December 26, 2006
Buchanan Family, Book No. 3
Feelings flare between a nurse and a playboy athlete. Chemistry so hot, it's sizzling!
A spiteful article about the former pitcher and current playboy questions his talent in the bedroom. And the newspaper's just the first bad news. Reid's grandmother Gloria's broken hip means she needs constant care—but Reid hired Nurses 1 and 2 for their bedside manner with him. So for Number 3 he chooses Lori Johnson, the first candidate who seems immune to his brand of charm.
Lori's never wasted her time with amoebas like Reid Buchanan. So why are her well-fortified defenses starting to crumble under the force of his sexy smile—and the kindness he shows her at every turn? There's only one explanation for the feelings flaring between them—chemistry. Chemistry so hot, it's sizzling!
“SIZZLING is simply dazzling!...Susan Mallery is an author not to be missed!”
The Romance Readers Connection
4.5 stars! "No one packs more emotional punch and humor into a story than Mallery ... Another terrific chapter in the warm and powerful Buchanan family saga!"
RT Book Reviews
Until 6:45 on that Thursday morning, women had always loved Reid Buchanan.
They'd started leaving notes in his locker long before he'd figured out the opposite sex could be anything but annoying. During his sophomore year of high school, his hormones had kicked in and he'd become aware of all the possibilities. Over spring break of that year, Misty O'Connell, a senior, had seduced him in her parent's basement on a rainy Seattle afternoon, during an MTV Real World marathon.
He'd adored women from that moment on and they had returned the affection. Until today, when he casually turned the page in the morning paper and saw his picture next to an article with the headline: "Fame, absolutely. Fortune, you bet. But good in bed? Not so much."
Reid nearly spit out his coffee as he jerked to his feet and stared at the page. He blinked, then rubbed his eyes and read the headline again.
Not good in bed? NOT GOOD IN BED?
"She's crazy," he muttered, knowing the author had to be a woman he'd dated and dumped. This was about revenge. About getting back at him by humiliating him in public. Because he was good in bed, dammit. Better than good.
He made women scream on a regular basis. They clawed his back—he had the scars to prove it. They stole into his hotel room at night when he was on the road, they begged, they followed him home and offered him anything if he would just sleep with them again.
He was better than good, he was a god!
He was also completely and totally screwed, he thought as he sank back into his chair and scanned the article. Sure enough, the author had gone out with him. It had been one night of what she described as nearly charming conversation, almost funny stories from his past and a so-so couple of hours naked. It was all couched in "don't sue me" language. Things like "Just one reporter's opinion" and "Maybe it's just me, but..."
She'd also claimed he regularly blew off charity events and kids in need—neither of which was true. He couldn't blow off what he never agreed to do. And that was his standard rule—not to get personally involved in anything, including benefits.
He studied the name of the reporter, but it meant nothing. Not even a whisper of a memory. There wasn't a picture, so he grabbed his laptop and went on-line to the paper's web site. Under the bio section he found a photo.
He studied the average looking brunette and had a vague recollection of something. Okay, yeah, so maybe he'd slept with her, but just because he couldn't remember what had happened didn't mean it hadn't been incredible.
But along with the fuzzy memories was the idea that he'd gone out with her during the playoffs, when his former team had been fighting for a chance to make the World Series and he'd been back in Seattle, in his first year of retirement. He'd been bitter and angry about being out of the game. He might have been drunk.
"I was thinking about baseball instead of her. So sue me," he muttered as he read the article again.
Deep, soul-shriveling embarrassment chilled him. Instead of calling him a bastard to all of her friends, this woman had chosen to humiliate him in public. How the hell was he supposed to fight back? In the courts? He'd been around long enough to know he didn't have a case, and even if he did, how was he supposed to win? Parade a bunch of women around who would swear he made the earth move just by kissing them?
While he kind of liked that idea, he knew it wouldn't make a difference. He'd been a famous baseball player once, and there was nothing the public liked more than to see the mighty fall.
His friends would read this. His family would read this. Everyone he knew in Seattle would read it. He could only imagine what would happen when he walked into the Downtown Sports Bar today.
At least it was local, he thought grimly. Contained. He wouldn't have to deal with hearing from his old baseball buddies.
The phone rang. He grabbed it.
"Mr. Buchanan? Reid? Hi. I'm a producer here at Access Hollywood. I was wondering if you'd like to make a comment on the article in the Seattle paper this morning. The one about—"
"I know what it's about," he growled.
"Oh, good." The young woman on the other end of the phone giggled. "How about an interview? I could have a crew there this morning. I'm sure you want to tell your side of things."
He hung up and swore. Access Hollywood? Already?
The phone rang again. He pulled the plug and thought about throwing it against the wall, but the damn phone wasn't responsible for this disaster.
His cell rang. He hesitated before picking it up. The Caller ID showed a familiar number. A friend from Atlanta. He exhaled with relief. Okay, this call he could take.
"Hey, Tommy. How's it going?"
"Reid, buddy. Have you seen it? The article? It's everywhere. Total bummer. And for the record— dude, too much information."
If Lori Johnston had believed in previous lives, she would have wondered if she'd been a general, or some other kind of tactical expert in one of hers. There was nothing she liked more than taking a few unrelated elements, mixing them together and creating the perfect solution to a problem.
This morning she had to deal with hospital equipment arriving the day after it was supposed to and a catering service delivery with every single entrée wrong. In her free time, she had her new patient to meet and safely deliver home, assuming the ambulance driver wasn't late. Where other people would be screaming and threatening, Lori felt energized. She would meet this challenge as she met all others and she would be victorious.
The delivery men finished assembling the state-of-the-art hospital bed and stepped back for her inspection. She stretched out on the mattress to check for bumps and low spots. What might just be annoying to someone healthy could be impossible to endure when one had a broken hip.
When the mattress passed inspection, she worked the controls.
"There's a squeak when I raise the bed," she said. "Can you fix that?"
The men shared an exasperated glance, but she didn't care. Trying to get comfortable while in pain was bad enough, but an annoying noise could make things worse.
She checked out the table on wheels, and it was fine, as were the wheelchair and the walker.
While they dealt with the squeak, Lori hurried into the massive kitchen where the catering staff sorted through the meals they'd brought.
"The chili?" a woman in a white uniform asked.
"Has to go." Lori pointed to the list she'd posted on the refrigerator. "This is a woman in her seventies. She's had a heart attack and surgery on a broken hip. She's on medication. I said tasty, but not spicy. We want to encourage her to eat, but she may still have stomach issues from all the medication. She doesn't need to lose weight, so that's not a problem. Healthy, tempting dishes. Not chili, not sushi, nothing fancy."
She'd been so specific on the phone, too, she thought with minor exasperation.
Still, she would prevail and when the details were handled, she would stop at Dilettante Chocolates for a little something. Chocolate always brightened her day.
"You could beat them. That would get their attention."
That voice. Lori didn't have to turn around to know who was standing in the doorway of the kitchen. They'd only met once but everything about him was burned into his brain, including the sound of his voice. It made her want to consider a lobotomy.
She braced herself for the impact of the dark, knowing eyes, the handsome-but-just-shy-of-too-handsome face, and the casual slouch that should have annoyed the heck out of her, but instead made her want to melt like a twelve year old at a Jesse McCartney concert.
Reid Buchanan was everything she disliked in a man. He'd always had it easy so nothing had value. Women threw themselves at him. He'd had a brilliant career playing baseball, although she'd never followed sports and didn't know any details. And, he'd never once in his entire life bothered with a woman as ordinary as her.
"Don't you have something better to do than just show up and annoy me?" she asked as she turned toward him.
Her reaction to his physical presence was immediate. She found it difficult to breathe, let alone think.
"Annoying you is an unexpected bonus," he said, "but not the reason I'm here. My grandmother's coming home today."
"I know that. I arranged it."
"I thought I'd stop by to visit her."
"I'm sure knowing you stopped by four hours before she was due home will brighten her day so much that the healing process will be cut in half."
She pushed past him, ignoring the quick brush of her arm against his and the humiliating burst of heat that ignited inside of her. She was pathetic. No, she was worse than pathetic—one day she would grow enough to achieve pathetic and that would be a victory.
"She won't be here until this afternoon?" he asked as he followed her back into the library.
"Unfortunately, no. But it was thrilling to see you. So sorry you can't stay."
He leaned against the door frame in this room. He did that a lot. He must know how good he looking doing it, Lori thought grimly. No doubt he practiced at home.
She knew Reid was shallow and selfish and only interested in women as perfect as himself, so why was she attracted to him? She was intelligent. She should know better. And she did...in her head. It was the rest of her that was the problem.
She was a total and complete cliché—a smart, average-looking woman pining after the unobtainable. The bookstores probably contained an entire shelf of self-help books dedicated to her condition. If she believed in self-help books, she could go get herself healed.
As it was, she was stuck with enduring.
"Don't you have to go away?" she asked.
"For now, but I'll be back."
"I'll count the hours."
"You do that." He stayed where he was, apparently unmovable.
"What?" she asked. "Are we waiting for something?"
He smiled, a slow, sexy smile that caused her heart to actually skip a beat. It was a new low.
"You don't read the paper, do you?" he asked.
"No. I go running in the morning and I listen to music."
The smile brightened. "Good. I'll see you later."
"You could wait until the evening nurse shows up and visit then. Wouldn't that be a great plan?"
"But then you'd miss me. Snarling at me is the best part of your day. Bye Lori."
And then he was gone.
"You're Gloria Buchanan's home care nurse?" the woman at the main nurse's station asked. "Oh, honey, you have my sympathy."
Lori was far more interested in getting her patient home and settled than chatting with the rehab facility staff, but she knew the importance of getting as much information as she could up front. The more she knew, the better plan she could develop.
"Cranky from the pain?" Lori asked as she glanced at the name tag on the other woman's scrubs top. "That's fairly typical. As she heals, her mood will improve."
"I don't think so. She's more than cranky," Vicki said. "Miserable. She complains constantly. She hates her room, the food, her treatments, the staff, the sheets, the temperature, the weather. Let me tell you, we're all so grateful to get her out of here." Vicki leaned close. "If you have another job offer, take it. Even if it pays less. Trust me, whatever you're making, it's not enough."
Lori was used to patients who were frustrated by their condition. "I'll be fine."
"You' ve already met her?"
It was Lori's practice to visit her patients before bringing them home. Establishing a good working relationship ahead of time often smoothed the transition process. However both times she'd stopped by the rehab facility to meet Gloria, she'd been told that "Mrs. Buchanan was refusing all visitors." Calling ahead to make an appointment hadn't changed the fact.
Vicki shook her head. "It's your funeral, hon. You haven't met anyone like this woman before. But that's for you to decide. I've made copies of her chart. She's already signed out by the doctor. He was as happy to get rid of her as the rest of us. She had her lawyer call and threaten to pull his license—twice. I hope they're paying you a lot."
They were, which was why Lori had taken the job. She was saving up so that she could take a few months off next year. But even without the high pay, she would have kept the job—just to prove everyone wrong about Gloria Buchanan.
Lori took the thick folder. "She's making progress with her physical therapy?"
"If the screaming is anything to go by." Vicki sighed. "Yes, she's healing. We took x-rays of the broken hip yesterday and she looks good. The heart attack was minor, the blockage is gone and with her new medication, she should live another twenty years...God help us."
Lori knew very little about Gloria personally. From researching her, she'd found out that the woman had been widowed at a young age. She'd taken a single restaurant and, during a time when women were more likely to either stay at home or be a school teacher, created an empire. Gloria's only son had died in his early thirties and his wife had been killed in a car accident a few years later.
Despite what must have been overwhelming grief, Gloria had taken in her four grandchildren and raised them herself, all the while managing four restaurants. Anyone who had suffered that much had earned the right to be a little difficult.
"I'll go introduce myself, then," Lori said. "The ambulance is already here to transport her home. I'll pick up the paperwork on the way out."
Vicki nodded. "Sure thing. I'll be right here. Good luck."
Lori waved and walked toward Gloria's room.
The poor woman. Everyone was determined to see her as difficult. But from what Lori had been able to find out, no one in her family wanted anything to do with her. Gloria was injured, lonely and probably feeling frail. Isolation was never good under any circumstances.
She found the right room and knocked once before entering.
"Mrs. Buchanan," she said as she smiled at the small, white-haired woman lying in the hospital bed. "I'm Lori Johnston. I'll be your day nurse while you're convalescing."
Gloria put down the book she'd been reading and glanced at Lori over her glasses. "I doubt that. Reid was going to be choosing the nurses who would care for me. I'm sure he found the idea hilarious. He only likes beautiful women with large breasts. Unfortunately they have IQs smaller than their waist. You're neither attractive nor well-endowed. You have the wrong room."
Lori opened her mouth, then closed it. She was too surprised to be insulted, which was probably a good thing. "I don't doubt your grandson's taste in women. In fact it fits everything I already know about him. I may not be his ideal, but I'm still your nurse. At least during the day. You'll have an evening and a night nurse."
"You're not anyone I want to work with."
"How do you know?"
"I have a sense about people. I don't like the look of you. Go away."
Now this was a level of crabby Lori could relate to. She smiled as she crossed the room to the bed. "Here's the thing. I have an ambulance waiting right outside. There are a couple of burly guys who are going to drive you home. At your house, there's a bed waiting downstairs, food and privacy you never get in a place like this. Why don't you wait until we're there before firing me."
"You're humoring me. I loathe that."
"I'm not thrilled about being insulted, but I'm going to go with it. What about you?"
Gloria narrowed her gaze. "You're not one of those perpetually cheerful people, are you?"
"No. I'm sarcastic and demanding."
"Have you had sex with my grandson?"
Lori laughed. In her dreams, perhaps, but never in real life. After all she was neither attractive nor well-endowed. Talk about being dismissed. "There hasn't been time. Is it a requirement?"
Gloria sighed. "The man has no off switch. If it has a vagina, he's probably been in it."
"Not mine. I'll agree he's shallow but pretty. Isn't that always the way? So are you packed?"
Gloria's expression tightened. "I do not pack my own belongings. Even if I did, my condition would prevent any such activity."
So the momentary rapport was gone. Well, it had been good while it lasted.
"No problem. I'll collect everything. Do you have a suitcase? If not, I'm sure there are some shopping bags in the staff's lunch room."
The older woman practically crackled with outrage. "You will not put anything of mine in a shopping bag. Do you know who I am?"
Lori was careful to keep her back to her patient as she pulled a suitcase out of the closet by the bathroom. Gloria knowing she found this conversation kind of funny wouldn't help things. "Sure. You're Gloria Buchanan. Speaking of which, I think I'm going to call you Gloria. Mrs. Buchanan is so formal and we're going to be getting really close."
"Not after I have you fired."
Lori set the suitcase on the only chair in the room and opened it. "You don't want to fire me, Gloria. I'm really good at my job. I have experience with both heart and orthopedic patients. I'm tough enough to bully you into doing everything you should be doing. That's going to get you on your feet faster. Because here's the thing. Old ladies who break their hips have one of two outcomes. They get better or they die. My patients don't die."
Gloria glared at her. "You're not a very nice person."
"Neither are you."
Gloria stiffened. "How dare you? I am incredibly polite and thoughtful."
"Really? Want to hear what the staff here has to say about you?"
"They're a group of incompetent fools. Everything about this place is substandard."
"Then you're going to love my standards." She leaned close and lowered her voice. "I'm a real bitch about getting it right. You should respect that."
"You will not swear in my presence, young woman. I won't tolerate it."
"Fair enough. I won't swear and you won't act annoying."
"I'm never annoying."
"Should we take a vote of your peers?"
"I have no peers."
Which, Lori remembered a little too late, was sadly correct. From what Reid had told her when he'd hired her, Gloria didn't have any friends at all and her grandchildren rarely had anything to do with her. No wonder she was so difficult. It was heartbreaking.
Lori finished packing Gloria's belongings. There had been a few nightgowns, some undergarments, the clothes she'd been wearing when they'd brought her in, two books and a few cosmetics. Nothing else. No flowers, no get well teddy bear, nothing personal. Nothing from family.
It was one thing if the elderly were alone, Lori thought, getting really annoyed with the Buchanan grandchildren. But when there was plenty of family hanging around but they were all just too busy with their own precious lives, it really pissed her off.
Lori pushed aside her feelings and moved next to the bed.
"So here's the thing," she said, lightly touching Gloria's arm. Physical contact helped with healing. "I'm going to get the nurse to give you something for the pain. The trip home is going to jar you and that will hurt. The stuff she's using is pretty strong, so expect to be a little out of it for a while."
Gloria's eyes narrowed as she jerked her hand free of Lori's touch. "There is no need to speak to me as if I'm eight. I'm completely capable of understanding without a lengthy and moronic explanation. Fine. Get the nurse in here. She'll be delighted to indulge her sadomasochistic tendencies on my person one last time."
"Okay, then. Be right back."
Lori walked to the nurses station where Vicki was ready. "We're good to go. If you want to give her the shot, we'll head out."
Vicki stepped from around the counter. "So? What did you think?"
"I like her."
Vicki stopped in mid-stride and stared. "You're kidding. You like her? Gloria Buchanan? She's mean."
"She's alone and in pain and scared."
"You' re giving her way too much credit, but hey, if it gets her gone, I'm all for it."
Reid sat in his houseboat and wished he'd bought a condo in a security building instead. Here, on the water, he was too exposed, too accessible. He'd closed all the blinds and pulled all the shades, but that hadn't kept the press away, dammit. They were everywhere—setting up cameras on his dock, crawling up to his balcony. Speed boats kept zipping by outside.
They wanted a story and they wanted it now. No one cared that he was totally humiliated. His manager had told him the interest would die down in a few days and to just lay low until then. Great advice, but where was Reid supposed to go? This was his town. Everyone in Seattle knew who he was.
His cell phone rang. He glanced at the screen before answering it, then frowned when he saw his grandmother's name and number. If she'd read the morning paper, he was going to verbally beaten and left for dead.
"Yes?" he said, his voice clipped.
"It's Lori Johnston. Your grandmother's day nurse. Your grandmother is leaving the rehab facility now and should be home within the hour."
He grinned. "Let me guess. You want me to stop by and cheer her up." So much for Miss Priss's distain. She needed him. Eventually they all did.
"Not exactly. She's been given some medication and is pretty out of it."
"You're drugging my grandmother?" he asked in outrage.
Lori sighed. "My God, don't be such a girl. Of course I'm not drugging her. I asked the doctor to prescribe some pain medication. In her condition a car ride can be excruciating. Not that you would care."
He ignored that. "How did you get her phone?"
"I took it from her purse and before you start squealing in protest, I did it because I need to get in touch with you. No one sent the woman flowers or anything. There wasn't a get-well card or note in her room. I find that astonishing. I'm surprised any of you could bring yourself to actually give her medical care. Why didn't you just put her on an ice floe and push her out to sea?"
Reid opened his mouth, then closed it. To anyone who didn't really know Gloria, the actions, or lack of actions, were pretty horrible.
"She's not a flower kind of person," he said at last.
"Is that the best you can do? Claiming an allergy would have been a lot smarter. So you're the rich baseball player, right?"
"Ex-baseball player. I was a pitcher."
"Whatever. Order your grandmother some flowers. A lot of flowers. Have them delivered at regular intervals. Do you hear me? Throw in a few stuffed animals. Bears, cats, giraffes, I don't care. Something to give this poor woman the illusion that her family cares if she lives or dies. If you don't, you'll be answering to me and you won't like that."
Her concern was misplaced, but he respected her enthusiasm. "You don't scare me."
"Not yet, but I will."