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With a Little T.L.C.

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With a Little T.L.C.

  “I wouldn’t think a man like you would be interested in cuddling,”

  Liz told Joe.

  “Define ‘a man like you.’”

  “An upwardly mobile businessman, single and—” She hesitated.

  “And?” he prompted, one dark, well-formed eyebrow lifting with the question.

  She’d been about to say “attractive,” but didn’t dare. “And busy.”

  “That’s all true. Although I’d like to know how you knew I was single.”

  The flirtatious manner was a big clue, although why she couldn’t say. Another lesson from her past experience was that flirting wasn’t exclusive to single men. Married ones could philander at the drop of a hat or the swish of a skirt, too.

  “It was just a hunch…until now.”


  Teresa Southwick

  For Andrea Pascale—your encouragement, support, friendship and love mean more than I can say. My gratitude for sharing your little Valerie with her “outlaw” cousin. The refresher course in baby stuff added so much to this book. Many thanks.

  Books by Teresa Southwick

  Silhouette Romance

  Wedding Rings and Baby Things #1209

  The Bachelor’s Baby #1233

  A Vow, a Ring, a Baby Swing #1349

  The Way to a Cowboy’s Heart #1383

  And Then He Kissed Me #1405

  With a Little T.L.C. #1421

  The Fortunes of Texas

  Shotgun Vows


  is a native Californian who has recently moved to Texas. Living with her husband of twenty-five years and two handsome sons, she is surrounded by heroes. Reading has been her passion since she was a girl. She couldn’t be more delighted that her dream of writing full-time has come true. Her favorite things include: holding a baby, the fragrance of jasmine, walks on the beach, the patter of rain on the roof and, above all—happy endings.

  Teresa also writes historical romance novels under the same name.

  Dear Reader,

  If there’s a woman anywhere who can resist the sight of a hunky guy holding an infant, I’ll eat my computer. On second thought, I’ll make her a heroine with enough baggage to tour the continental United States. In fact, I did just that in With a Little T.L.C.

  I’ve always loved babies. Even after raising my two sons, the baby bug isn’t out of my system. For a long time now, I’ve wanted to be a volunteer in a newborn nursery. Few things come to mind that are as rewarding as listening to the sounds of a baby as you hold that small, warm body close. Even better is knowing that something so simple can make an important impact on a new life. Studies have been done documenting the critical role of touch in a newborn’s ability to thrive. Unfortunately, I never seem to have enough time to indulge my purely selfish need to cuddle babies.

  But I’m a writer. I can send my heroine where I don’t have time to go. Or, better yet, my hero. The challenge was irresistible. We take it for granted that women are nurturers. But why would a man, especially a goodlooking bachelor like Joe Marchetti, spend time holding babies? Remember that heroine with all the baggage? Nurse Liz Anderson can’t help being cynical about her newest volunteer cuddler. Is he just a guy with a scheme to meet women? Or is he really as incredibly wonderful as he seems?

  The only thing more rewarding than holding a baby is writing about someone else who holds them. It was fun discovering right along with Joe and Liz that even the most cynical heart can be healed With a Little T.L.C.



  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter One

  “You want to be a cuddler?”

  Nurse Liz Anderson stared at the gentleman on the other side of her desk. And she did it without gawking, she thought proudly. Not easy when the man gave new meaning to the phrase tall, dark and handsome. Six feet if he was an inch. Brown almost black eyes full of intensity, charm, and humor in equal parts. And so handsome she was grateful that her voice had worked to form the words into a question.

  “You sound shocked,” he said.

  “That’s because I am.”

  He folded his arms over a mighty impressive chest. Almost a year ago she had dragged him out of his sister’s hospital room by his ear because he balked at leaving when visiting hours were over. Considering that impressive chest, how in the world had she managed to do that?

  “Why should my intentions surprise you?”

  Those words spoken in that deep voice mobilized tingles that skittered down her neck and across her shoulders.

  “It’s not every day that I get that kind of offer from a man.”

  “It’s their loss.”

  A flirt, she thought warily. She’d run into the type before and knew enough to steer clear. “I take cuddling very seriously, Mr. Marchetti.”

  “You remember me,” he said, rubbing his ear. “I wondered if you did.”

  He grinned, a pleased expression that showed off a masterful job of orthodontia or sensational genes. She wasn’t sure which. But any second she expected a diamondlike sparkle from his teeth, a movie hero come to life. In any case, she thanked her lucky stars that she was already sitting. It wouldn’t take much to knock her on her keister.

  “You’re pretty unforgettable,” she muttered softly.

  “Am I?” he answered, his smile growing wider.

  She hadn’t meant for him to hear that. Apparently all his flaws were in character because his hearing was pretty darn good.

  Instead of lowering his hunky frame into one of the two chairs provided for visitors, he sat on the corner of her desk. Proving to her, as if she needed more proof after their one and only meeting, that he was a rule-breaker.

  Now he sat a few scant inches from her. His tie was loose and the top button of his white dress shirt undone, allowing a couple of chest hairs to peek out. He’d rolled up his long sleeves revealing strong, tanned forearms. The gray fabric of his slacks pulled tight across his muscular thighs. His cologne added the deathblow to her composure. The wonderful masculine scent surrounded her, adding stomach flutters to her shoulder tingles.

  On top of that, she could see the sexy five o’clock shadow on his cheeks and jaw. She glanced at the clock on her desk—6:30 p.m. Wasn’t it past time for him to go home and shave?

  Realizing she’d been staring, Liz resisted the urge to shake her head and clear it. No point in giving a man like him more fuel for his over-inflated ego. She knew he’d asked her a question. Now if only she could remember what he’d said, she would answer appropriately.

  As if he could read her mind, he asked, “What else do you remember about me?”

  That he’d charmed her by teasingly threatening to lock her in the broom closet when she’d told him visiting hours were over. That he had dated one of the nurses and dumped her in a nasty, hurtful way. Liz didn’t especially like the woman but no one deserved to find the man they were involved with in bed with another woman.

  “I remember that you left here with a beautiful blonde,” she said.

  He frowned for a moment as if he was trying to recall. Then he nodded. “My secretary. She’d left her husband in the car. They’d brought a gift for my sister’s baby.”

  Liz didn’t really care what kind of relationship he had with the woman. That was his business. She had a program to run. “Now let me ask you a question.”

  “All right.”

; “Are you really here to be a cuddler?”

  “Yes.” He pointed to the completed, orange volunteer form he’d handed her when he walked into her office. “It says so right there.”

  “Holding the babies?” she confirmed.

  He nodded. “That’s my intention.”

  “I just wanted to make sure we were talking about the same thing.”

  Because it was tough to believe he would be interested in spending time with infants. The last time she’d seen him in the hospital he’d hit on one of the nurses, dated then dumped her. Ninety-nine percent of her cuddlers were nurturing women who loved holding babies. The other one percent were retired men looking for something to fill their time. Then in walks Joe Marchetti, a proven playboy and flirt. What was she supposed to think when he plunked his volunteer paperwork down on her desk?

  “Do you know what’s involved, Mr. Marchetti?”

  “Joe, Miss…”

  “I beg your pardon?”

  He looked at the gold, upright name plate resting on her desk. “Liz,” he said, then met her gaze. “Call me Joe.”

  With every ounce of willpower, fortitude and any other character attributes she possessed, she resisted the power of the charming look he leveled at her. “All right, Joe,” she said with more calm than she felt. “I’ll ask you again. Do you know what’s involved?”

  “Yeah, I think so.”

  She leaned back in her chair, a move designed to look casual, professional, and in control. The first two weren’t a problem. The last was tougher to pull off. “I wouldn’t think a man like you would be interested.”

  “Define ‘a man like you.”’

  “An upwardly mobile businessman, single and—” She hesitated.

  “And?” he prompted, one dark, well-formed eyebrow lifting with the question.

  She’d been about to say attractive. “And busy.”

  “That’s all true. Although I’d like to know how you knew I was single.”

  The flirtatious manner was a big clue, although why she couldn’t say. Another lesson from her past experience was that flirting wasn’t exclusive to single men. Married ones could philander at the drop of a hat or the swish of a skirt too.

  But she merely answered, “You’re not wearing a wedding band.” Then she held up his filled-out volunteer form. “And it says so here.”

  He glanced at the sheet of paper and then his hand. She followed his gaze and didn’t miss the fact that his fingers were long and there was a great deal of harnessed strength in his hand and wrist.

  “I’m getting the impression that you doubt my sincerity. How can you judge me based on one meeting?”

  “When your sister was a patient here,” she clarified.

  “After my niece was born,” he added, rubbing his ear again.

  She grinned, remembering the incident. “You were breaking the rules. Visiting hours were over.”

  “A simple ‘please leave’ would have sufficed,” he said, feigning indignation. “You didn’t have to yank my ear off.”

  She couldn’t help laughing. “Aren’t we being a tad melodramatic?”

  “Marchettis never do anything halfway. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

  “Why would I need a warning?”

  “Because you’re the nurse in charge of the cuddlers and I’m signing up to volunteer. We’ll be seeing a lot of each other.”

  “You think so?”


  “Look, Joe. This program isn’t fluff and feathers. Children need the best possible start in this cold, cruel world. Statistics prove that babies stimulated by touch gain weight faster.”

  “So I’ve heard.”

  “They cry less, have more even temperaments, sleep better and are more likely to calm and console themselves without intervention.”

  “I understand.”

  “People who aren’t touched much as children don’t touch much as adults and the cycle continues. The volunteers work with babies from at-risk families. This program is designed to break that cycle.”

  “Hey, I’m a sure thing. I’m here to do my bit. You don’t have to convince me.”

  “No. But we have to count on you.”

  “What does that mean?”

  “Let me ask you something first,” she said.

  “Okay. I’m all ears,” he said, rubbing the one she’d yanked.

  Liz swallowed the smile that hovered, refusing to let his clever pun distract her. “Why do you want to be a cuddler?”

  He looked thoughtful, as if remembering something. “After my niece was born and you bounced me out of my sister’s room, I wandered by the newborn nursery. It was just before they shut the curtains and your staff left them open a little longer for me.”

  Considering his movie star good looks, Liz couldn’t blame them.

  “I watched the volunteers holding the babies,” he continued. “And I talked to one of the nurses on duty that night who explained everything you just said. I was impressed,” he finished.

  When he mentioned the nurse, Liz’s interest piqued. That was it. He was on the make and figured a hospital was a good place to meet women. She’d been burned like that before. What other reason could a guy like him have for being here?

  “But if I remember rightly, your sister had her baby almost a year ago. As the saying goes, what took you so long?”

  He shrugged. “Time got away from me.”

  “So why now?”

  A shadow crossed his face as he remembered. “My secretary gave birth recently, a very small baby. It turned out that she was a failure-to-thrive infant.”

  “That’s rough,” Liz said, sincerely sympathetic. “What happened?”

  “She’s doing okay now, but they came too close to losing her. It took extra attention and stimulation. Not to mention that I lost the best secretary I’ve ever had.”


  “She quit because she didn’t have family to leave the child with and didn’t trust anyone else. I admire her commitment because they’ll have it tough financially. Anyway, the point is that after the birth, and during the extra time in the hospital, she couldn’t hold the baby twenty-four hours a day. The cuddlers filled in and made a difference. I decided there was no time like the present to do something worthwhile.”

  “I’m glad the baby is doing well,” Liz said. “But think about this. We integrate our volunteers into the schedule. The nurses count on them to pick up the slack when it gets busy. You’ve seen firsthand how important it is that they show up.”

  He frowned. “And your point is?”

  “You’re a single guy with a busy social calendar.”

  “And how would you know that?”

  “Because you look like—” She stopped. What was this need she had to keep tossing him crumbs that would swell his head to the point where finding a hat to fit would be impossible?

  “Never mind,” she said. “Picture this scenario—you meet someone and you’d like to take her out on the spur of the moment. But you’re scheduled to be here with the babies.” She held one hand out. “Here we have Miss Nubile.” She held out her other hand. “And here we have Miss Crankypants Infant screaming her head off. Which female do you think you’d pick?”

  He scratched his chin. “Tough choice. Is Miss Nubile a blond or a brunette?”

  “Which are you more partial to?”

  “Tall redheads.”

  With an involuntary flash of disappointment, Liz figured a short brunette like herself was safe from him. “Okay, let’s make Miss Nubile a tall, titian-haired temptress.”

  “Okay, let’s.”

  “I knew you were impossible the first time we met.”

  “Thank you very much,” he said brightly.

  She sighed, shaking her head in exasperation. “My point is that when you don’t show up because you and Miss Nubile are tripping the light fantastic somewhere, it’s the babies who lose out. The role of touch is critical in child development. We need people we can count
on for this program.”

  “You’re prejudging me.”

  “Not you specifically, but men in general—”

  “So this third degree has to do with the fact that I’m a man.”

  More than you could possibly imagine, she thought. But she only said, “Our average volunteer is female.”

  “Aren’t there laws against gender discrimination?”

  “Not discrimination. A screening process to protect the babies.”

  “I would never hurt them.”

  “I’m not suggesting you would deliberately harm them, but neglect—”

  He stood suddenly and his agreeable, flirtatious facade disappeared. “I don’t neglect children, Liz. I firmly believe that they are our most precious natural resource.”

  Funny, she thought. She liked his anger more than his charm. She believed it. She stood too. “That’s something we see eye-to-eye on.”

  “By definition I thought you had to take anyone who shows up.”

  “True. But I won’t approve any volunteer who might reflect badly on the program. It’s not firmly established yet.”


  She shook her head. “It’s just about a year old. We’re coming up for review soon. Some members of the hospital Board of Directors feel the volunteers could be better used elsewhere. I don’t want to give them any ammunition to cancel the cuddlers. I have to insist on high standards.”

  He looked down at her, way down. “Spell it out.”

  “Reliability is a must. And a minimum commitment of one three hour shift a week. We require you to work four weeks in the newborn nursery before going to the Neonatal Intensive Care.” She shrugged. “Those are the rules.”

  “You’ve got yourself a new recruit. When is the orientation?”

  “Saturday. Ten a.m. Sharp.” She glanced at his paperwork, making sure he’d filled it out completely. “Tardiness isn’t an excuse.”

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