Everything His Heart Desires~Chapter 1

EVERYTHING HIS HEART DESIRES

Dr. Brett "Hot Rod" Harris is all about flirting with the pretty blonde in the elevator until he finds out he's been played by the one girl he could never have.

CHAPTER ONE

Fast and flirty, Rhonda was built to please, and Brett Harris had been hooked the moment he saw her. She was fine in all the ways that mattered. Perfect body and black leather suited her. What more could a guy want? Rhonda had been worth every dime of the fifty-two thousand Brett had paid for her.
In mint condition, Rhonda, a 1969 Road Runner, was one of four classic muscle cars that he owned. Cathy the Camaro, Molly the Mustang, and Farah the Firebird were the other three. He affectionately called them “my girls.” They were beauties, and they never let a guy down.
He swung Rhonda into the physicians’ parking bay at Lafayette Falls Medical Center. Since it was Friday, the private parking lot was almost empty. Over half of the medical staff, including Brett, took Friday as their day off. He lived for three-day weekends.
“It’s all about heaven on earth, Rhonda.” He patted Rhonda’s shiny blue fender and headed toward the catwalk that would take him to the physician’s entrance.
The brown leather bomber jacket he wore over jeans and a black T-shirt warded off the crisp chill of the November morning. Soon it would be cool enough for a fire in the fireplace. He loved the scent of wood smoke. You knew it was fall when you smelled wood smoke in the hills of Tennessee.
This weekend, a warm front was going to keep the temperature in the seventies. Great weather for picking up a chick and heading to the cabin at Covington Lake.
He tapped in his code on the keypad and walked into the physicians’ lounge, which was as deserted as the parking lot. Brett followed the aroma of freshly brewed coffee into the kitchenette, where his friend, pediatrician Dr. Aaron Kendall, was sitting on a stool, eating a bowl of cornflakes.
“Hey,” Aaron said. Dressed in blue scrubs, the former college baseball player still had the lean build of an athlete, and he played ball when he got a chance. “I’ve asked around, and no one knows anything about a meeting this morning.”
Brett frowned. “I can’t imagine what Sheldon wants.” An hour ago, he had received a cryptic message from the chief of staff, Dr. Neal Sheldon.
Meet me at the hospital. Nine o’clock. Executive Conference Room.
It was a simple command with no explanation. Sheldon, being who he was, did not have to explain his orders. His commands were not questioned. Nevertheless, ever since Brett had received Sheldon’s message, his mind had been considering all the possibilities and coming up with nothing.
Aaron gave him a thoughtful glance. “What about the chief of cardiology position?”
“You know I don’t have a chance.” It wasn’t that he didn’t want it. He would give anything for it. He might even give up one of his girls for it. That was how much he wanted it.
“You’re trained in interventional cardiology. That’s a huge plus.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s all politics.” More than once the politics had gone against him. He was from the wrong side of town. He’d grown up on Trinity Road, a strip of worn asphalt that snaked through the hills outside of town. Trinity Road had once been home to a branch of the Dixie Mafia, and it was known for its roadhouses and violence. By all rights, he should have never even made it to college, much less through medical school and a cardiology fellowship.
“Lockett would never endorse me, and he has enough clout with the hospital board to make certain they’d go against me, too.”
Aaron scooped up a spoonful of cornflakes. “You haven’t had words with Lockett again, have you?”
“I haven’t spoken to him in three months,” Brett answered.
Lockett was the Ivy League prick who headed up business administration at the hospital. He and Brett had clashed since day one. Lockett had said Brett needed to look more like a doctor than a felon, and more than once, Brett had been reprimanded for his heated arguments with the administrator.
But lately there hadn’t been any big blowups between him and the administrator because Lockett was dealing with cash flow deficits at the hospital, and the interventional cardiac procedures Brett performed brought in sizable insurance payments. From what Brett had heard, Lockett was holed up in his office, trying to save his job.
“I don’t know,” Brett said, still mystified as he got a small cup of coffee. “I don’t have any patient complaints against me that I know of.” He took his work seriously, and he was good at what he did.
Aaron finished his cereal. “If you get the chance, you should mention the chief of cardiology position to Sheldon. You’d do a great job.”
“The only way I will get it is if everyone else turns it down.”
The position did mean extra work. The other cardiologists on staff were older than Brett, and they had families on top of large practices. They all balked at more responsibility.
“I think Foster will step up and take it,” Brett said. Dr. Roy Foster had been on the staff for over twenty years. He was well-liked, well-connected, and a better politician than Brett.
“Still, you should say something to Sheldon,” Aaron suggested. “Just see what his thoughts are.”
“He’d probably flatten me like a cockroach.” Brett glanced at the wall clock, which read eight forty-five. It never hurt to be early. He tossed the foam coffee cup in the trash. “I’ll let you know what happens.”
“Good luck, bro.”
Brett strode down the blue tiled hallway, thinking about the chief of cardiology position. Dr. Collins had held onto the position for twenty-five years. For the past few years, Collins had been biding his time, getting ready to retire. He had let things in the cardiology department slide. Collins never went to battle for new equipment or upgrades to the cath lab. Brett had found that frustrating, but mediocre Collins was Lockett’s golfing buddy, and he had the support of the governing board of trustees and the medical staff. You kiss my ass and I’ll kiss yours.
In the hallway, he passed a couple of lab techs. “Hey, Hot Rod,” they greeted him by his nickname. “TGIF!”
“You got that right,” Brett replied. Who didn’t love Fridays? Nothing like a Friday to put a little spring in your step. On Friday nights, he usually hung out at the Thunderbird Bar and Grill. He had invested a wad of cash into the Thunderbird, and it was paying off nicely.
What could he say but that life was good and just kept getting better?
As he approached the elevators at the end of the hall, the doors to one of the cars slid open, and he made a dash for it. He almost ran into Mrs. Rutherford, the hospital’s stodgy dietitian, who stepped out of the roomy elevator, built to accommodate stretchers and wheelchairs.
“Doctor Harris, aren’t you energetic this morning?”
“It’s Friday, Mrs. Rutherford.” Brett rushed into the elevator car as the doors started to close. He nodded at an elderly Asian couple who were standing near the door. He stepped to the left, where the operating panel was located, and pressed the number seven. The executive offices and meeting rooms were all on the top floor of the hospital. Then he settled into the front corner as the car shuddered and began its climb.
That’s when he noticed the hot chick standing in the right rear corner of the elevator, diagonal from him. Long hair, the color of gold dust, rippled over her shoulders and formed an S-curve. She wore a short burgundy jacket with embroidered lapels over a silky top, along with snug jeans and brown suede riding boots with stack heels.
She looked as if she had just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad. All cool and classy. Like she belonged at a polo match, on a sailboat, or in his bed, he thought with a grin. She held a couple of large, white pastry boxes from the hospital cafeteria.
He reflexively checked out her hands. Delicate clear nails and no wedding band or engagement ring. He grinned. Maybe it was his lucky day.
The elevator opened on the second floor, and the Asian couple got off. While the elevator was stopped, Brett took the opportunity to move to the rear of the car so he and the Ralph Lauren model stood in opposite corners.
The elevator hydraulics sighed as the door closed. He glanced toward her. She looked directly at him and smiled. Her face went perfectly with her lean body and stylish clothes. She had full lips painted a soft mauve color, a straight nose, and bold blue eyes that sparkled like sapphires as she pinned him with a gaze that would have fired up the pistons in any man.
She was fine, and he was available. So there you go.
“I’ve heard we’re going to have great weather this weekend,” he said, throwing some bait her way. He tapped the elevator handrail. For the first time ever, he wished the elevator would move a little slower.
She batted those baby blues at him. “There’s a storm coming.”
A storm? He had watched the weather report on TV before he left his house. Sunny autumn weekend, high in the seventies, no rain. “I don’t think so.”
“Oh, I’m fairly certain of it,” she insisted with a swift lowering of her lashes. She had a breathy voice with a slight lilt. She didn’t sound local. Her accent was cosmopolitan like a newscaster’s. No regional drawl.
She flashed him a tempestuous smile. “I love storms. Thunder and lightning can be very sexy at night.”
Whoa. Damn. He raked back his dark hair. The elevator passed the fourth floor. With his motor running, he cut his eyes toward her, and she didn’t shy away from direct eye contact. She gave him the once-over as if she were sizing him up. Then she wet her lips. Kinda like she was silently saying, I’m great at oral sex.
I love bad girls! If he had been a Christmas tree, every light on him would have been glowing. Where had she been all his life?
The elevator passed the fifth floor. There was no time, so he decided to go for it.
He had not been born humble.
“I’m going to be at the Thunderbird tonight. Hanging out. If you’re out that way, stop by. I’d love to have some company.” He didn’t make a big deal of it. Subtlety had its merits. 
“You’re totally Type A,” the Ralph Lauren model said as she shifted her hands on the pastry boxes she held. He could see the flecks of violet in her blue eyes, and he caught the soft scent of her breezy cologne.
He blinked. Something seemed familiar about her. Then again, not.
“Type A?”
“Assertive.”
He nodded. Yeah, he was assertive. He didn’t lack confidence.
“Ambitious.” The elevator came to a halt on the seventh floor with a familiar chime as the car reached its destination.
“Definitely.” If he hadn’t been ambitious, he would not be where he was today. Ambition fueled him. He cut his eyes toward her and hoped the next attribute would be attractive.
“Asshole,” came next.
He frowned. “Not all Type A’s are assholes.”
“But you are.”
Bewildered, he blinked. “If you knew me, you wouldn’t think that.”
“I do know you,” she said as the elevator doors slid open. “And I do think that.”
Then she was on the move, heading down the carpeted hallways toward the executive suites. He caught up with her. “What do you mean you know me?” He was certain they had never met. He had never been so drunk that he couldn’t recall whom he’d picked up, and he couldn’t imagine not remembering her.
“Coach Vanderford’s biology lab.” The Ralph Lauren model stopped in the quiet, carpeted hallway. The top floor only housed medical staff offices, conference rooms, the medical library, and a rarely used observatory.
“Coach Vanderford?” Mentally, he had to sweep the cobwebs from memories that had been buried for years. Coach Vanderford had been one of his high school science teachers. “You’re talking Lafayette High?”
“You were always such a smart ass, Brett.”
“I was a teenager,” he countered. Teenagers were cocky. They came with an attitude. “There were a few guys a lot worse than me.”
“Not to Natalie Layton.”
His face soured as if he’d just taken a dose of quinine. Natalie Layton. The senator’s daughter. Platinum blond hair cut short like Tinker Bell’s. Megawatt smile. The stuff of wet dreams. Voted Cutest Girl and Class Favorite. Always hanging onto her jock boyfriend or riding on a parade float in a lavish gown. Everyone had loved her but him.
He had nearly crapped when Coach Vanderford had handed out lab partner assignments and he got stuck with Natalie. If all that was necessary were cuteness and charm, Natalie could ace it, but if it required any effort and intelligence, you could forget it. She kept her head in the clouds.
While he was working his ass off, maintaining a 5.0 grade average so he could get a full scholarship and go to college, she spent half her time in class staring out the windows in some sort of fantasy world. Or drawing pictures instead of taking notes.
He had resented everything about her, including the fact that a boy from Trinity Road had no chance with a girl like her.
“When it came to Natalie Layton, I just didn’t suck up to her like everyone else did. I said exactly what I thought, and I guess I was blunt. Were you one of her friends?” Everyone had claimed to be her friend. Naturally. Her family owned a castle.
“It’s me, Brett. Slacker,” she said, nudging his memory again.
Slacker? That was the nickname he’d given Natalie when she was his worthless lab partner. What’s your ambition in life, Slacker? Trophy wife? If daydreaming made you smart, Slacker, you’d be the next Einstein. Hey, Slacker, maybe you can become a professional float rider.
“Natalie?” His eyes widened as the realization dawned on him. “You’re Natalie Layton?”
She produced the megawatt smile. “In the flesh.”
He couldn’t quite wrap his mind around the fact that the woman who stood before him was the same girl he’d known in high school. She had made some sort of unbelievable transformation. Her voice, her hair, her manner, and even her face seemed different.
He knew that teenagers changed as they matured into adults, and he hadn’t seen Natalie since graduation, but he had seen some of their former classmates. They didn’t look exactly like they had in school, and neither did he, but he recognized them.
He would have never known Natalie. Not in a million years.
“Surprise.” She looked proud of herself and he knew why.
“You were playing me in the elevator.” If he could kick his own ass, he would.
From beneath thick lashes, her eyes flashed. “Who knew you’d be so easy?”
Shit. He shrugged and spouted out a polite lie. “Good to see you again. Sorry, I can’t stick around.” He started walking. “I’m going to be late for a meeting.”
He headed for the short hallway that led to the Executive Conference Room, and he was at the oak door before he realized she was behind him. “What are you doing?” .
“Bringing breakfast,” she said, indicating the two takeout boxes she held. “Dr. Sheldon is married to my grandmother’s sister, and Harry Layton is my uncle.”
Brett stared at her. Could this get any more bizarre?
“Why don’t you get the door?” she suggested. “My hands are full.”
He pushed the door silently across the thick carpet of the conference room. Landscape paintings hung on the walls, and recessed ceiling lights illuminated the room where decisions that affected the hospital and health care were made. A long dark cherry table stood in the center of the room. Fresh flowers filled a gold vase, and matching executive chairs on rollers lined either side of the gleaming table. The room smelled of leather and power. And two of the most powerful men in Brett’s universe stood beside the table.
Dr. Neal Sheldon and Harry Layton.
Tall and silver-haired, Dr. Neal Sheldon was in his mid-seventies. His regal appearance and calm demeanor had served him well as chief of staff. Considered a brilliant neurologist, he had worked on several research projects and had published in a number of medical journals. Everyone, including Brett, respected Sheldon and deferred to his wisdom. Sheldon was Gandalf in a white lab coat.
In contrast to Sheldon’s Gandalf was Harry Layton, the hobbit. Harry was a short, squat fellow with a belly as round as his face. In his fifties, Harry’s balding head was hidden beneath a Tennessee Volunteers ball cap. In fact, Harry was a walking billboard for the University of Tennessee sports program. A die-hard fan, he sported an orange-and-white Vols polo shirt and an orange UT windbreaker over gray slacks.
Despite looking like a hobbit in orange and white, Harry was probably the sharpest, most powerful businessman in Lafayette Falls. He came from old money, and he had made tons more. The Layton family had long been one of the cornerstones of Lafayette Falls society, and the Layton name appeared on businesses all over town. Harry was also the president of the hospital board of trustees. If Harry wanted it done, it got done. No questions asked.
“Doctor Harris.” Sheldon greeted him. Always a man of deportment and reservation, Sheldon offered his hand to Brett. “I am glad you could join us this morning.” If there was ever such a thing as a high road, Sheldon had been on it all his life.
“Good to see you, Doc,” Harry said. Unlike Sheldon, Harry embodied easygoing Southern charm. With a laugh and a slap on the back, Harry was the good ole boy who would smile as he cut the competition’s throat. “Let me get you a cup of coffee.”
Brett thanked him in a quiet voice while wondering what the hell was going on. Harry Layton just didn’t routinely attend medical staff meetings, nor did he volunteer to get you coffee.
Natalie had placed the white pastry boxes on the table and opened them. While Harry was at the credenza, filling a foam cup with coffee, Sheldon helped himself to a couple of blueberry bran muffins and took a seat at the head of the table.
“What do you think about the team this year?” Harry asked. Brett had graduated from UT Medical School, so he and Harry shared the same alma mater, which was a good thing because Harry had a special place in his heart for the alumni.
He and Harry talked UT football for a couple of minutes. They shared a few good ole boy laughs and did some male bonding before Harry said, “Let’s have a seat.”
Natalie had taken a chair a couple of places down from the head of the table, where Sheldon sat. Harry took the empty chair between Sheldon and Natalie. Brett sat in the chair on the other side of the table, opposite Harry and Natalie.
“Everybody, help yourself,” Harry said, pointing to the pastries. He used a plastic fork to spear a cheese Danish. “Natalie, honey, don’t you want something?”
“Thanks, but I ate before I left the house. I couldn’t resist Clara’s biscuits.”
Harry sighed. “Aunt Clara has a gift.”
Growing edgy, Brett decided he would have a donut with his coffee. He was struggling to feel normal in a surreal situation.
As he reached in the box, Natalie said, “They didn’t have any banana pudding.”
He glanced up at her deadpan face. “Too bad.” He dumped the donut on a paper plate. Obviously, she remembered the cafeteria food fight back in the day.
He had actually started it by managing to fling a chunk of hot dog across the aisle and down her blouse. It was a lucky shot, and watching her fish it out of her bra had been hysterical.
Then she had walked over to the table where he sat with two of his buddies, both grinning, and a new girlfriend, who had her hand over her face. The cafeteria was quiet. All eyes were on Natalie. She put the piece of hot dog on his plate
“I think you lost this.”
“No, Slacker, I didn’t lose it.” Yes, he could be a sarcastic asshole.
“Well, Brett,” she leaned in close. Way too close for his comfort. “I didn’t lose this either.” She snatched up the bowl of banana pudding that was on his tray and dumped it, bowl and all, on top of his head.
He swore as a piece of banana slid down his forehead, and on the other side of the cafeteria, Josiah, the tallest player on the basketball team, stood up and yelled, “Food fight!”
Chaos and a two-week detention had followed.
“I know you must be wondering why I called this meeting,” Sheldon said, and Brett shook off the recollection of washing dried banana pudding out of his hair. He’d never eaten banana pudding again.
Natalie dug her smartphone out of her shoulder bag as if she had no interest in the meeting. Brett couldn’t help but wonder why she was present. She had no connection to the hospital or the medical staff. Other than Sheldon and Harry were her relatives. Naturally. It was a good thing she had come from a rich family. Otherwise, she would have ended up in a trailer park.
Sheldon said, “As you know, Doctor Collins plans to retire next month, and that is going to leave the chief of cardiology position open.”
At the mention of the chief of cardiology position, all thoughts of Natalie Layton left his mind. Like an arrow heading for a bull’s-eye, his focus narrowed to the one thing he wanted with every ounce of his being. His chest hitched. Did he dare hope?
Harry sat back in the leather chair, fingers laced across his belly. “We think you’d be a good candidate for that position.” He gave Brett one of his good ole boy nods.
“You’re one of our brightest young doctors,” Sheldon continued. “I have never found any fault in your practice of medicine or your ethics. I have no problem recommending you for the position.”
Brett’s heart pounded. He could actually visualize its ventricles pumping wildly. Finally, he managed to speak. “I—I don’t know what to say.”
A lump formed in his throat as he thought of his uncle, Mark Harris, who spent the better part of his life working under the hood of a car. “You’re smart, boy,” he had said. “You can be anything you want to be. You can make something of yourself.”
Brett swallowed. “To serve as chief of cardiology, well, that would be everything. That would mean everything to me.”
Harry leaned forward and folded his arms on the table. “So the position is something you want to take on?”
“Yes,” he answered without hesitation. “I’ll be fully committed to the job.” There were so many upgrades he wanted to make, plus he wanted to grow the department. Buy new, state-of-the-art equipment so they could provide advanced procedures and testing that would reduce the mortality rate in the community.
“I promise you that you won’t regret endorsing me. I’ll make improvements in the quality of care, the design of the cardiac care unit, and our diagnosing capabilities. I will see to it that we have an outstanding cardiology department in this hospital.”
Harry and Sheldon exchanged nods while Brett struggled to temper his ecstasy with reality. “The thing is I’ve had my differences with Richard Lockett, as you both know. There’ll be a hurdle when it comes to him.”
“Doc,” Harry leaned forward as he spoke, “you are looking at the only two men who matter. The administration has to answer to the board, and Lockett knows where his bread is buttered.” Harry shrugged. “If I say I want you to be the next chief of cardiology, he’ll fall in line or else.”
For a moment, Brett grinned, but he wasn’t stupid. He had been raised on the wrong side of town, and he knew you never got something for nothing. Sheldon and Harry weren’t stroking his ego for the fun of it. He folded his arms on the table and took the straightforward approach.
“Who do I have to kill?”
Harry let out a robust laugh. “That’s a good one. I like you, Doc.” He sighed. “Wish it were that simple.”
Sheldon settled back in his chair as if his part was over, and Natalie’s attention was still on her smartphone. She appeared to be texting someone.
“Doc, we’ve got ourselves a family problem,” Harry said. “It’s my mother. Anna Layton. She’s in her eighties, and we’re thinking her heart isn’t beating like it should. What did you call that?” He looked at Sheldon, who was checking his phone, too.
“Bradycardia.”
Brett nodded. Bradycardia, a slow heart rate, was common among the elderly. He treated the condition on a regular basis. Without hesitation, he offered his medical opinion. “Barring any underlying problems, a pacemaker implant should improve her heart rate.”
“That’s what Sheldon said. We’d like you to see her.”
“Of course.” He would make his services available immediately. “I’ll be happy to see her in my clinic and do a full cardiac workup on her. I could do it this afternoon.” Giving up a day off was a small sacrifice if it meant an office on the top floor.
“The thing is, Mama hates doctors, and I’m not gonna lie to you. She can be a contrary woman when she sets her mind to it. Nobody tells her what she can and cannot do.”
“I’m sure I can win your mother’s trust.” How hard could it be to charm an old lady? Confident, Brett continued, “Over half my patients are elderly people like your mother. I have an excellent rapport with them.”
They loved him. It was like having dozens of grandmas and grandpas who loaded him up with home-baked goodies during holidays and fresh vegetables from their gardens in the summer. He enjoyed their adoration.
“It won’t be that easy.” Natalie finally sent a zinger across the table.
“I deal with senior patients on a daily basis.”
“You haven’t dealt with Anna Layton.”
“Your grandmother’s heart rate is going to continue to decline.” Brett decided to make things simple for Natalie. Too bad she hadn’t been born with a brain to go with her looks. “When her heart rate reaches the forties, she’ll have some bouts of dizziness and fatigue, which could result in a fall that might kill her or put her in bed for the rest of her life. A heart rate below twenty can be fatal on its own.”
He turned to Harry. “Mrs. Layton and I will get along just fine.” Type A. All about being assertive. Projecting confidence. “What time would you like to bring your mother to the clinic?”
Harry grimaced. “Mama’s kinda stubborn about such things. Like seeing a doctor. She never liked going to the doctor.”
“Nana has a mind of her own,” Natalie interjected with a sweet smile and Brett scowled at her.
Harry continued, “Mama says she’s not gonna sit around in a waiting room full of old people carrying freezer bags full of pill bottles and going on about all their ailments. She says she has better things to do.”
Brett studied. Okay, what could he do with that? He took the initiative again because people who didn’t take the initiative never won, and he always won.
“I can make a house call this afternoon.” He had never made a house call before, but he would now. He would literally move in with the old lady if he had to. “Whatever time that’s convenient for Mrs. Layton is fine with me.”
Harry glanced at Natalie and then at Sheldon. “Here’s the deal, Doc. You can’t just go over to Mama’s house like a doctor going to see a patient. She’d have a hissy fit and run you off.”
A hissy fit? Brett glanced at Sheldon, who shrugged and said, “I’m Anna’s brother-in-law and not one of her favorite people. Half the time, she doesn’t speak to me.”
The old lady must have some dementia. “What about Mrs. Layton’s primary care physician?” He figured he would need to form an alliance with that doctor.
“Doctor Gaskey was always our family doctor,” Harry answered. “Of course, he’s been dead a while now. There’s a nurse practitioner who lives in the neighborhood. She looks in on Mama when Mama calls her. Otherwise, Mama treats herself.”
“Have you spoken with Mrs. Layton about the importance of medical care?”
“Nana is a retired botanist, and she’s a believer in natural medicine,” Natalie answered.
Harry spread his hands, and Sheldon said, “I stay away. I’m afraid of the cat.”
“Nana has a thug cat,” Natalie again. Could she get any more annoying? “We don’t mess with the cat.”
Brett tried to hide his amazement. He was looking at the two most powerful men in the hospital as well as the city. The only two men who mattered. They had the clout to make or break a career. And they were both cowered by a little old lady and her cat.
Talk about the opportunity of a lifetime. If he could become Anna Layton’s physician, he would literally have it made. He would have Harry and Sheldon’s support and gratitude, which meant he could create a superior cardiology program at LFMC. Perhaps, someday, there would be a heart center named after him and he would be remembered for all posterity. Yes, he was definitely Type A.
“Do you want to speak with your mother and then give me call?” he asked Harry.
“Well, we have a little something different in mind.” Both Harry and Sheldon looked at Natalie as if it were her turn to speak up.
She tapped her fingers on the table. “I’m home for a few weeks, and I’m staying with my grandmother.” She managed to choke out the rest, “You can come over as my dinner guest tomorrow night.”
It took him a moment to process that. “Okay. So I’m not coming over as a doctor. I’m coming over as your date?”
“A date is kinda stretching it,” she said as if to say that was never gonna happen. “An old friend from high school.”
“Friend,” he repeated, meeting her gaze. “Seriously?”
“It was Uncle Harry and Aunt Lorraine’s idea.” She was quick to clarify, and she frowned at her uncle, who had a mouthful of cheese Danish. “And it’s not a good idea. It’s not going to work. Not with Nana.”
“Natalie, you promised us you’d help out.” Harry took a swig of coffee. “We’re counting on you.”
She shook her head, and Brett realized she was totally against the idea, which might cost him the chief of cardiology position.
He sat up straight. “Natalie, you do understand what’s at stake here?”
“Besides your ego?” She didn’t blink as she looked him straight in the eye. It appeared that, since high school, she had developed a Terminator stare.
He didn’t flinch. “Do you want me to help your grandmother or not?”
Her phone lit up, and she checked a text message. She stuck her phone back in her purse and withdrew a small notepad. She scribbled on it, then tore off the paper and folded it. “I’ve got to meet someone,” she announced.
She hitched her purse strap on her shoulder, and she leaned across the table to hand Brett the folded paper. “Here’s my cell number. If something comes up and you can’t make it tomorrow night, call me. Otherwise, dinner is at seven. Sports jacket. No tie. Be at Nana’s house, which is the Castle House on Rosewood, by six forty-five.”
“I’ll be there.” He tucked the paper into the pocket of his jacket.
In a low, vindictive voice, she said, “Isn’t it amazing to think that I’m the key to your success?” She had glanced at Sheldon and Harry before she delivered a parting blow. “Nana is a piranha, Brett. She’ll eat you alive and not even burp.”
Holy crap. He turned to Sheldon and Harry as Natalie left the conference room. “A piranha?”
“Aw.” Harry waved his hand in the air. “You know how women are. You can’t pay any attention to what they say.”
Brett glanced at Sheldon, who completely sidestepped the issue. “Well, it appears we’re done here.”
The men stood, and Harry slapped his hand on Brett’s shoulder. “You help us out and we’ll take care of you, Doc.” Harry was nothing if not smooth. “You’re gonna love having an office up here on the top floor.”
Sheldon simply said, “Good luck.”
Brett checked the messages on his phone before he left the conference room. He had a message from his friend and colleague, Dr. Marla Grant, who was off in California with her new husband.
Are you in trouble again?
Brett shook his head. You know, gossip travels at the speed of light in this hospital.
Kayla ran into Aaron, and he said you got called in for a meeting with Sheldon. We were worried about you.
He should have known it was the other LaLa. He had always referred to Marla and Kayla as the two LaLas. He sent the message to both Kayla and Marla.
Dear LaLas, I am not in trouble. Things could not be better. Don’t worry about me.
Then he decided to add Natalie’s phone number to his contacts. He probably shouldn’t have picked on her in school. Of course, he had been seventeen and full of himself, like most teenagers, and he’d had something of a secret crush on the unattainable Natalie Layton.
On his way back to the elevator, he stopped in the hallway and looked at the nameplate on a closed office door. Beneath Dr. Collins’s name was a wide strip of gold engraved with the title Chief of Cardiology.
Determination settled about Brett. In a few weeks, his name would be on that door. Unfortunately, Natalie Layton would likely be the key to his success with her uppity grandmother, but that was nothing he couldn’t handle. He gazed at the gold nameplate. He was going to make this happen, just like he had made everything else in his life happen.
He pulled his phone from his pocket and sent Natalie a text.
Hi. This is Brett. We need to talk.
By the time he reached the elevator, he had a reply.
No, we don’t was followed by a frowning, red-faced emoji.

***

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(c) Patricia Preston 2017