Thirty thousand dollars! How’m I gonna tell him his precious boat is sitting at the bottom of the lake right now?”

  The image of the ashen-faced child with the broken leg flashed through Mary’s mind, and she controlled the urge to bash both of them over the head with an instrument tray. She finished the job and reached for bandages.

  Trevo
r ran his hands through his damp hair, jerked up his chin and said belligerently, “It wasn’t my fault, I tell you. Hell, they swerved in front of me—and anyway, his insurance’ll cover it. No problem.”

  That did it. She slapped down her handful of bandages, rounded on him and said tightly, “Get out.”

  He ogled her, mouth slack. Then his face flushed, and he said insolently, “Sure thing, sweetie. Soon’s you’re done patching up my friend here.”

  She said icily, “My name is not ‘sweetie’. My name is Dr. Newman, and I have a job to finish here. The police must be here by now, so why don’t you go tell your story to them—or haven’t you got it straight yet?”

  Alarm registered in Trevor’s face and he started to back away. “Maybe I better take off, Pete—”

  Fury darkened the other man’s cheeks. “And leave me to clean up your mess? No way, dammit—”

  He lunged off the gurney toward Trevor, knocking against Mary, who stumbled back, lost her footing, and sat down on the floor so hard her teeth jarred together. Shock held her frozen for a moment, then with a thrill of fear she scrambled to her feet and opened her mouth to shout for help as the two men surged back and forth like prizefighters.

  What came next happened so fast all Mary saw was a blur of movement. One moment the two men were grappling each other and cursing, then the next moment Trevor was subdued on the floor, and Peter was back on the gurney where he belonged, with a large, powerful hand locked around his throat. Mary’s huge gaze followed the hand back to its owner.

  It belonged to a long, lean, hard-muscled body dressed in faded cutoff jeans and a skintight black sleeveless shirt. He stood casually, weight on one slim hip, blond hair in his eyes. He was even smiling a little. She recognized the man who had carried in Erin. Big, he’s very big, she thought numbly. I didn’t notice that before. And he’s still calm, but—oh, I don’t like the looks of that smile.

  “I’m getting a little tired of you two,” he remarked quietly. His sparkling hazel eyes sliced to her, sharp as a blade. “Are you through with this one, Doctor?”

  “I…” She twisted and untwisted her hands, staring. Somehow the man’s presence had such an aura of settled maturity that he relegated the other two back to the status of spoiled boys. She worked her aching jaw, then tried a nervous smile. “Yes. No. I mean—” Darn it! “He needs a bandage and a prescription for antibiotics.”

  He looked down at the one on the floor, eyes hard and deadly. “You’re the driver of the boat, aren’t you? I’ve already given my statement to the police. They’re waiting out front to hear from you. Get.” After a resentful pause, Trevor stood and scurried away. Then the blond man turned to her. “Why don’t you go write the prescription? I’ll stay with this one while a nurse finishes his bandage.”

  Mary sucked in a breath and bristled. Don’t tell me what to do! The man cocked his head at her, waiting. His hand was still locked around Peter’s throat. Her courage wavered when she looked at the drunken young man, and suddenly she deflated and mumbled, “Be right back.”

  Safely back at the nurses’ desk, Mary scribbled out a prescription, pressing down hard with the pen and slapping it down afterward. Who did that man think he was? Ordering her about! And those other two— what criminal stupidity! Worried about a thirty-thousand-dollar boat, when people could have died! She wanted to find out how Erin was, she wanted to sit down and have a cup of coffee and eat that lunch she hadn’t managed to get to, and she wanted a nap. She looked around. Everything had gone quiet for now. She took a deep breath, rubbed her face hard with both hands and shuddered.

  A hand descended onto her slight shoulder, and she jumped. “What? Oh—hi, it’s you.”

  Dr. Victor Prentiss stood looking quizzically down at her. Just under six feet tall, he was a slender, elegant man in his early thirties. Mary had started dating him a few years ago when she was still an intern. A quiet, rather shy, bookish individual, she had been thrilled when Victor had shown an interest in her. Between the pressures of her internship and Victor’s career demands, their courtship to date had been sporadic. Now that Mary had started her residency and was working closely with him, she felt it was even uncomfortable at times—she was inexperienced and didn’t know how to date a man and also keep a professional distance at work—but she greeted him right now with relief.

  “Are you all right?” Victor asked her gently. “I heard some of the ruckus.”

  “Yes, I’m fine. Just tired. I missed lunch,” she said miserably. On top of a double shift. Were those black spots in front of her eyes? Squinting, she tried to chase them down.

  “The Fourth of July is always like this. Look, darling—it’s almost six. Why don’t you get some dinner and go home?” He rubbed her back softly.

  “Almost six?” She looked around in surprise. Where did the time go? Working in the E.R. was always like that. Whenever she came in, it felt like she was entering a twilight zone of crisis after crisis. This was a small community normally, but as a celebrated resort area, the population more than quadrupled in the summer. She had just started working at the E.R. in May but it felt like she had been working there forever, and she could never shake the sneaking suspicion that she was inadequate for the job. Now guilt and gratitude warred for supremacy. “Are you sure?”

  “It’s quiet now,” Victor assured her. “And Kelly is due any minute. Don’t drive hungry and tired, though. Go on, get something to eat before you go home. And if you want to call tonight off, I’ll understand.”

  Victor was supposed to be taking her and her younger brother, Tim, to see the fireworks over Lake Michigan that evening. She had been looking forward to it once, but now, with every bone in her feet and legs aching, it didn’t sound nearly as fun as it had. “I’ll think about it. I did promise Tim, though…” Her voice trailed off as she caught sight of Peter being marched toward the nurses’ station by the bossy blond man, who still wore an unpleasant smile as he kept a firm grip on Peter’s newly bandaged arm.

  Mary felt herself compact into the smallest possible package. It didn’t make her invisible, however. The two men stopped in front of her, and there was an uncomfortable pause. Then the blond man said lazily, “You got something to say, Pete?”

  The younger fellow studied his shoes and muttered, “I’m sorry.”

  Mary glanced around. Victor watched the tableau with detached interest. In contrast, the blond man’s hard features were distinctly wicked. One of the nurses audibly suppressed a chuckle. Hazel eyes flickered in that direction, a thoroughly male glance, and grew very bright. He said, “You’re sorry, what?”

  “I’m sorry, Doctor,” Peter amended quickly.

  Why is my face hot? she wondered. She scrambled for something intelligent and dignified to say, snatched up the prescription and thrust it at him. “Go away.”

  Victor took up the slack smoothly, moving around the nurses’ desk and taking Peter’s other arm with a smile. “Dr. Newman has been under a lot of stress.” He led the young man away, talking quietly, his tone commiserating.

  Mary blinked down at her hands, face growing even warmer. Ah. She shouldn’t be rude to the patients, no matter how she felt about them. No matter what they’d done. Maybe the ground would open up right then and there, swallow her up, and she could have a nap in the hole.

  That man was still standing there.

  Don’t look up, she told herself.

  Maybe he’ll go away, too.

  Maybe I can pretend I dropped something here, behind the nurses’ desk. She frowned professionally at the floor and bent down suddenly. There was a long silence. No footsteps sounded, leading away. He’s still up there and now I’m down here. What next? She opened a cabinet and started rummaging through it. Inventory, maybe. Residents always do inventory after their shifts. Sure they do.

  Silence. Her white coat was terribly hot and scratchy. She pulled at her collar.

  Don’t look up.

  “Dr. Newman?” That man. He sounded amused.
r />   She felt herself cringe, and her gaze crept up slowly. He leaned against the counter, tanned biceps bulging. Big, he was, and—and so male. Calmly male. That long, sexy mouth held in a crooked smile. Her glance bounced off it, up to his gaze, and skittered away. “Y-yes?” She straightened reluctantly. “Hi, you’re still there.”

  The skin around his eyes crinkled. He wasn’t a terribly young man, maybe in his mid- to late-thirties. That was a knowledgeable, worldly, terrifying face. “And so are you,” he observed.

  She was hot, sticky, scratchy, her teeth and legs hurt, and her stomach was howling for food. One hand crept up self-consciously to her tangled, waist-length mane of hair that was pulled back in a ponytail. It was crooked. She had absolutely no idea what to say to him. “Er—is there something I can do for you?”

  “Yes, I heard you were going to get some dinner. Would you mind showing me where the cafeteria is?”

  “Oh! That’s easy—you just go down the hall, then take a right to the elevators, and—”

  His slow, deep voice, smooth as melted chocolate, cut her off. “I’m terrible with directions.”

  Her hand, which had been busy gesturing, fluttered back to hide balled in her pocket. “A-are you? I see. Well.” She didn’t have time for this. If she didn’t get something to eat soon, she was going to faint. As if on cue, her stomach rumbled loudly. She gave the man a weak smile and gave in. He knew she was going that way anyway. How churlish could she get? “Of course I’ll show you.”

  His smile deepened subtly at the corners. “Thank you.”

  He waited while she retrieved her purse from the doctors’ lounge, and then fell into step beside her. Mary looked down at the floor and watched their legs, his legs, those long, bare, gold-dusted legs with the smooth, rolling stride. Lord, he had to be well over six feet tall. And she was only five foot two. She took three steps for every one of his, like a chihuahua trotting beside a Great Dane.

 
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