THE DOCTOR’S PERFECT MATCH (Book 3, Lighthouse Lane)
Steeple Hill, 2010; ISBN 978-0-373-87572-6
After Dr. Christopher Morgan’s one serious romance ended in tragedy, he moved to Nantucket where he’d spent so many happy childhood summers. Almost two years into his new life, he’s beginning to make peace with his past. But no way is he ready to even consider a new relationship. His solitary existence suits him just fine—until Marci Clay enters his life one rainy night and manages to breach the walls around his heart. Blue-collar Marci, however, has no interest in the Boston blue blood doc. A bad experience with the upper crust soured her on rich folks years ago, leaving her with secrets, regrets and tattered self-esteem. Yet Christopher doesn’t conform to her rich-boy stereotype. He rides a bike to work, puts in long, dedicated hours at his job and goes out his way to help his elderly neighbor. Still, nothing can change the fact that they come from two different worlds. With God’s help, can they find a way to reconcile their divergent backgrounds and build a future together?
The woman was crying.
Christopher Morgan gave the blond at the dim corner table a discreet glance over the rim of his coffee cup. He’d noticed her earlier, when the hostess had shown him to his favorite, tucked-away-table in the Nantucket eatery. With her pin-up figure, slightly frizzy chin-length flaxen hair and emerald-colored eyes, she was hard to miss.
Yet the other patrons at the popular restaurant seemed oblivious to her. And to her distress. They were all focused on their companions.
He, on the other hand, was alone.
As was the woman.
His gaze swung back to her as she turned away from her bowl of half-eaten chowder to rummage in her purse, the sheen on her cheeks mute testimony to her misery.
Frowning, Christopher set his cup back on the saucer. He’d always been a sucker for people in need. That was one of the reasons he’d become a doctor. But despite his humanitarian inclinations, it wasn’t wise to offer assistance to strangers these days. Magnanimous gestures like that could arouse resentment or suspicion, or worse.
An image of his former girlfriend, Denise, flashed through his mind, and his gut twisted into a painful knot. He’d followed his compassionate instincts with her, and that traumatic experience had taught him a valuable lesson: crying women were a disaster waiting to happen. The safest course was to steer a wide berth around them.
Besides, after a busy shift in the ER, he was in no mood to tiptoe through the minefield the blond in the corner booth no doubt represented.
He watched as she dabbed away the evidence of her tears with a tissue, tucked it back in her purse and withdrew a ten-dollar bill. Laying it on the table, she scooted to the edge of the booth and swiveled on the seat.
Christopher started to glance away, but as the clingy fabric of her black cocktail dress inched up he found himself mesmerized by the best pair of legs he’d ever seen.
He wasn’t certain how long he stared at her, but suddenly the woman rose and yanked her skirt down until the hem brushed the top of her knees.
Looking up at her face, Christopher found her glaring at him, the color high in her cheeks as she tugged at a modest neckline below a single strand of pearls. Heat crept up his neck, fueled by embarrassment and regret. Not only did he feel like a teenage boy, he’d also made her uncomfortable.
And something more, he realized as their gazes locked for a brief moment.
She looked hurt. Defeated. And once again on the verge of tears.
Turning her back on him, she took the long way around the room to the door to avoid passing his table.
After swigging the rest of his coffee, Christopher settled his bill and headed toward the exit, wishing he could replay the last few minutes. He was supposed to be in the business of alleviating suffering, not creating it. But tonight he’d failed miserably.
Stepping out the door, he discovered that dark clouds had replaced the bright, sunny skies on this late May evening. A steady rain had also begun to fall, compelling the strollers and sightseers to seek refuge in the shops and restaurants that lined the streets in the heart of the old town.
All except one.
As Christopher drove up Main Street, he spotted a lone figure trudging through the rain. A blond in a black cocktail dress.
The woman from the restaurant.
She didn’t have an umbrella. Yet she wasn’t hurrying. It was as if she were unaware of the weather.
Slowing the car, Christopher watched in alarm as she stumbled in her high heels on the uneven brick sidewalk.
Walking around Nantucket in shoes like that was an accident waiting to happen, as he well knew. He’d treated any number of casualties who’d chosen fashion over comfort.
But she righted herself and moved on.
As he approached his turnoff to Orange Street, she continued on Main, her shoulders slumped. She paid no attention to the low rumble of thunder that reverberated through the still air, or the flash of lightning that zigzagged across the sky in the distance. She was either oblivious to the storm—or she didn’t care about the danger, Christopher concluded.
Both scenarios disturbed him.
Torn, he watched as she veered left on Fair Street and disappeared from view, the story of the Good Samaritan echoing in his mind. Like the traveler to Jericho who had been beset by thieves, this woman seemed in need of a helping hand.
But so had Denise.
Shoring up his resolve, Christopher turned left onto Orange Street and headed toward ’Sconset, determined to put as much distance as possible between himself and the troubled blond.
Yet as the miles slipped by, he discovered it wasn’t quite as easy to distance himself from the image of those defeated green eyes.
“Are you getting a cold, dear?”
Stifling a sneeze, Marci Clay continued to wash the china plates by hand as Edith Shaw, her new sister-in-law’s Lighthouse Lane neighbor, bustled in from The Devon Rose’s dining room with another tray of glasses. It had taken them all afternoon and into the early evening to put the tearoom back in order after yesterday afternoon’s wedding reception.
“I hope not.”
“You’ve been working too hard since you’ve been here.” Edith tut-tutted as she slid the tray onto the stainless-steel food prep station in the middle of the kitchen. “It was a very generous gesture, offering to manage the tearoom while Heather and J.C. are on their honeymoon. But that’s a lot to take on with very little preparation.”
In hindsight, Marci had to admit Edith was right. Given her meager cash reserves, however, it had been the best wedding gift she’d been able to offer. Volunteering to keep Heather’s tearoom running during their absence had allowed her brother and his bride to take a longer honeymoon—a gift they’d assured her was priceless. And with her just-earned diploma in hand and no job yet lined up, she had the time.
She’d also assumed her years of waitressing experience would be a sufficient background for the duties at The Devon Rose. But during her indoctrination last week under Heather’s tutelage, she’d quickly realized that the world of high tea and Ronnie’s Diner were at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The only thing that had kept her from panicking was Edith’s willingness to help—plus the invaluable support of Heather’s capable assistant, Julie Watson. Knowing she could count on those two women to back her up, Marci had convinced herself she could pull this off.
What she hadn’t counted on was getting a cold.
“Having a few second thoughts?”
At Edith’s question, Marci regarded the older woman. Her short, contemporary hairstyle might feature silvery gray locks, but she radiated youthful energy, and her eyes sparkled with enthusiasm—and insight.
“Maybe.” Marci shoved a springy curl out of her eye with the back of her wet hand. “I’m done a lot of waitressing, and I’m a decent cook, but this is a really high-class operation. I feel a little out of my league among all this linen and fine china and sterling silver.”
“Join the club.” Edith chuckled and planted her hands on her ample hips. “I’m more of a chilidog-and-French-fry type myself. And I’m sure Emily Post or Miss Manners would have a field day critiquing my table etiquette. But if I can get the hang of this tea thing, you can, too.”
“I appreciate the encouragement.” The words came out scratchy as Marci continued to work her way through the pile of plates.
“Goodness!” Edith gave a sympathetic shake of her head. “I hate to say it, but that sounds like the beginning of a cold to me.”
“I think I’m just tired.” She’d been working extra hours at Ronnie’s to build up her anemic savings account, had stayed up late and consumed far too much caffeine studying for finals and finishing term papers, then had rushed off to Nantucket to learn the ropes at The Devon Rose and participate in all the wedding festivities.
The walk home in the rain last night from the restaurant hadn’t helped, either. She should never have indulged in that pity party—nor let regrets about her own bad choices overshadow her joy in J.C.’s well-deserved happiness
“I’ll tell you what.” Edith surveyed the kitchen. “We’ve got most of the mess cleaned up. The tearoom’s closed tomorrow and Tuesday, so there’s nothing urgent that needs to be done today. Why don’t you turn in and let me finish up? It’s better to throw off a cold early than to run yourself down and end up sicker.”
That was true, Marci conceded. Besides, she was feeling more lethargic by the minute.
“If you’re sure you don’t mind, I think I will.”
“Of course I don’t mind.” Edith shooed her away from the dishwasher and pushed up the sleeves of her I ♥Nantucket sweatshirt. “Heather’s been like a daughter to me, and with her married to J.C. now, that makes you family. And families help each other out.”
Not all families, Marci amended in silence as she thanked Edith and headed upstairs. Hers hadn’t been anything like that. Except for J.C., who’d stuck by his brother and sister even through the dark times, despite their efforts to push him away.
Now, thanks to him, she and Nathan had gotten their acts together. But they both had a lot to make up for on the one-for-all, all-for-one front. That’s why she was determined to follow through on her commitment to keep The Devon Rose running during J.C. and Heather’s absence.
Crawling into bed, Marci pulled the covers up to her chin, closed her eyes and hoped that whatever bug was trying to establish a toehold would give up and retreat.