When her fantasy becomes a reality Hope has to resist Jake—her new boss—even more!
But the irresistible doctor is more than he seems. Behind all Jake's arrogance and ambition? A hardscrabble childhood on the streets. And the very real truth that he'll do anything to mend—and win—the heart of his favorite nurse.
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Here comes trouble.
Hope Carmichael knew more about trouble than she ever wanted to and recognized it instantly. The man who'd just walked into her office had the big T written all over him.
Jake Andrews, M.D. Dr. GQ. That's what the Mercy Medical Center nurses called the hotshot trauma surgeon.
She could see why. The charcoal suit probably had an Armani label. His snappy red tie said follow me home if you're looking for a good time. And the sexy grin aimed straight at her was all about who he intended to have that good time with. Simply put, his fabulous dark hair, chiseled jaw and charismatic career made him a chick magnet.
"Hi. I'm Jake Andrews—Dr. Andrews," he added.
Hope stood behind her desk. Ordinarily she would have walked around it to shake someone's hand. This time she didn't and wasn't sure why. "I know who you are."
"I didn't think we'd met."
"Because your memory is infallible? " she asked, trying to control the nerves tweaked by his shameless scrutiny.
"Because a pretty lady like you is unforgettable."
Oh, please. If she had a nickel for every time she'd heard that line before.
Actually, she'd never heard it before.
Hospital gossip had warned her about him. Two out of the three doctors in his medical practice had recently married and officially resigned from the bachelor ranks. Jake Andrews was the last playboy standing. Her new job meant she'd have to deal with him—whether she wanted to or not.
Two weeks ago she'd arrived in Las Vegas to assume her duties as trauma coordinator of Mercy Medical West, the hospital's third campus which was a few months away from opening its doors. She'd done her employment orientation at the main campus and someone had pointed out Jake Andrews to her, which was why she knew him. Definitely a capital T for trouble.
"You're correct," she said. "We haven't been formally introduced."
"A situation I'm here to rectify." He held out his hand. "Let's make this official."
She hesitated to touch him and knew she didn't cover it very well because she was out of practice with men in general and a man like him in particular. Although out of practice would imply that at some point she'd been competent with his type, which was so not the case.
Finally she reached across the desk to place her hand in his. "I'm Hope Carmichael, Dr. Andrews."
"A pleasure. And call me Jake."
Maybe it was his take-no-prisoners smile or his touch, but Hope felt a blast of heat that was nuclear in scope. With good reason she'd hesitated to touch him, but there was no uncertainty when she quickly pulled her fingers from his.
"It's nice to meet you," she said.
"Likewise. So, I'm curious. How did you know who I was?" One corner of his mouth quirked up.
His ego was asking and she resisted the urge to roll her eyes, but on the inside she was groaning. It was a good thing her job was to organize the new hospital's trauma department and not choose the doctor who would run it, the job this surgeon was campaigning for. If she got a vote, it would be firmly in the no column.
"Process of elimination," she finally said.
"Excuse me?" He didn't look puzzled, just amused.
"The other two candidates for trauma medical director have already stopped by to introduce themselves."
"Worthy adversaries both." He moved closer and rested a hip on the corner of her desk, a blatantly masculine pose. "But neither of them is going to get the job."
Hope refused to give in to the very strong urge to put space between herself and Doctor Dashing because she suspected he would notice. There probably wasn't much those piercing gray eyes missed and even the slightest retreat would give him more intimidation quotient than he already thought he had.
She remembered his competition for the position—Dr. Robert Denton and Dr. Carla Sheridan, both in their forties. The former was a small, studious man who reminded her of Albert Einstein. The female doctor was all business. If she had charm or a sense of humor, both had been well concealed. Jake Andrews had set both his charm and humor on stun.
"It's my understanding that the hospital board hasn't made a final decision about who gets the contract." She sat behind the desk and looked at him. "How can you be so sure the position is yours?"
"Because the appointment means more to me than it does to either of them. And I'm the best trauma surgeon in Las Vegas."
The words ignited something in his eyes that hinted at a fire in the belly. A need for victory. Determination to succeed. A passion for power. Hope didn't remember either of the other doctors exhibiting a similar vibe.
"If it's what you want, then I hope the vote goes your way," she said.
"Me, too. Even more now." His eyes gleamed again as he looked her over with an expression of admiration and approval.
"Are you flirting with me?"
"Not very well, if you have to ask."
Almost as soon as the words were out she wanted them back. He might think she was fishing for compliments, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Part of her was surprised that the thought of flirting even entered her mind. She'd thought the ability to detect it had died two years ago with Kevin on their first wedding anniversary.
Dr. Andrews hadn't exactly confirmed or denied flirtatious intentions, but that really didn't matter. The game required two to play and she wasn't interested. More important, this conversation had already taken a different tone and direction from her meetings with the other two doctors in line for the top trauma job. It was time to fix that.
To do it, Hope knew she needed to take control, but the shimmy in her belly and the buzz in her head made thinking a challenge.
"Here's the thing, Doctor—"
"It's Jake. Remember?"
She was trying not to. This encounter and its ripple of sexual awareness were disturbing, to say the least. The longer he perched on the corner of her desk looking all hot and sinful, the more she wanted to see his bluff, round the desk and raise the temptation factor. That's what the old Hope would have done. There were a lot of reasons it was a bad idea, not the least of which was that she wouldn't take the chance of letting a man close to her.
Flirting led to feelings and that equaled a potential for pain. Losing Kevin had hurt. A lot. She'd rather feel nothing than hurt that much ever again.
His name on her lips stopped her. Jake—a strong, masculine, heroic name. And wasn't that the stupidest thing that had ever crossed her mind. She didn't want a man and she especially didn't want a hero—although hospital gossip didn't paint Jake Andrews as the type to throw his cloak—or his surgical mask—over a puddle for a lady. He was more rascally rogue than white knight.
"You were saying?" Idly he picked up a supply order list from a stack of papers on her desk and looked it over.
"I'm here to do a job and—"
"You're from out of state, right?"
She nodded. "Texas. Mansfield, a town halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth."
"I thought I heard some Southern comfort in your voice."
Was he flirting again? She couldn't tell. This was no time for her blarney meter to crash.
"Like I said, I was hired to organize the trauma department and have it ready when Mercy Medical West opens its doors to patients."
"Tell me about yourself, Hope." It sounded like he was testing out her name on his lips. "Wait, let me guess. You have sisters named Faith and Charity."
She had to smile. "As a matter of fact…"
His laugh was rich with humor. "Am I good, or what?"
She refused to comment without her own independent confirmation, and pigs would fly before that happened. "Faith is older. Charity younger. I'm in the middle."
"What made you want to be a nurse?" he asked suddenly.
"A strong desire to help people and make a difference. From the time I was a little girl it's all I ever wanted to do."
"So it was a calling of the heart. Not because it's a profession with pretty good pay for a woman who might need to support herself and her family?"
Funny that he should zero in on that because it's exactly what happened. And it was her fault that the man she'd loved had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"Nursing is a noble profession," she said, a little more sharply than she intended. "And there's a critical need, like so many other causes."
"Causes? Plural." He looked thoughtful. "Such as?"
"Feeding the hungry. Houses for the homeless. Teen pregnancy. Global warming. Vaccinating children in third world countries."
"Saving the spotted owl?"
"If necessary, to preserve an ecosystem," she said, lifting her chin a notch. "You're making fun of me."
"Heaven forbid." His expression was exaggerated innocence. "Community service isn't just for criminals anymore."
"You don't believe in helping others?"
"I'm a doctor." Again he hadn't answered.
"That's about helping people for money."
"It's my job, yes."
"And what made you want to be a doctor?" she asked, echoing his question.
He glanced at the paper in his hands. "I'm smart. In school I excelled in math and science. And doctors make a lot of money."
"So it's not about helping people," she accused.
"By definition what I do helps people. For doing it I'm well compensated," he said, putting a finer point on it.
"Wow," she said wryly. "Let's all pause and feel the love."
He looked up and met her gaze. "Medicine is a business. Surgery is invasive intervention to save or improve a patient's life. But still a business. You know that as well as I do because in addition to your nursing credential and working as a trauma nurse manager, you have a master's degree in healthcare administration."
"How do you know all that?"
"I made it my business to know." He let that sink in, then added, "I checked up on you because we'll be working together. People will be watching when this facility opens. If we fail, it will be very public and with a direct impact on my reputation. I don't take chances with my career."
So a successful launch of this campus was all about him. How was he arrogant? She needed more than the fingers on two hands to count the ways. "There's certainly a lot of bastard in you."
"Thanks." He stood away from the desk and straightened to his full and impressive height. "Coming from a Birkenstock-wearing, granola-munching, bleeding heart liberal like yourself, that's high praise."
"I'm glad you think so." Could they possibly be more philosophically opposed? She hadn't meant to call him names, but it just popped out. The guy pushed her buttons, all the wrong ones. Apparently her diplomacy meter had also crashed. "I have a lot of work to do. If you'll excuse me—"
"About your work—I asked for a particular type of surgical instruments. They're from a German manufacturer and are specifically calibrated. Is there another list?" He pointed to the paper he'd replaced on her desk. "I don't see what I requested on that one."
She knew the brand he meant and it was out of the question. "You don't see them because they weren't ordered."
"Just like that?"
"Too expensive." She blew out a breath. "Every surgeon has a favorite, but it's my job to whittle down the list to the most commonly used."
"Even if the most common ones result in limitations that prevent the patient from getting the best possible results?"
Was this his way of pushing back, being difficult, punishing her for the bastard remark? It had been out of line, but so was his flirting. And it had provoked her own fight-or-flight response. She wasn't running, unless you counted taking this job in Las Vegas to avoid painful memories back home.
"If you're half as good as you think you are, Jake, you can use a potato peeler and a watermelon scoop to get a positive outcome."
"And what if that doesn't fly with me?"
"Then I might have to conclude that you can only make do with one product and suggest that perhaps you need to take another class or something." She stood, but still had to look up at him and knew this wasn't a good time to notice how he towered over her. The silence grew bigger and more awkward until she felt compelled to fill it. "Jake, you're not my boss."
"I'll see you tonight, Hope." His grin was highlighted with smug self-confidence that was darn sexy. And hot.
The resulting sizzle and burn fried all the electrical impulses in her brain, but she managed to stay on her feet and avoid embarrassment. Then she realized he was waiting for a response and tried to remember what he'd said. "Tonight?"
"The hospital's private open house for state and city officials. Dignitaries on parade. It's where we get to show off. There's a rumor that the governor plans to drop in." He stopped in the doorway and slid his hands into the pockets of his slacks. "You'll be here, right?"
"I'm giving guided tours of the trauma department. But why are you coming?"
"It would be rude to miss the moment when they announce my name as the new trauma medical director."
He flashed a wicked grin before sauntering out of her office. She took a deep cleansing breath, but it didn't help. Her pulse was pounding. Her heart was racing. And she was pretty sure if she looked in a mirror, her face would be flushed. Wasn't it just her luck that the most arrogant, annoying, exasperating man on the planet had put the color back in her cheeks.
Also just her luck that this was the most alive she'd felt in a very long time.
Trouble had definitely paid her a visit and she would do her level best to avoid it tonight.
Jake didn't dislike obligatory hospital functions, but he rarely anticipated one with as much enthusiasm as he did now. And there was only one reason.
He'd parked his car in the lot outside Mercy Medical West on the corner of Warm Springs and Durango roads, then leaned into the cold January wind as he walked toward the brightly lit facility.
The bilevel architectural design combined with artistic touches and made this house of healing pleasing both to the eye and the spirit. On each floor of the building walls were painted a different color—blue, lavender, green or yellow—and the furniture and floors were done in coordinating shades.
Medical equipment was state-of-the art, the latest technology available. This hospital was going to be the jewel in Mercy Medical's crown and it would do the same for his career. Maybe, finally, he could silence the voice inside him that warned he would always be that homeless white-trash kid who would never be good enough for the prom queen.