My latest novel, LABOR OF LOVE, is available now on Amazon. In the latest novel in my bestselling Lakeside Hospital medical romance series, pediatrician Lily meets visiting obstetrician Mercedes. They know from the start their relationship has an expiration date, so what’s the harm in a little fling?
Read the first chapter below.
“Now’s the moment I think you’ve all been waiting for,” the Chief of Medicine said, his voice reverberating into the podium microphone.
He was a short, portly man in his sixties, and he’d been nice enough when Mercedes approached him about a temporary job. Most chiefs wouldn’t be interested in a doctor who opened her request with, I’ll only be in town for six months, but Dr. Ross didn’t bat an eye – he happily hired her on as a visiting obstetrician.
No doubt, her reputation was a contributing factor in his willingness.
That was why Dr. Ross had called a full-blown staff meeting to introduce Mercedes to the rest of the Lakeside Hospital staff, although by the looks on everyone’s faces – tired and impatient at seven in the morning – she thought there was a chance Dr. Ross was overestimating her reputation. She was, indeed, a big deal in obstetrics, but why should the entire staff of a mid-sized hospital in Illinois know or care about her?
Mercedes was sitting in a padded, rigid-backed chair at the front of the room, six rows of doctors, nurses and other hospital staff behind her. She straightened her posture and put on a smile as the chief introduced her.
“I’d like to welcome Dr. Mercedes Stone to the Lakeside family,” Dr. Ross said. “She’s a native Illinoisan who comes to us by way of Seattle, where she’s been doing some very exciting research on preventative measures against preeclampsia. We’re fortunate to have her talents at Lakeside for the next six months before she returns to Seattle. Dr. Stone, would you like to say a few words?”
Mercedes stood, running her hands down the front of her thighs to smooth the wrinkles from her pants. Approaching a podium was nothing new for her, nor was addressing a large crowd. Ordinarily, though, she was sharing her research with her colleagues at high-profile medical conferences – not introducing herself to a hospital staff in a town she never expected to return to.
Lord, get me back to Seattle soon, she thought as she approached the microphone and put on a smile.
“Thank you, Dr. Ross,” she said.
The chief was definitely overestimating her reputation outside of her specialty – there were a lot of blank faces staring back at her. It was early – or for those just getting off the night shift, late – and her audience looked sleepy, their eyes glazed. That was another thing Mercedes wasn’t used to – when she gave talks about her research, the doctors in the audience were always on the edges of their seats, fascinated with her work.
Most of these people were shift nurses, orderlies, and doctors outside her specialty – they probably didn’t even know the name Mercedes Stone until five minutes ago.
“I’m looking forward to working with the obstetrics department here,” she said – a lie. All she wanted was to go back to her real life, and the research she’d had to put on hold, but she was stuck in Evanston.
And there was nothing she could do about that.
She talked for a few minutes about her background – fancy colleges, a prestigious residency, and a coveted fellowship that sure felt like it was all for nothing now that she was right back where she came from. She kept it short – the first rule of public speaking was to know your audience, after all – but there was one face in the crowd that stood out.
There was a woman sitting in the front row, leaning slightly forward in her chair and looking at Mercedes with glossy, golden brown eyes like a tiger’s eye gemstone. She wore a long white coat with a pretty floral dress beneath it, and her dark skin reminded Mercedes of the color of rich caramel.
Mercedes recognized her.
Lily Thomas, a pediatrician who was making a name for herself in the treatment of adolescent burn patients. Their professional circles had intersected a few times over the last few years, although they’d never had occasion to speak, and it was at a conference that Lily first caught Mercedes’ eye. She’d been giving a talk about a new debridement method that she’d had success with, and in addition to being intelligent and driven, Mercedes couldn’t help but notice Dr. Thomas was a very attractive woman.
By the end of her short, introductory speech, Mercedes found herself talking almost exclusively to her. Dr. Thomas was the only one in the audience who was listening anyway, and Mercedes took great joy in observing the way the color in her cheeks deepened the longer Mercedes maintained eye contact with her.
So Lakeside Hospital might be fun after all.
When Dr. Ross dismissed the meeting, it was like a stampede of staff charging out of the conference room. Mercedes was no stranger to the workings of a hospital – all of these people had patients to see, or families to go home to, or beds to crash into. They cared about those things much more than the new obstetrician on the team, and she didn’t blame them.
Mercedes, on the other hand, had thirty minutes to kill before her orientation meeting with the head of her department. She also had a powerful craving for a good, hot cup of coffee.
She weaved her way through the crowd to a long table spread with every type of pastry and breakfast beverage imaginable. That was the real draw of early-morning staff meetings, and a lot of people were snagging donuts and paper cups of coffee on their way out the door.
Mercedes grabbed a paper cup, too, and started filling it from one of the coffee carafes as doctors and nurses breezed by her with the pastries they’d earned for their attendance.
“Mercedes?” someone said behind her, a soft and friendly voice that made her eager to turn around.
When she did, she found Lily Thomas standing nervously in front of her. She stuttered, “Err, Dr. Stone. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to presume-”
“Nonsense,” Mercedes said, setting down her coffee and holding out her hand. “You should call me Mercedes – I’m sure our departments will be intermingling quite a bit…”
“Our departments?” Lily asked as she took Mercedes’ hand. Her grip was surprisingly firm – Mercedes had expected something a little limper based on the admiring schoolgirl look in Lily’s eyes.
“Pediatrics and obstetrics,” Mercedes explained. “In a hospital this size, they’re practically the same department, right?”
Something fiery flashed in Lily’s eyes – pride, maybe? As she released Mercedes’ hand, she said, “I didn’t know you knew who I was.”
“Lily Thomas,” Mercedes said, taking particular pleasure in the obviously smitten look in her new coworker’s eyes. Now the only question was, did Lily have a professional crush on her work, or was it something more? It would be a fun diversion to find out. She continued, “You’re doing important work in burn patient care and I read your paper in The Journal of Pediatrics last winter. You’re a force to be reckoned with, Dr. Thomas.”
“Lily,” she said, glancing at the buffet table. It was pretty much picked over, but she found a plain cake donut and bit into it, then with charmingly stuffed cheeks, she said, “We’re not that small, though. Lakeside is ranked number three in the area, and our cardiology and surgical departments are among the best in the country.”
“And the pediatrics department?” Mercedes asked, taking a sip of her coffee.
“We’ve got Lurie Children’s Hospital to compete with in Chicago, but we’re slowly but surely making a name for our pediatric burn center,” Lily said, and the look in her eyes that time was definitely pride. She polished off the cake donut, making short work of it, then said, “If you don’t mind my asking, why did you come back to Illinois? You were in the middle of such important research.”
Mercedes set her jaw, irritation bubbling up in her involuntarily like it had every time she thought about her work lately.
“I was,” she said. Her research partner, Dr. Knowlton, had said putting the study on hold would jeopardize the findings. Mercedes had exchanged some harsh words with him about that, because he was right and she had to leave Seattle anyway. “I hope to get back home before the patients in our trial start to give birth, but you know how unpredictable pregnancy can be – multiply that by twenty-five patients.”
She gave a little laugh to keep from screaming at the frustration of it all, and noticed a worry line forming on Lily’s forehead. It was there for just a second, then gone again.
“Anyway,” Mercedes said, “I had some family matters to attend to here, and Dr. Ross was kind enough to grant me privileges at Lakeside because I can’t stand not working.”
“Oh,” Lily said, her expression clouding slightly. “I hope everything’s okay.”
“Sure,” Mercedes said. “Thanks.”
There was no good answer to that, so she just occupied herself with another sip of coffee while she surreptitiously studied Lily a little more. There was no ring on her finger, and the looks she kept giving Mercedes – up through her eyelashes, a seductive move that never failed to turn her to putty in a pretty girl’s hands – were not suggestive of the presence of a girlfriend or, God forbid, a boyfriend.
Lily looked away first, grabbing a paper cup and pouring herself some orange juice. Mercedes couldn’t help poking a little fun. “OJ, really? I thought all doctors had caffeine in their blood.”
“Orange juice is healthier,” Lily said. She glanced at a large, fashionable watch on her wrist and said, “I have to get upstairs to begin my shift now. I just wanted to introduce myself to you, but I guess that wasn’t necessary after all.”
She gave Mercedes a crooked little smile that was definitely flirtatious and Mercedes grinned back at her. She had just about decided that Lily would prove to be another good distraction from her troubles while she was here.
“It was nice to meet you, Dr. Thomas,” she said.
“I look forward to working with you,” Lily said, her cheeks coloring once again as she turned and headed for the door.