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What The Cowboy Prescribes... Mary Starleigh For weeks, I've needed a partner for my country clinic. Well, I've finally found one–right under my own roof! My guest room's temporary occupant is a rugged hunk who looks more comfortable wearing a Stetson than a stethoscope, and he has secrets–big secrets.He's also tender, grumpy and practically irresistible! Steve Hartly says he doesn't practice medicine anymore, but I see the longing in his eyes and have felt the warmth of his touch. Somehow I've got to find a way to help him while protecting myself. Because even I don't know how to heal a broken heart… Meg didn’t feel like a stranger in Steve’s arms. In fact, she felt practiced and confident kissing him. She didn’t care that Steve Hartly was completely and positively wrong for her in every way. She kissed him with all she had, refusing to harbor any negative thoughts. Too soon he pulled away, leaving her lips bare and wanting. Meg’s heart thumped against her chest. Steve made her feel womanly and out of control all at the same time. Why had she returned his kiss with such fervor? She needed him to help her, not kiss her. If she could get him to practice medicine again, he could save her clinic. She wanted to keep everything aboveboard—shove her physical needs out of the way. Hoping to clear her mind, she breathed in the rich, thick morning air. Even in her confusion she knew one thing. She wanted to understand Steve Hartly. Dear Reader, March roars in in grand style at Silhouette Romance, as we continue to celebrate twenty years of publishing the best in contemporary category romance fiction. And the new millennium boasts several new miniseries and promotions…such as ROYALLY WED, a three-book spinoff of the cross-line series that concluded last month in Special Edition Arlene James launches the new limited series with A Royal Masquerade, featuring a romance between would-be enemies, in which appearances are definitely deceiving.… Susan Meier’s adorable BREWSTER BABY BOOM series concludes this month with Oh, Babies! The last Brewster bachelor had best beware—but the warning may be too late! Karen Rose Smith graces the lineup with the story of a very pregnant single mom who finds Just the Man She Needed in her lonesome cowboy boarder whose plans had never included staying. The delightful Terry Essig will touch your heart and tickle your funny bone with The Baby Magnet, in which a hunky single dad discovers his toddler is more of an attraction than him—till he meets a woman who proves his ultimate distraction. A confirmed bachelor finds himself the solution to the command: Callie, Get Your Groom as Julianna Morris unveils her new miniseries BRIDAL FEVER! And could love be What the Cowboy Prescribes… in Mary Starleigh’s charming debut Romance novel? Happy Reading! Mary-Theresa Hussey Senior Editor What The Cowboy Prescribes… Mary Starleigh www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) To Susan McKeague Karnes, Liz Lounsbury, Tina Oldham and Donna Smith, fellow writers, who challenge, inspire and support. Books by Mary Starleigh Silhouette Romance What the Cowboy Prescribes… #1437 Silhouette Yours Truly The Texan and the Pregnant Cowgirl MARY STARLEIGH, born in North Carolina, is a ninth-generation Southerner. She claims her Southern background is where she acquired her love of romance. “I adore creating characters who are brave, honorable and find true love.” She writes full-time, teaches English and creative writing part-time at a small Texas college and mentors high school students. Her husband, a pilot, reads all her romances. They have one daughter. Contents Chapter One (#ua6333e47-4caf-5cb8-8010-4686c634d208) Chapter Two (#u8d33717d-c61f-592c-94bf-a63dd5ac3608) Chapter Three (#u72f9b76f-2f6e-5bb5-bed9-0b3a4721404e) Chapter Four (#u5f14f325-e2db-5e4c-836d-fdf220df15aa) Chapter Five (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eleven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twelve (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter One “Sunshine needs a doctor.” Meg Graham jumped at the desperate words and her heart thumped hard against her ribs. Cal Bradford’s scared face stared back at her. She stood and grabbed her medical bag. “Who is it?” “Erin Waldron.” Meg pushed past Cal, sprinted out of her office and clinic, and down the sidewalk to the Sunshine Café. Out of breath, weary, and fighting a feeling of dread, she pulled the door open and rushed into the restaurant. A stranger was kneeling beside Erin. The man’s dark gaze was filled with concern and he was patting the healthy but frightened child. Meg steadied herself by inhaling deeply. “Listen, little guy, you choked because you didn’t take your time chewing.” The man’s compassionate tone filled Meg with relief. Erin nodded. “Yeah, I know.” “Thank you.” Sue Waldron was standing close by her son. “Erin and I were on our way to get feed for his horse…and we just stopped…thank you so much.” Sue’s voice broke, and Meg slid an arm around her shoulders. The stranger stood and gazed down at Meg. He towered over her. “Erin’ll be fine. I’ve checked him.” “Come on, Erin, we’d better get home,” Sue said. Mother and son collected their belongings and headed for the door. Erin turned around and waved. “Thanks, mister.” A smile and deep emotion graced the man’s face for a quick moment, then vanished. Meg gripped one of the Sunshine’s red plastic chairs. “I can’t thank you enough. I’m Meg Graham, Jackson’s only doctor.” She stepped forward and extended her hand. “No problem.” He nodded, shook her hand quickly, then turned and walked to his table. After placing a few bills by his check, he shrugged into his jacket and headed for the door. “Hey, wait a minute. I’d like to know your name,” Meg called as she crossed the room. As if not hearing her, he opened the door, stepped outside and pulled it closed behind him. Meg stared at the door for a moment, then grabbed the knob. She yanked it open and walked out into the Texas sunshine. The man pivoted back toward her. Furrows gnarled his forehead and a look of pure aggravation darkened his handsome face. Chestnut hair, the color of a wild horse she’d ridden once, was combed back from his forehead. A black turtleneck accented his tanned skin and was tucked neatly into new jeans that had been pressed to a knife’s edge. Her hand found his arm, and the rich, soft cashmere of his jacket. “At least tell me your name so I can thank you properly. Are you a doctor?” “I was.” “And your name?” “Steve Hartly.” His dark, smoky voice wove a spell around her. “Are you just passing through Jackson?” she pressed. “I stopped for lunch.” The color of his eyes, like dark Texas earth, again reflected the strong emotion she’d seen inside the café, when he was comforting the child. Meg’s hand dropped to her side and she took an exhausted breath. “Thanks for stepping in and helping Erin.” Steve studied her for a moment, then jammed his hands into his pockets. “You’re welcome. But there’s no need to thank me. It was a simple procedure.” Before she could say anything else, he turned to leave. Her hand flew to his arm again. At the touch, his biceps hardened, and butterflies fluttered in her stomach. He turned back. “I need to get going.” Meg caught a glimpse of their reflections in the mirrorlike, plate-glass window. Steve was at least a head taller, and the painted yellow heart on the café’s sign was accenting both their shimmering images. Another fluttering of butterflies assaulted her. “It’s tough being the only doctor in town,” she blurted. Now why had she said that? Silently he studied every inch and curve of her body, then glanced into her eyes. “You look like you can handle just about anything.” As if on the wild horse again, Meg felt her stomach flip-flop. “Well…y-yes,” she stuttered, confused at her physical reaction to the stranger. “I’ve got to be on my way.” For some crazy reason, she didn’t want Steve to leave. “Sorry your lunch was interrupted.” “No problem.” His right brow arched slightly, making his face more asymmetrical, yet more handsome. “Sunshine has great food. You’ll have to…” The rest of her suggestion evaporated. What was she planning to say? Steve brought his hand to his chin and studied her again. “You might want…” Meg was finding it hard to complete a thought. “My office and clinic—” she pointed down the sidewalk “—right there.…” She glanced back to the reflection in the café window. Why hadn’t she combed her hair earlier? His brow arched again. “Ever practice in a rural area?” she queried. Steve shook his head. “Well, it’s very interesting. Busy, though. Jackson’s a wonderful place.” She poised her hand on her hip. His eyes remained on her, and her mouth turned as dry as a Texas wind. Darn it! What was wrong with her? She’d felt so tired before she’d come down to the Sunshine, yet at the moment she was feeling so alive. Maybe all she needed was a good night’s sleep. The sun came out from behind a feathery cloud, and Steve squinted a little. Tiny crinkles formed around his eyes and added to his attractiveness. There’d be no sleeping with this man around. Coming from out of nowhere, the thought jarred her. Steve cleared his throat. “I should get going.” Before she could say another word, he walked to a shiny black BMW sitting two parking spaces down from the Sunshine Café. His muscular legs carried his massive frame with ease. Meg leaned against the concrete wall and crossed her arms. Steve opened the car door and climbed in. Through a lightly tinted windshield, she could see him settle himself against the seat and start the engine. Then his attention shifted to her. His strong jaw accented his full mouth, and one dark brow arched higher than the other again, adding to his powerful, mysterious persona. Meg’s stomach fluttered once more. She was either hungry or tired, and right now she couldn’t do anything about either state. She gripped her arms in a self-conscious hug, then raised her right hand and waved goodbye. Steve didn’t smile, only nodded, then maneuvered the soundless automobile out of the parking space onto Main Street. She chewed the inside of her cheek and shoved her hands into her pockets. Thank goodness that was over. But she was glad he’d been around to help Erin. Cal Bradford opened the café door. “Hey, Meg, can I buy you a cup of coffee?” “No thanks, Cal. I’ve got to get back to the office. How’s Donna?” “She’ll be okay if I can keep her from working so hard.” “You need to make her stay off her feet. It won’t be too long now until you’re a daddy.” Cal smiled and then shook his head. “You know Donna when she makes up her mind.” He shifted his gaze to the street. “Good that guy was here.” “Yes.” She gazed at the last trace of shiny black metal. “Don’t let Donna work too hard, Cal.” Meg nodded to him and started down the sidewalk to her office. She only managed to take a few steps before she glanced over her shoulder. The black BMW had disappeared. Hopefully, her afternoon and evening would be less disruptive than the past ten minutes had been. Three hours later, Meg sat behind her desk, closed her eyes and wondered how long a person could actually go without sleep. “You okay, Mego?” She glanced at her cousin and held out the letter she was still holding in her hand. “My insurance company says I need another doctor for the clinic.” “So go out and hire one,” James Dean Pruitt stated in his matter-of-fact way. His innocence made her want to laugh, but the aching fatigue attacking her every muscle wouldn’t allow Meg even a chuckle. She shook her head. “I tried to find someone last weekend when Jackson almost fell apart without me.” “Kate and I figured you went to Galveston for a long weekend. Not so, huh?” Meg waved the letter again. “For weeks I’ve been trying to find a doctor who’ll work in Jackson. This bureaucratic memo from my insurance company gives me no choice now.” “How so?” “They’re demanding I find another doctor or they’re pulling my malpractice insurance.” “Can they do that?” “Sure. The suits at the home office claim that with my high doctor-patient ratio it’s unsafe for me to run the clinic.” From a tiny reserve of stamina, Meg found the energy to laugh. The entire situation seemed so ridiculous. Not one physician at the Rural Conference for Doctors in Dallas had been interested in practicing in her hometown. Her head throbbed and her body ached. If she were her own patient, she’d order herself to go straight to bed for three days. Maybe this was how people really lost it—never getting a decent night’s sleep and then careering straight off the deep end. “Nobody wants to come to Jackson?” James Dean’s question shifted her attention. He frowned. “Not one. I’m still the only doctor for seventy-five miles.” She brought her hand back to the desk and thumped the golden oak with her knuckles. “I even paid my own way to Dallas. Do you have any idea how much hotel rooms cost in that city?” She brought her hands to her face and rubbed her temples with the tips of her fingers. James Dean rose from his chair, stepped over to her desk and rested his large palms on the only space not covered with papers. “Mego, you’re gonna wear out real quick.” She inhaled a defeated breath at his realistic words and cradled her chin in laced fingers. He was right. In the past few weeks, she’d made mistakes from sheer exhaustion. She’d caught them all, but it was starting to spook her. “I still can’t believe John left…and for money. I’m trying to take care of his patients and mine. One human being can’t do it all.” Being a small-town general practitioner gave new meaning to the word busy. “Something has to give,” James Dean said. “A lot of things will give. If I don’t find someone in a month, I’m going to have to close the clinic.” Her cousin straightened, crossed his arms and stared down at her. “You can’t do that. We need you.” “And I can’t run the clinic without insurance. That would be professional suicide.” “Folks aren’t going to like driving to Fort Worth. How about Charlie’s asthma?” “I know,” Meg whispered. She massaged her temples again. She’d treated James Dean’s son many times for a mild case of asthma. “Too bad the doctor I met at the Sunshine Café isn’t sticking around.” “What?” “Erin Waldron choked on a piece of hot dog down at the café. A doctor who had stopped for lunch helped out.” She’d sign Steve Hartly up in a minute. A laugh slipped from her lips. She wondered how he’d like working in a run-down, dusty Texas town. “Something funny?” “No. Just thinking about a man I met.” “About time.” James Dean’s eyes gleamed. “It’s not like that.” But with only the brief memory of Steve Hartly, the silly butterflies were back. To fight them, she turned her attention to the letter on the desk. “What am I going to do?” “If it’s money…Kate and I could scrape up a few bucks.” She looked up at James Dean, loving him for the offer. “It’s not the money. That’s the least of it. I need a warm, breathing body attached to a medical license, someone who just happens to be living in Jackson.” Steve stared at the cracked kitchen sink, then turned, walked into the living room and glanced around. Every window in the house had been broken out. He owned a certifiable, unlivable dump. That hard fact, on top of the emergency in the café during lunch, grated on his nerves. He’d vowed never to touch another patient again, but when he’d seen the child choking, how could he not help? And the doctor he’d met after had thanked him so nicely. An image of Meg Graham paraded through his thoughts. Her open, pretty face and expressive, chocolate-brown eyes still grabbed at his gut. The desire to see her again oozed through his body like warm syrup. Steve danced the beam of the flashlight over the walls of the living room to distract himself from thoughts of Meg. Why did I have to stop for a meal where there was a medical emergency? An autumnlike breeze whipped through the broken windows and fanned across the living room to the kitchen, causing the screen door to squeak. He wasn’t even sure where to begin repairs. The Realtor had said it was a fixer-upper. Spending the past five years of his life as an emergency-room doctor had prepared him to repair broken bodies, not plumbing or drywall. Steve crossed the carpetless floor and stepped onto the small front porch. He gazed at the orange-streaked sky spreading to the far horizon. Its beauty was foreign to him. In Houston he’d never had time to enjoy sunsets. The sound of a car and the flash of headlights coming down the lane brought his gaze around. A GMC utility vehicle kicked up pebbles as it turned into the only other driveway on the small stretch of road. Must be his neighbors coming home. Maybe they’d know someone he could hire to replace the windows in the house. Then, at least, he wouldn’t have to sleep in his car for more than a few nights. Taking the three small steps all at once, Steve lunged off the porch, hoping his new neighbors were friendly. Chapter Two Meg clicked on the kitchen light and set her grocery bag on the counter. She glanced at the wall clock above the stove. If there were no emergencies, she might get a decent night’s sleep. If she could sleep. What in the world was she going to do about the demands of the insurance company? There were no quick solutions. And to top it off, the incident at the café this afternoon had rattled her more than she liked to admit. The tall, handsome image of Steve Hartly danced slowly through her exhausted thoughts. She couldn’t put her finger on what, but there was something very different about him. She puffed out a deep breath. Something different, indeed. She’d practically hyperventilated when she’d looked into his eyes. Meg chuckled. Even as bushed as she was, she could still fantasize about a good-looking stranger. She shifted her attention and gazed out the window. “What a stranger,” she whispered. He was unique, but strange? No. She’d felt quite at ease with him even though he hadn’t said much. And in those few short moments, she’d sensed he had some kind of worry on his mind. Meg shrugged her shoulders. Oh well, she’d never see him again. She crossed the kitchen and stopped to check the answering machine. The green light held steady, thank goodness. She tapped the beeper attached to her waistband as if knocking on wood. This afternoon she’d finished her office appointments, returned all telephone calls and completed her house visits. For the first time in three weeks, she was caught up on everything except sleep. Maybe if I splash my face with cold water, I’ll feel better. Back at the sink, Meg turned on the faucet, cupped her hands and splashed cold well water onto her face in an attempt to relieve the soreness in her eyes. Then she patted her hand on the counter, in search of a towel. Darn! All her towels were in the hamper with the other laundry she planned on doing. As she straightened, droplets of water ran from her face and hair onto her collar. A knock brought her gaze to the locked screen door. Steve Hartly stood on her back porch, outlined by the wooden frame, his image blurred by the gray mesh of the screen. “Oh!” Meg’s heart raced against her ribs, her breath coming in quick puffs. Why was he standing on her porch out in the middle of nowhere? “I didn’t mean to startle you.” His deep voice carried across the room to her. “What in the world?” Meg’s chest heaved and her hand fluttered to her heart. Steve’s expression turned to sheer surprise. “I saw a car…but didn’t realize it was…” “What are you doing here?” Maybe he was strange. He could easily have waited and followed her home. The thought quickened her heartbeat, causing her chest to tighten. “I saw a car and figured it was my neighbor.” Steve rested his hand against the doorjamb and squared his shoulders. Even through the screen the man looked extremely handsome. “Where were you when you saw me?” Meg reached for a paper towel and patted her face dry, her heart still stampeding. At least the screen was locked. “I own the house down the road.” His left hand went to his head and he scrubbed his hair with his fingers. “You bought the Lemon House?” “No.” “If you bought the house down the road, then you own the Lemon House.” She pressed her fingers against her lips. How in the world could he live in that dilapidated old place? And right down the road from her. She drew a wooden kitchen chair out from under the table and sat down. He nodded. “Oh, Lemon House, right. I get it.” “Everyone in town calls it that.” She stood. “Sorry I didn’t ask you in. Blame my bad manners on surprise.” Meg walked to the door, unlatched it, then pushed it open. “Please, come in.” Steve filled the entire door frame with his brawny physique. Grime and dirt covered his jacket. A wave of sympathy rolled up Meg’s spine. The Lemon House’s condition was probably worse than she imagined. It had been years since she’d even been inside the abandoned place. “Can I offer you a cold drink?” “No thanks.” He looked around her bright kitchen. “I didn’t think anyone would buy that old house.” “I failed to ask the Realtor for details.” He smiled a little, and her breath caught in the back of her throat. She stepped back a tiny bit and looked up at him. Steve was taller than she’d realized. “You don’t plan on staying there, do you?” The idea of him living in the falling down house didn’t sit comfortably with her. “I came over to see if you know of a repairman. All the windows are broken out.…” He squared his shoulders again. Meg held back a smile. It was hard to believe anything could daunt Steve Hartly. She studied the pained look on his face and another wave of sympathy moved through her. “I might know of someone who can help you. Please, why don’t you sit down?” She found her own chair at the table. Steve joined her and folded his hands in front of him. The fact that he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring intrigued Meg. Her gaze moved to his, and she found him staring at her. “Welcome to the neighborhood.” “Thanks. Anybody else live around here?” “Just me…and now you.” The worry line between his dark brows deepened. “Are you going to make some of the repairs yourself?” Her heart thumped hard in her throat. The man sitting across from her seemed to undermine her self-possession. “I was planning on making the minor ones. Now I’m thinking about just renting a bulldozer and…” “Oh, it can’t be that bad. Besides, Jackson has a great hardware store. Down the street from the café. Bowden’s. Family-owned. Saturday nights they sponsor a country-and-western dance at the Sunshine Café. People come from miles around to dance and have fun.” “I’m not sure one small hardware store is going to have all the supplies I need.” The man had such a sincere voice. She drew an invisible line on the table with an index finger, then shifted her attention back to him. “I haven’t been inside the Lemon House in years. Pretty bad?” “Yeah.” “I hope I thanked you properly for helping Erin.” She hadn’t talked to another doctor casually in a long time, and right now, it felt remarkably good to sit across from Steve. “No need to thank me again.” His left hand curled into a fist, his knuckles growing white. “Just doing what any doc—anyone would do if they could.” A dark look swept across his face. “What if I had been out of the office and you weren’t there?” She stopped when his look grew more troubled. “It worked out. That’s all that matters.” “Yes, I guess you’re right. Sometimes I worry. People in Jackson are good folks. I do my best.” “I can see that.” Meg’s hand swept through her damp hair. Steve raised his eyebrow for a moment, then brought an index finger up to his mouth and rubbed at his lip. Worry lines began creasing his forehead again. “Are you looking to practice medicine around here?” she asked. Maybe he’d be the one to help her. “No.” The thin, quick denial sliced the air. “Retired, at your age?” “I’m not practicing anymore.” “Oh, you’ll go back. I’d never be able to give up my practice, leave medicine.” Steve’s eyes narrowed as he stared at Meg. “No. I won’t.” “Burned out? You probably just need a break.” “I need to get back to my house.” He slid his chair back and stood. Meg gulped. She couldn’t let him leave now. “Wait, I’m too nosy, sorry. It’s just nice to have another doctor to talk to.” She got up and smiled. “Let me get you the name of the someone who’ll help you.” “I do need the number, but—” “Cal Bradford does repairs and construction. He has a new baby coming in a few weeks. I’m sure he needs the work.” Steve crossed his arms. “Maybe that’s not such a good—” “He does great work. Wait till you talk to him. I have his number in my book.” She quickly stepped to the small kitchen desk, glad for the excuse to put space between herself and her guest. Being so close to him caused her to feel slightly off center, almost nervous. “I don’t want to bother you.” He uncrossed his arms and moved toward the back door. Crazy, mixed-up thoughts whirled in her mind. Steve Hartly was a doctor. Through her exhaustion, excitement rippled. She hoped he’d have at least half a dozen years of experience under his belt. “Wait, Steve! It’s no bother. I’ll get you Cal’s number.” The man standing in her kitchen might be her last chance. And she wasn’t going to let Steve Hartly get away so easily. Steve watched Meg walk to the desk against the wall. Above a stack of papers hung an ancient rotary wall phone. Her delicate fingers flipped through the pages of a personal phone book. She snatched a sheet of notepaper from a stack and scribbled a number. His gaze drifted. The stark white shirt she was wearing accented her gleaming brown hair, which turned up in a sexy flip at her shoulders. The silky strands shimmered, seeming to have a life all their own. While she thumbed through a large stack of papers, Steve let his gaze slip farther down. Her worn jeans hugged her well-rounded hips and emphasized the curves of her perky bottom like the skin of a very ripe tomato. He swallowed hard. Although he had more important things to think about, he couldn’t take his eyes off her nicely rounded backside. Meg turned around and he jerked his gaze up. She cocked a dainty eyebrow, telling him she knew he’d been giving her the once-over. “Here it is. Give Cal a call. I’m sure he’ll help you.” She handed him the piece of paper. He studied what she’d written. Her handwriting—a small, rounded script—was as well proportioned as her figure. A drug company logo embossed the top of the small square sheet. It jolted his memory. He’d prescribed their medicine many times to patients who suffered from high blood pressure. His finger traced over the raised logo. What he’d enjoyed most in practicing medicine for five years was helping his patients adopt healthier lifestyles… Steve pushed back the feelings that needed to stay in the past. “It’s not too late to call.” Meg’s words broke into his thoughts. “I don’t have a phone. I’ll drive into town tomorrow.” “You can use mine. But I’m surprised you don’t have a cell phone.” Her eyes were almost the same color as the shiny mahogany furniture he’d purchased for his office in Houston, then sold three weeks ago for a tenth of the price. “I got rid of my phone.” Before he’d left the city, he’d sold all his possessions except his car and clothes. “Oh. Well, use my phone, then. Anytime.” Her lips broke into a wide grin and dimples formed in her cheeks. “No, I’ll wait.” The urge to outline one of the small indentations with the tip of his finger made him uneasy, then suddenly overwhelmed him. “Cal does need the work. You’ll be doing him a favor.” Her genuine kindness made him want to crush her to his chest and kiss her soft lips. Instead he stared at her. A smudge beneath her right eye caught his attention. Before he could stop himself, he reached out and traced it gently with his index finger. Her long, lush lashes feathered against his skin and his breath came in ragged spurts. Meg’s eyes widened and he counted five full respirations before she pulled back. “There’s a smudge under your eye. It’s still there.” Meg felt her hand tremble as she brought it up to her face. Steve’s fingers were warmer than she’d expected. She rubbed hard at her skin. “Did I get it all?” She glanced down and wished her hand would quit shaking, but she knew it wouldn’t while his eyes were holding her captive. “Yeah, it looks like it.” Steve turned his head slightly, and Meg noticed a tiny heart-shaped mole on his jawline. She nibbled her bottom lip and forced her gaze to his jacket. “You’re so dusty. What did you do, climb into that old fireplace?” Steve brushed at his coat, causing tiny clouds of soot to float in the air. He studied her for a moment. “No. I got this from just walking around the place. Why’s your hair wet?” His fingers caught a wayward strand, then let go. “I splashed my face, hoping it would make me feel better. I’m exhausted. Remember med school? Eyelids grainy from no sleep and feeling like hell? Guess that’s how my mascara got where it’s not supposed to be.” Meg brushed back her damp hair, wondering how bad she really looked, and upset with herself for caring. “Med school…seems like a long time ago.” Steve cleared his throat. “There’s not enough time to learn everything.” “I felt the same way. But then eventually everything slides into—” “Sometimes. I’d better get going.” Steve folded the note with Cal’s number in half and slipped it in his coat pocket. Meg shifted. She couldn’t let him leave. Even though she was really tired and apprehensive, she had plans for Steve Hartly. Chapter Three “Why don’t you use my phone?” Meg positioned herself between her guest and the back door. “It’s a shame to wait. Besides, you’ll make Cal’s day.” She gazed into Steve’s dark eyes and, before she knew what she was doing, rested her hand on his arm. His muscles tightened under her fingers. “No. I can make the call tomorrow.” Meg brought her hand away. “Please. I enjoy your company. Go ahead and call.” “Well, if you’re—” “Good. I’ll get us something to drink.” She motioned toward the telephone, and the tension in his shoulders seemed to ease a little. “I guess it would be easier to call from here.” “Of course it would. Then you can relax, drink some iced tea.” Meg stepped to the kitchen counter and started unloading groceries. She’d all but forgotten about the milk, eggs and bread. Steve went to the phone and dialed Cal’s number. Soon he was talking about the Lemon House. Meg filled tall glasses, then sat at the table and waited for him. When he hung up, he picked up Charlie’s inhaler and glanced over at her. “Asthma?” “Not me. My cousin’s little boy. The child is always losing it. I’ll take it back in the morning. Just put it by my purse.” He did as she asked and turned back. “So was Cal happy?” She took a sip of her tea and glanced at him over the rim of her glass. “Says he can start tomorrow.” Steve leaned against the back of the chair. “Cal will do a great job. His wife is having their first baby in a few weeks. Oh, I told you that.” Meg took another sip of her drink. What was wrong with her? She usually never repeated herself. “Donna works too hard around their ranch. She’s healthy, but I’ve delivered her sisters’ babies, and they’ve all had difficult deliveries.” Steve’s expression tightened and he shifted as if he were uncomfortable. Meg waved toward his glass. “Sit down and have some tea. I made yours plain. You don’t use sugar, do you?” “No. Thanks.” “So how long did you practice?” “Five years.” “Me, too. I did a one-year residency at Presbyterian in Dallas, then came back to Jackson. Been here ever since.” She tilted her head nervously. Steve was the type of man who listened—and watched. The type who made her feel…was it uneasy, nervous or what? Her temples pounded. Why, for goodness’ sake, had she told him about her residency? He hadn’t asked. She needed to bring the conversation around to his medical practice and not talk about herself. “I was raised in Jackson.” The information seemed to spring from her mouth. He picked up his glass. The man sitting in front of her had a way of making her feel all mixed up. Although he was quiet, she guessed he had a wonderful bedside manner, serene and calm. The last thought stunned her. She wasn’t really thinking at all about medicine. In just the blink of an eye, Steve Hartly was making her envision soft down comforters and cold winter nights snuggling under them—with him. “I was born in Jackson.” Good Lord, hadn’t she said that? “I mean, uh, and I’ve lived here most of my life except when I went away to school. You practiced how long?” She’d already ask him that, too. The man was going to think she was an idiot! Quickly she vowed again to keep her mind on finding out more about Steve Hartly. He placed the glass on the table and drew his finger through the beads of condensation. “What kind of practice did you have?” she asked breathlessly. “I worked the emergency room for four years.” His tone had gone flat. “How’d you pick Jackson?” “Wanted a place far away from Houston.” “Know anyone here?” He shook his head. “Just looked at a map and made a few phone calls.” “Do you miss the ER?” Good. She was getting some great information. Yet it bugged her that she really liked the idea of finding out what made him tick, what caused the faraway look in his dark eyes to come and go. “I try not to think about my old life.” His finger lingered on the glass, then traced around it again, this time in the opposite direction. He didn’t bother to look up. “I know how you feel. Like today. I panicked until I saw you in the Sunshine. And I worry about Donna all the time, afraid I won’t be there for her. I just have to put the worries out of my mind. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know what the heck I’m—” “Being a doctor is not all what’s in here.” Steve tapped his right temple, then reached across the table. His index finger stopped an inch short of her chest. “It’s what’s in your heart that counts.” His body heat seemed to flow through her shirt to her bare skin. For a moment Meg feared he might touch her, and the next, she wished he would. They stared at each other, their gazes meeting, then blending and melting together. His arm drew back, and his hand gripped the edge of the table. Her eyes drifted to his lips. They were soft and full, and she just bet he kissed with the same passion he exuded. She chastised herself for the thought. She needed to keep her mind on finding a doctor for the clinic. “Think you’ll ever practice again?” “No. I’ve started a new life.” The words rang through the small kitchen. His eyes flashed with conviction and his jaw tightened, accentuating the heart-shaped mole. “That’s too bad.” Intuitively she knew Steve was a good doctor, and she wondered what had happened to make him not want to do what he was trained to do. Maybe he was burned out. Or just tired of big-city medicine. He rolled the iced-tea glass between his palms. “I’ll bet you are a darn good doctor,” she blurted. The man sitting across from her had just implied it took heart to be a good doctor. Meg sensed Steve cared deeply, and when she got this kind of feeling, she was never wrong. The cold glass soaked the heat from his hot flesh. Sitting across from Meg Graham had made his hands warm and sweaty. With all the talk about being a doctor and whether he planned to go back to medicine, the top of Steve’s head felt like it was about to blow off. “I’m not a doctor anymore.” Those words were his mantra now. And at times like this they felt right. He picked up the glass and drained it. Then he pushed the wooden chair back and stood. She gave him a sincere look. “Sorry to hear that.” Her brown, velvety eyes filled with compassion. Meg’s words soothed him for a moment. He did miss his old life, but it was better this way. “I need to get back to the house. Thanks for the tea and the use of your phone.” He crossed to the door. The screen squeaked as he pushed it open. Steve heard her chair scoot against the linoleum, and he turned back. She picked up the empty glasses and made her way to the sink, her hips swaying. A fiery blaze started in the pit of his stomach. If he was in any mood to be attracted to a woman, it would be Meg Graham. She possessed a delicate yet strong face and a sensuous mouth. And her body… His eyes stroked over her full, lush curves. Indulging himself a moment longer, he let his gaze slide up slowly, admiring every tempting inch. Meg was sexy. Steve thought of soft skin and sweet scents. It would be easy to let his problems fade away, with her in his arms. With no hesitation, he imagined Meg without a stitch of clothing. He liked what his mind conjured up, and the need to get Meg into his arms rushed through him. She faced him, her lips curled in an inviting smile. “Have you decided where you’re going to sleep?” The tightness in his jeans increased. “Uh…in my car.” “Oh, no!” Her chin tipped up, showing her smooth, curved throat. His mouth went dry and his thoughts swirled with wonder. What would it be like to kiss her porcelain skin and let his lips trail down to the sweet indentation at the beginning of her throat? “That’s bound to be uncomfortable. There’s not much room in the back seat of a BMW, is there?” “I don’t know.” The answer hung in the air between them. “Well, back seats aren’t all…that comfortable.” Meg’s cheeks flushed. “Not that I’ve been in the back seat of a car in years.…” Hot summer nights and Meg! His body pulsed with the need to hold her in his arms. What the heck was he thinking about? He needed to keep his mind on his house, his new life. “There aren’t any motels close by. I want to start on the house repairs early tomorrow.” She leaned back, her right hand resting on the curve of her hip. “I have plenty of room right here, and it’s next door. Why don’t you stay with me?” “What?” The offer sent a powerful sensual message to his brain. He and Meg together! “My guest room is warm and clean, and it sure is a heck of a lot more roomy than—” “That would be too much trouble.” Good sense told him he needed to stay away from Meg, yet he knew that wasn’t going to be easy. “You won’t be any trouble. I’m hardly ever home. And you don’t have to worry about the rent. Around Jackson we barter a lot. I get bread, pies, even eggs for my services.” “I don’t have anything to trade.” She smiled again and his heart beat faster. She was so pretty and sweet…so sincere. “Sure you do. Everyone has something someone else wants.” Right now all he wanted from Meg was to hold her and kiss her pleasing lips. “While you’re working on the Lemon House maybe you can help me with a few odd jobs around here.” Her practical suggestion made Steve realize a soft, clean bed would be better than the back seat of his car. And he’d have access to a working bathroom. Yet he’d vowed to stay far away from anyone who had anything to do with medicine. Meg Graham, he’d learned already, was a dedicated doctor. “Come on. You’ll be doing me a favor.” Her soft, feminine voice feathered against his reserve like smooth silk. With eyes closed, Meg took a deep breath, and the action melted a thin layer of ice surrounding his heart. For a moment, Steve forgot where they were. “How would I be doing you a favor?” he asked. She opened her eyes and crinkled her nose. “The house repairs.” “I don’t have any experience with what you’re talking about.” “It doesn’t matter. I’m a patient woman. I’ll get you a key.” She went to the teddy bear cookie jar on the counter and took off its baseball cap lid. “This fits both the front and back doors.” She crossed the kitchen and held out the extra key. He knew he shouldn’t, but he let his fingers uncurl. She placed the warm metal in his palm, and he stared at the key. Meg could talk a blind man into buying eyeglasses. If he did a few odd jobs around her place, he wouldn’t be obligated in any way. And in a few days, he’d be only her neighbor, not her houseguest. As if to negate his last thought she laughed. “It’s official. You’re my roommate. And once you get the Lemon House livable, you won’t have far to move.” Steve thought about giving back the key, but she’d crossed to the sink. “Go ahead and bring your stuff in,” Meg nonchalantly called over her shoulder. “I only have one bathroom, so we’ll have to share.” She turned on the water, which pumped from the faucet full blast. She hummed a familiar tune and her hips swayed to the melody. Steve forced himself to stop gazing at those sensual undulations. If he was going to live with this mesmerizing woman for a few days, he had to draw a line. He made his way to the door and stepped out into the September night, wondering if he was in his right mind, accepting her invitation. A mixture of emotions coursed through his veins. Sure, it would be convenient living just up the road from his house. But common sense told him he shouldn’t let himself get any closer to Meg. She sat on the couch and wondered if her earlier prediction was coming true. Maybe she was going off the deep end. Why in the world had she asked Steve Hartly to stay at her house? She’d never done anything like this in her life. But an uncanny feeling told her everything would be okay. She could trust Steve. And she couldn’t let him stay in his car, or worse, the Lemon House. She gulped and forced herself to think realistically. With Steve Hartly on staff, she could keep her clinic open. And she might be able to get some much-needed sleep. The last thought wreaked havoc with her rationale. If anything, Steve’s presence in the house would preclude her sleeping. Meg imagined Steve’s fingers tracing against her skin, his body warmth enveloping her. With a jolt she stood. What was wrong with her? She wasn’t about to be attracted to another man uncommitted to his medical career. The experience with Andy had been enough for one lifetime. Oh, for goodness’ sake, Meg. Get a grip. You just met the guy and already you’re comparing him to Andy. She was acting silly. She was tired and worried about her patients and the clinic. Meg sank down again and groaned. Steve Hartly created havoc within her. What in the world would he be able to do when he was living in her house? She rubbed her eyes. This kind of thinking had to stop. Getting involved with Steve physically wasn’t going to help the situation—it could only hurt it. She had to convince the man to work at the clinic. The insurance company meant business with that letter, and she wasn’t going to let her clinic close. She tapped her bottom lip with her finger. Steve had been adamant about not practicing, but she only needed his help for maybe three months at the most. Just until she could get another doctor to move out to Jackson. And what was so terrible about rescuing him from that awful house next door? The thought of anyone living in the Lemon House made her stomach knot. Why in the world would he buy a place like that? She heard the screen door squeak open and shut. Her gaze darted up. Carrying one suitcase, Steve made his way through the kitchen to the living room. “Can I help you bring in the rest of your bags?” Meg sprang off the couch, hoping to stop her heart from pounding so hard. He lifted the bag a little. “This is it.” He’d taken off his jacket and his forearm muscles rippled. “Your room’s on the right. Bath’s the next door,” Meg announced, and plopped on the couch again. Trying to seem unruffled with her new houseguest was hard work. “Thanks.” He tramped down the hall and found the guest room. Meg watched his every step. “If you don’t mind, I’ll take a shower, then hit the sack,” he said over his shoulder. He placed his bag against the wall and flipped on the light. He scrubbed a hand through his hair and looked around. “There are extra towels in the cupboard under the sink. Help yourself,” Meg called. Steve moved out of her sight, and she stared at the carpet. From the gentle rustle, she knew he was taking off his shirt. “Hope I’m not keeping you from anything.” His words brought her chin up, and she gazed at the man standing in the hallway. His chest was bare, his right shoulder braced against the wooden doorjamb. Meg tried to keep her eyes off her new neighbor’s torso but found it impossible. Hard muscles etched an almost perfect physique. A fine matting of curly hair enhanced his chiseled chest. She consciously closed her eyes. Maybe she was asleep, and Steve Hartly, standing in her hallway half-naked, was a sadistic dream her subconscious had conjured up. Opening her eyes, she shook her head. Nope! There he stood in all his sexy glory. The first man to stand in her hallway looking like that, ever! She drew in a breath and tried to relax. “Make yourself at home. If you need anything, just look around.” She stood and prayed her legs would hold her. “Thanks.” The sensual sound of his voice was all Meg needed to propel her into the kitchen—as far away from Steve Hartly as she could physically get. Chapter Four The whoosh of water told Steve that Meg was up and getting ready for another hectic day. He’d had many hurried days in the Houston ER. Days when there wasn’t enough time to even think clearly. Yet his work had been very fulfilling. Steve made his way out of bed to the window. The pale gray morning was slipping the bonds of night, and the beginning of a Texas sunrise splashed across the sky. Not far away the Lemon House sat in all its rundown glory. Steve shook his head. He was determined to get the place in shape and livable. He stepped back to the bed and straightened the twisted covers. He’d thought the dreams troubling him would go away when he left Houston. But early this morning, when he’d found himself soaked in cold sweat and the sheet wrapped around his legs, he knew the move to Jackson hadn’t helped at all. The scent of Meg’s perfume trailed down the hall and under the door, jarring him fully awake. Her fragrance reminded him of how beautiful she was. He raked fingers through his hair, then picked his clothes off the floor. Moments later he padded out to the living room, hoping she hadn’t left the house yet. He couldn’t help himself; the need to see her again overwhelmed any other emotion. Lights were on in the kitchen, and he caught a glimpse of Meg as she crossed from the table to the counter. Steve stopped in the kitchen doorway. Meg’s shiny hair was tousled and she looked sleepy and warm. She was wearing jeans and a pale blue T-shirt. The softness of the shirt outlined her delicate shoulders and hugged her full breasts. A tiny red logo stretched across the supple curve of her bottom. His glance traced down to her bare feet. A slash of pink nail polish caught his eye before his gaze drifted up again. The rich fragrance of coffee filled the air. Sniffing, he enjoyed the homey smell. “Good morning,” he said, managing to keep his tone of voice neutral. She met his gaze with a welcoming smile. Her face was bare of any makeup and she looked natural and pretty. “I thought I heard you. How about some coffee?” “Sounds good.” His body loosened a little. He couldn’t stop staring at her. He hadn’t been with a woman in the gray, quiet morning for a long time. And standing in the doorway of the kitchen studying Meg caused him to feel, for a split second, alive and at peace with himself. Meg turned back to the coffeepot and checked it. Steve remained in the doorway, and she felt his eyes on her. She tried not to enjoy the idea that he might be admiring her as she pulled two cups down from the cabinet. Suddenly she yawned as she placed the mugs on the counter. Early this morning Steve’s voice had woken her. At first she’d sat straight up in bed, her heart pounding but then she’d remembered he was in the next room. She’d fallen back against the pillow, her heart still thumping. As she listened, he’d moaned a little and called out in a husky, sleep-ridden voice. She couldn’t decipher anything he said; the only thing she knew for sure was that his voice was filled with torment. “Coffee smells good,” he said from the doorway. She glanced over her shoulder and motioned him into the room. “Sleep well?” “Yeah.” He remained where he stood, his body filling much of the space. “How about yourself?” She nodded despite the fact she hadn’t been able to go back to sleep after his nightmare. All she could do was lie in the dark and think…about him. She wanted to question him now, but knew she needed to mind her own business at six o’clock in the morning. Besides, after last night, she knew that kind of conversation would be much too intimate, and she was afraid he’d bolt. She needed to keep emotionally distant from him, for the clinic’s sake. She placed the mugs on the table and poured coffee into them. He found a chair and sat. “Thanks.” Smiling, she took a seat with the glass coffeepot still in her hand. “I bet you take it black.” He nodded. “So do I. Learned to drink coffee that way in med school.” She set the glass pot on the table. “Yeah, me, too.” She lifted her mug to her lips and took a sip. “Good. Hot, though.” He reached across the table and outlined the name embossed on the mug. “Jim? A boyfriend?” She smiled. “Hardly. It’s my dad’s. Mom gave it to me after I graduated from med school, before she moved to Galveston. It’s about the only thing I have of his. I drink my coffee from it every day. Kind of a ritual. He’s the reason I went into medicine. Whenever I feel like I can’t go on, I think of my dad.” “He’s gone?” “Yes.” She brought the coffee to her lips again, trying not to give in to the memories. She didn’t want to talk about her father right now. “You must miss him.” Her chest ached with the statement and she knew she’d better change the subject. “Remember pulling thirty-six-hour shifts in med school and drinking this stuff by the gallon?” Meg rubbed her fingers against the blue porcelain, hoping to crush the tiny hurt starting in her heart. “I don’t miss those days, but it sounds like you’re still working just as hard.” “Sometimes. It comes in cycles. There are days when I’m so busy I need to be three people, then it slows down enough so I can catch my breath.” Meg smiled wryly. “That sounds like a tough way to live and work.” “How are you going to make a living here in Jackson?” Steve shrugged. “I’ve saved enough money for two years. By then I’ll figure out something.” So he really wasn’t planning on practicing. Frustrated and confused, Meg picked up the coffeepot and reached back to place it on the heating element. Pyrex glass connected with the tile countertop, a loud crack sounded and coffee splattered everywhere. “Oh, heavens, what a mess.” Embarrassed, she stood, pushed back her chair and stepped toward the sink. A shard of glass pierced her bare foot, causing a jolt of pain. “Ouch,” she yelped. The wound was deep in the fleshy part of her foot. Before she could reach the chair, Steve hastened to her side. “Take it easy,” he said gently. He helped her sit, then knelt in front of her. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/mary-starleigh/what-the-cowboy-prescribes/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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