It seems unbelievable that my first book is being published next month. Unlocking the Ex-Army Doc’s Heart, was such fun to write. Mostly because my heroine popped into my head one afternoon and then refused to quiet down.
Last March, Harlequin announced the Medical Blitz, and I knew I had to put something in. Unfortunately, all the ideas I had were less than stellar. Some were downright terrible.
I was hovering over note cards and near tears when my oldest asked me to watch Fuller House on Netflix.
For those raised on the wonderfulness that was Full House in the 1980s and 1990s, this show follows a few of the main characters all grown up. My girls love it! There are multiple references to one important missing character – Michelle Tanner. The adorable kid played by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.
After a bit of online searching, I learned that the Olsen twins left the spotlight once they were in their early twenties. They are now successful fashion designers and have no desire to return to acting. My brain went into overdrive. What if one or both of these women had gone into medicine instead of fashion?
Annie materialized in that instant and demanded I tell her story.
Dr. Annie Masters marched out of stardom to get away from her controlling mother. She enlisted in the Army and trained as an Army medic and then became a general practitioner. She now runs her own clinic in Alaska – as far away from the spotlight as possible.
When Dr. Rafe Bradstone arrives as a short-term replacement physician, Annie is unimpressed by his guest spots on the Dr. Dave Show. But when she sees the depth behind the playboy’s public persona, the walls she’s placed around her heart begin to melt.
Unlocking the Ex-Army Doc’s Heart is out in May, but I hope you enjoy this short excerpt.
Dr. Rafe Bradstone shivered as he stepped to the door of the small plane. Pulling his scarf across his mouth, he bounced from foot to foot as he grabbed his duffel bag. The wind blasted his face as he stepped onto the Tarmac, and goose bumps rose across his body. The heavy jacket he’d acquired at the last minute in LA seemed pathetically inadequate. How did the residents of the Arctic get warm?
Stepping into the airport waiting area, Rafe sighed as warm air slid around him.
“Excuse me.” A woman with black curls pushed past him.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to stop in front of the door.”
She didn’t hear him as she raced toward a pair of happy kids. The kids hopped around her, each trying to outshout the other as their father hugged her. The love pooling between the small family was evident—these children never had to fight for their mother’s attention.
Rafe’s stomach tightened and he forced his eyes away from the lovely scene. It had been over a year since he’d found his mother, and two hundred and sixty-one days since she’d ordered him off her porch. Rafe wanted to believe the pain of her abandonment would fade, but his heart was still raw.
The woman with dark curls placed one child on her hip and held the other’s hand as she walked out of the airport. That was the way it was supposed to be: a mother loved her children, wanted to be with them. Glaring at his hands, Rafe wondered why his mother didn’t react that way. What was wrong with him that his simple presence caused her pain rather than excitement?
His phone beeped. Burying the pain, he answered without looking at the caller ID. “Hello, Carrie.”
His agent didn’t waste words on a greeting. “Why are there social media posts of you in Alaska?”
Rafe started to roll his eyes but caught himself. Carrie was supposed to be interested in his professional life. It wasn’t her fault this opportunity for him to serve in Blue Ash, Alaska, conflicted with his television duties, or that witnessing a family hugging their mom had put him in such a bad mood.
Keeping his tone level, he leaned against the wall. “Because I ran into a few fans of The Dr. Dave Show. They wanted a selfie, and I couldn’t say no.”
That wasn’t true. He could have said no, but Rafe never wanted to. Whenever someone ran up to him, phone outstretched and excited, Rafe got to be a part of their life—to belong. It only lasted a moment, but he treasured each fan who wanted a memory with him. They never told him to go away.
Rafe had accepted the part-time host position on Dr. Dave, a medical talk show promoting healthy living techniques, hosted by a bevy of attractive practitioners, to help pay off his medical school debts. The legion of daytime television fans was just a great perk.
“You know that isn’t what I mean.” The sound of Carrie’s nails clicking on her desk echoed down the phone.
Chuckling, Rafe ignored her tone. “I told you I was volunteering at an outpost clinic in Northern Alaska for a few weeks.”
“I assumed you were joking.” Her screech tore through the speaker. “You’re Dave’s favorite substitute host, and you’re scheduled to be on during the live Thanksgiving special!”
“I know my schedule.”
He smiled as a plump middle-aged woman rushed toward him. She danced on her toes while she waited for him to stand.
“Dr. Bradstone! It is you! I love The Dr. Dave Show. You should be on all the time. Your interviews are always the best. Better than Dave’s! Can I get a picture with you?”
His soul felt a touch lighter as she slid her arm around his waist and his loneliness disappeared as she raised her cellphone. He owed this brief window of happiness to The Dr. Dave Show. Rafe was determined to get that fulltime host position and all the acceptance that came with it.
Patches of pink highlighted her cheeks as the woman stepped back. “Thank you.” Pushing a strand of salt-and-pepper hair from her face, she scrunched her nose. “I’m Helen Henkle and this is my husband, Jack.” She nodded toward a reed-thin man striding toward them. “We’re your ride to Blue Ash.”
Jack barely glanced at Rafe as he huffed, “You’re going to need better shoes if you want to keep all of your appendages.”
Variations on this theme had peppered Rafe’s conversations since he’d crossed the Alaskan border yesterday. The tingle of cold in his toes made it seem more dire now that he was in the Arctic Circle.
Staring at his shoes, Rafe moved his digits. “We don’t have much need for cold weather gear in Los Angeles.”
“Well, up here it can mean the difference between ten toes or two. Don’t want to explain to your grandchildren that you sacrificed a few toes rather than wear sensible boots.”
Helen slapped her husband on the shoulder before offering Rafe a smile. “A man can get around on eight toes.” Ignoring her husband’s frown, Helen waved her hand toward Jack’s feet. “It’ll be a good way to ensure your children or grandchildren always wear their boots.”
A flash of pain echoed across his belly as Rafe grabbed his bag and followed them onto the Tarmac. It didn’t matter how many toes he kept, there were going to be no grandchildren to look at his feet. His family tree didn’t have a great track record as parents, and Rafe didn’t plan to extend that legacy.
Helen giggled as she slid into the seat next to him in Jack’s tiny plane. “A real celebrity in Blue Ash. Well, if you don’t count—” Helen coughed and smiled at her husband.
“Dr. A is expecting us. If you and the Playboy Doctor are ready, we’ll get going.”
Playboy Doctor… That tagline had been assigned to him because it sold magazines and received website clicks, not because it was true.
“That isn’t a word I’d use to describe myself.” The defense slid from Rafe’s lips before he could stop it. He didn’t owe these strangers, or anyone else, an explanation.
“Of course.” The words were even, but the man’s lip twitched before he let his eyes slide over Rafe.
Rafe shifted, hating the ball of tension pooling in his belly. He’d been weighed and found lacking. Again… It shouldn’t matter. Rafe didn’t know Jack or Helen. Still his tongue itched to defend himself, to make them understand that Rafe knew what playboys were and how much damage they could cause.
After all, he looked just like a particular one—though the tabloids didn’t know that. To them it was a flashy headline. To Rafe it was a curse.
Rafe was his father’s doppelganger. His mother had referred to him as his father’s mini-me—though it hadn’t been a term of endearment. Rafe’s father had been an attractive professional dancer, and he’d been on the road constantly. His mother’s stable job as an accounting assistant had kept a roof over their heads, but with each new trip away for his father, each new booking, each lonely night, she’d become more vindictive.
When his parents hadn’t been arguing about his father’s many infidelities, they’d been yelling about Rafe. His mother would scream that she never got a break from being a mom—no fancy dancing getaways for her. His father would yell that he hadn’t wanted a kid anyway.
Neither of them had paid any attention to the small child in the corner. Rafe might not have understood everything they were screaming about, but he’d always known that his father hadn’t wanted him.
Why had he believed his mother had?
Rubbing his hands on his pants, Rafe tried to focus on the frozen scenery below. His father had died in a car accident with another woman a few days after his seventh birthday. A date neither of his parents had remembered, let alone celebrated. His mother had always constantly reminded Rafe of how he looked like the stupid cheater she’d married. She’d given up even trying to pretend she cared after that.
Infidelity had destroyed his family, and he would never repeat that mistake.
A few days before his eighth birthday, Social Services had taken custody of him. Rafe had bounced around the system until he’d aged out on his eighteenth birthday. He’d lived with many families but had never earned acceptance—never got to permanently belong. Now, when he was on set, he was the successful Dr. Rafe Bradstone, and for a little while that wound in his heart that had never closed bled a bit less.
Rafe was grateful no one attempted to make small talk on the short hop to Blue Ash. He needed to close off the pain twisting through him.
Rafe squinted as a small runway began to take shape ahead. “Are we going to land there?” The strip didn’t look wide enough to handle the small Cessna.
Patting the plane’s yoke, Jack grinned. “Don’t worry, Doc. I’ve landed my baby in much worse conditions.”
The broad smile spilling across Jack’s craggy features did little to calm the nerves dancing in Rafe’s belly. And as the wheels touched the ground they slid. Rafe’s cry of alarm echoed through the tiny cockpit, but his fear was quickly replaced with embarrassment as Jack pulled the plane to a perfect stop.
“That runway has one patch of ice and you aimed for it. There was no need to demonstrate your skill on ice!” a husky voice yelled over the sound of the slowing propellers.
“Gotta toughen up the newbie. This region doesn’t usually get stars whose faces are splashed across the tabloids.” Jack tossed Rafe’s bag to him as he turned to greet the young woman on the Tarmac.
“Tabloids are designed to make money, Jack, not to tell the truth.”
The tiny welcome party was buried in an oversize parka, and her bright orange scarf hid everything but her stunning gray eyes. She met Rafe’s gaze. The roar of the engine, the pilot’s judgement, even the bite of the wind as it stole through his jacket—all vanished as her eyes searched his.
“I bet you’re cold!” She motioned for him to follow her into what he assumed must be the clinic.
Heat marched up Rafe’s neck. He hadn’t even introduced himself—just stared at her. Matching her step, Rafe tried to think of a way to salvage this introduction.
“Welcome to Blue Ash.”
Red hair tumbled from the hood of the parka as the woman hung her coat on a hook.
Freckles danced across her nose, and Rafe sucked in a breath. His fingers wanted to trace each one. It was a ridiculous notion. She was exquisite, but so were many of the women in and around LA.
Fire erupted across his skin as he tried to regain his composure. He was not going to make a fool of himself. Rafe flashed a bright smile as he hung up his own coat. He would swear he knew her, but it was a crazy thought. Rafe didn’t know anyone in this state. His brain itched, urging him to find her name.
His heart sped up as his mind put the puzzle pieces together. He barely resisted the urge to slap himself. This Arctic goddess was a woman he and much of the world had once welcomed into their living rooms weekly.
“You’re Charlotte Greene.”
“I played the character Charlotte Greene.” The phrase didn’t sound bitter as it escaped her lips, just resigned—and exceedingly well rehearsed. “My name is Annie…”
Everyone knew who Annie was; she’d graced every teen magazine and even landed a cover for Vogue before she turned seventeen. He hadn’t meant to refer to her as Charlotte Greene. It had just popped out.
“I didn’t realize you were hiding in Alaska.”
Regret pooled around him as her full lips turned down. He was saying all the wrong things.
Annie crossed her arms as she lifted her chin. “I’m not hiding.”