Nurse Anne Matson's structured life derails when a familiar patient enters her ERthe ex-husband she left ten years ago. Matthew Clark is the last person she expects to see in Paradise, Colorado, especially with a nine-year-old daughter. The single dad is running the town's biggest expansion project, but one thing stands in his wayAnne's Victorian home. When his daughter falls ill, and Anne volunteers to help with her care, Matt recognizes he's never stopped loving the spirited beauty. But how can he get her back when he plans to take all she has left or can Anne see she has everything to gainthe family she's been denied?
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"Anne, ambulances are en route."
Anne Matson looked up from the tidy pile of paperwork on her desk. "Was that plural??"
Marta Howard, RN, stood in the doorway of Anne's office. She reached up to tuck a strand of short gray hair behind her ear. "Afraid so. Accident at Paradise Lake. At the construction site."
Anne straightened the bud vase on her desk that held a fragrant pink rose bloom from her garden and put away her files.
"How far out are they?" She stood and grabbed her stethoscope before slipping a pen into the pocket of her navy scrubs.
"Seven minutes." Marta winked, her severe countenance warming. "And you thought it was going to be a slow day."
"I should have kept my mouth closed." Anne hit the light switch as she followed Marta into the emergency department hall. "What's the extent of the injuries?"
"The first is a malethirty-two, in serious condition with broken ribs, upper quadrant and lower extremity lacerations, abrasions and possible internal injuries.
"Second patient is also a male, thirty-one, possible ankle fracture with minor abrasions and a head laceration. I've already paged Dr. Nelson. He's on his way."
"Surgeon on call?"
"Notify him. Call Life Flight and give them a heads-up, in case we need transport."
As head of the Paradise ER nursing team, Anne was proud of her department, but she fully understood the limitations of the facility's trauma unit. The majority of the center's patients were the tourists that flooded the San de Cristo Mountain area and the close-knit mountain town of Paradise, Colorado, in search of seasonal recreation. Anything outside the scope of the small hospital's care would be transferred straight to Alamosa and often to Denver.
"What's going on with the patient in five?" Anne called out as Marta moved quickly to the unit secretary's reception desk.
"Discharged. I called Dr. Rogers."
"No. Ben. He said he'd stop by tomorrow with his mobile unit and check the patient's incision."
Anne nodded and smiled. "That's why I like working in Paradise. All the efficiency of big-city medicine with the personal touch of rural medicine thrown in."
In the distance a siren could be heard. The familiar wail grew louder as the entire fleet of the Paradise Valley ambulance company approached the glass doors of the emergency department.
An instant later paramedics slammed through the ER doors. The late July heat met the hospital air-conditioning as a paramedic called out the first patient's stats while he steered the moving gurney.
Anne slid her hands into disposable gloves. "Get this one to triage," she directed. "The other can go to exam room two."
Marta and two orderlies followed alongside the gur-ney that sped into the curtained triage area while Anne grabbed the hospital copy of the paramedic's worksheet and shoved the papers into a metal chart.
"Move him over," Marta called. "On my count. One. Two. Three." The first patient was smoothly transferred to a hospital stretcher.
Anne noted the dwindling contents of the IV and hung a new bag as the medics left and Dr. Luke Nelson entered the room. Everything ran smoothly when Nelson was on the schedule. Though he was new to Paradise, he was their most qualified ER physician.
"What do we have?" he asked, already assessing the patient.
"Scaffold accident." Anne read the chart. "Probable cracked ribs. Left abdominal-penetrating laceration, along with several minor lacerations to the scalp and face. BP is eighty-eight over fifty. Pulse, one hundred. Oxygen at three liters. Pulse ox, ninety percent."
He began a head-to-toe physical examination as an orderly sliced through the man's bloody shirt then wrapped an electronic blood pressure cuff around the patient's arm.
"Any relevant history?" Nelson asked as he peeled back the crimson-soaked abdominal dressing. He nodded to Marta and she applied a clean gauze pad.
"None noted," Anne said.
Nelson leaned over the patient. "Mr. Seville, I'm Dr. Nelson. We're going to take good care of you."
Seville? The name tripped a distant memory Anne couldn't quite grasp. Frowning, she dismissed the thought.
The dark-haired man, whose upper half of his face was obscured by dirt and blood and the lower part by an oxygen mask, gave a weak shake of his head.
"Open up that IV," Nelson continued. "I need a CBC and chem panel. And type and cross for four units. Get X-ray down here stat."
"We've got another patient in exam room two," Anne said. She tossed her gloves and scrubbed her hands at a stainless-steel sink before leading the way down the hall.
"Are you going to the fund-raising dinner?" Luke Nelson asked, his steps in sync with hers.
"Apparently it's expected."
"You don't sound too enthusiastic."
He chuckled. "Politics, Anne. You have to play the game if you want to move up the career ladder. And since the money goes to expanding the emergency department, you should be excited."
Anne shook her head. Hospital social events were low on her list of things to be excited about. But Nelson was right. She'd have to try to be social for her career, because that was what she wanted, right? A career move; maybe even an administrative position.
Or maybe not. Lately she'd been restless for something that a promotion couldn't satisfy.
"Why don't we go together?" Luke finally asked.
She gave him a sidelong glance. "I have a rule about dating people I work with."
"Not a date." He shrugged. "Just going together."
"You're new to Paradise. Let me warn you that the grapevine moves fast here. That's why I also make it a rule never to let the line between my job and my personal life blur. It's best to fly under the radar in this town."
"Sounds like you have a lot of rules."
Anne paused at his remark. Maybe she did. But the guidelines she'd set for herself had served her well as an unmarried woman living in a small town, and she didn't plan to detour anytime soon.
They reached the open exam room and she stopped short and handed the chart to him.
Luke flipped it open, scanned the contents and then handed the chart back to her as he moved into the small room. "Mr. Clark?" he asked.
"Matt. You can call me Matt."
"I'm Dr. Nelson and this is Ms. Matson."
Anne's head jerked back at the sound of Matthew Clark's voice and the chart in her hands tumbled to the floor. Her gaze snapped toward the clear blue eyes of the man she had married nearly eleven years ago.
"Anne?" His eyes widened in turn as he stared at her.
Matthew Clark sat on the edge of the exam table in a bloodstained, torn and once-white polo shirt and jeans. His shirt bore the logo of First Construction Company on the left chest area.
The ice pack he held to his head pushed back short, dark blond hair. His left foot was shoeless and encased in a temporary inflatable splint; the right remained in a muddy steel-toed black work boot.
A bubble of air became trapped in Anne's throat and she had to remember to breathe.
The years had only improved his boyish good looks. He looked the same, from the dimple on the right side of his mouth to the tiny scar on his chin. The same, yet somehow different. Matthew Clark was a man now.
He grimaced. Clearly the swelling and already colorful contusions on his face were painful.
"You two know each other?" Luke looked back and forth between the patient and her, stunned interest on his face.
"She's my wife," Matt said, his voice flat and void of emotion.
Luke's brows shot up. "Your wife? "
"Ex. Ex-wife," Anne sputtered.
Her words stretched out, filling the small room with a million unanswered questions.
When Anne stooped to pick up the scattered chart at her feet her stethoscope slid to the tiled floor. Resisting a groan, she draped the stethoscope around her neck once more and gathered the papers. She read the paramedic's evaluation as she stood.
"How are you feeling?" Nelson asked his patient.
"I've been better," Matt returned. "I didn't think I needed that ambulance ride, but they insisted."
"Always good to play on the side of caution."
Anticipating the doctor's needs, Anne tore open a sterile package of gloves, and offered them to him. Maybe if she focused on her job, her thoughts would stop spinning out of control.
"Thanks." Nelson glanced at the hospital gown folded neatly and untouched next to Matt. "Ideally, we'd like you to change into that hospital gown."
"Me? In that? Not happening in this lifetime."
When a wicked smile curved his lips, Anne struggled not to laugh. Yes, the same old Matt. How had she forgotten his irreverent sense of humor?
The ER doc gave a thoughtful shake of his head. "We can work around it. I need to look at that scalp wound first."
Matt lowered the ice pack from his head. "Not too bad. A couple of sutures should do the trick."
"You want to stitch my head?" He jerked back with surprise.
"Yes. These things bleed like crazy. Lots of superficial vessels in the scalp."
"Do you have to shave my head?"
"No. Just trim a bit of hair near the wound. Won't be obvious."
"Looks like I have to trust you."
"I'd appreciate that," Nelson said, matching his patient's humor.
"Go ahead and do what you have to do."
"I'll get a suture kit," Anne said.
She exited the room and leaned against the wall. Matt. After all these years? Releasing a deep breath, she grabbed a sterile suture kit from the supply cart. It tumbled from her trembling hands. Scooping it up, she turned and ran smack into Marta.
"Whoa, careful. Is Nelson in there?"
"Yes. Room two."
With a gentle hand on Anne's shoulder, Marta peered closely. "Honey, are you okay? You look pale. Maybe you're catching that bug that's going around."
"Hmm. Well, can you tell Nelson that the family of the patient in exam room three wants to talk to him?"
Anne nodded, avoiding her friend's gaze.
"You're sure you're all right," Marta persisted, her eyes probing with concern.
"I'm good." Of course she was good. As good as she could be after seeing the man she'd walked away from after they'd said, "I do."
Anne pushed back into the exam room. "You're wanted in three."
"On my way." Nelson turned to her. "Do you mind cleaning up that scalp wound? I'll be right back to suture and then we can send him up to X-ray to assess that ankle."
"No problem." Anne straightened her shoulders. Of course she could do this. She was a professional.
Nelson gave her a brief nod, pausing long enough to once again look from Matt to her as he exited.
"Could you go ahead and lie down, please?" she asked Matt.
Anne pulled supplies from the exam cupboards. "You're " She cleared her throat. "You're too tall for me to reach the area."
The exam table creaked as he moved to a reclining position. "How's Manny?" Matt asked.
"Manny Seville." Anne turned slowly as realization hit. "Your college roommate."
"That's right. Manny is the site boss on the project."
"He's stable right now. We'll know more soon."
"Was his family notified? He has a wife and a new baby."
Anne released a small smile. "Does he? I always liked Manny, though I have to admit I never thought he'd settle down."
Yes, they do.
She pulled herself from her musing thoughts. "Our procedure is to notify immediate family. I can confirm that we had contact information when I finish this."
"Thank you," he said. Matt met her gaze, his expression humble. "I didn't mean to embarrass you in front of your"
"Dr. Nelson is my colleague." She pulled the rolling stainless-steel exam table closer.
When he glanced pointedly at her left hand, her gaze in turn shifted immediately to his. Large, capable hands. In a heartbeat she regretted the action. There was no need to let him know that she'd often wondered if he'd married. After all, she'd moved on with her life long ago. Hadn't she?
Matt glanced at her name tag: Matson RN. There was zero doubt in his mind that Anne hadn't told anyone about her "unfortunate" marriage.
Of course she had neatly erased the past. He expected nothing less.
Her black-brown hair framed her face in a bob that barely kissed her chin, the long bangs swept carelessly to the side, framing her face. Her features had evolved from a young, carefree girl to a classically elegant woman. He fought hard to ignore the fact that she was more beautiful now than at eighteen.
"So, you're a nurse," Matt said.
"Just like your aunt wanted." Anne tensed a fraction, yet only silence ensued. "Nine years," he finally murmured. "Excuse me?"
"We haven't seen each other in nine years."
"Ten," she said, without looking up. The simple response was enough to shake him to his core.
"Close your eyes, please. I'm going to cleanse the area and we don't want to get any Betadine in your eyes."
Her touch was gentle as she attended to his face. With his eyes closed he could smell the antiseptic along with a whiff of vanilla. Involuntarily, his lips curved into a smile. Anne always wore vanilla lotion. Why was it that solitary lingering memory stood out, pushing open the door to an onslaught of thoughts of what could have been?
He dared to peek at her once more, however her attention remained steadfast on her task. Then, as if sensing his perusal, her clear, dark eyes met his and held for a fraction, rounding in stunned surprise. She quickly glanced away.
"Aren't you going to ask what I'm doing in town?" Matt couldn't resist the question.
"Welcome to Paradise," Anne said with a rueful smile. "Everyone is already buzzing about the company that won the bid for the development down at Paradise Lake. I haven't seen this much excitement since the state put us on the map of Colorado."
She turned and smoothly grabbed a package from the table and tore it open. "How did this accident happen?"
"Pouring cement today. Long story short, the driver hit a piece of equipment. Manny and I were in the way."
"You're fortunate the injuries weren't worse."
"The Lord was watching out for us. That's for sure."
"So you're in construction instead of architecture?" she asked.
"Oh, I'm a residential architect. But it turns out I like being outside better than being trapped in an office."
"How long have you been with this company?"
" 'This company' is mine." Pride underlined his words. "Mine and Manny's. We worked construction together overseas for a long time and finally decided we wanted to be our own boss."
"In Paradise? Why not Four Forks?" Her brows rose slightly.
"There's nothing for me in Four Forks. I haven't been back since I left for college. For the record, I'm in Paradise because we won the bid," he said, making it very clear that their past had nothing to do with his future.
The opportunity in Paradise had opened up just when he'd needed to put down roots for himself and his daughter.
It would go a long way toward establishing his company in the Paradise Valley and providing them with the credibility to launch them into the big league. He felt God's hand on everything that had occurred in the past weeks well, except for today's disaster.
"So you're not staying? This is temporary?"
"I'm not sure yet. We'll be headquartering somewhere in the valley." He bit back his irritation. "I can shoot you a memo when I decide, if that will help."