The reunion that pits city versus country…and turns old friends to lovers.
Josh Calhoun escaped the rat race to run his family's farming operation. But when he returns to Chicago to mediate an inheritance dispute, he's confronted with the past: Dr. Lucinda Wilde. As his best friend's old girlfriend, she's always been off-limits. But his best friend is gone, and now the unavoidable attraction between them makes Josh think it is time to stake his claim…
Will being with the rugged cowboy feel like a betrayal of her sweetheart's memory, or will his touch be this city girl's long-awaited reawakening?
Dynasties: The Newports
Sept 2016 from Harlequin Desire
ISBN-10: 0373734832 ♦ ISBN-13: 978-0373734832
“But you understand that he’s not dead yet,” Dr. Lucinda Wilde said, trying her very best to keep a grip on her temper. She rarely got mad at patients—it was a waste of time and emotional energy. “I can only prolong his life if he stays in the hospital, under constant care. You do see that?”
Carson Newport stood to the doctor’s left, his hands on his hips and a determined set to his eyes. On the doctor’s right, Eve Winchester was glaring at Lucinda, her arms crossed and her brow furrowed with anger. All around them, the sounds of construction filled the air—as did dust. So much dust. She was going to have to shower before she went on her rounds again.
Lucinda had to hope that the construction materials being used here at the new children’s hospital weren’t carcinogenic. She vastly preferred her own hospital, where everything was already hospital-sterile. And she was not happy about having to leave her patients to trek halfway across town to mediate yet another dispute between the Newports and the Winchesters about her patient, Sutton Winchester.
Lucinda sighed and pushed her glasses back up her nose. She would have a better chance convincing a pack of wild dogs than Sutton Winchester’s children that the scion of the Winchester fortune needed to stay in the hospital.
Never in her nine years as a practicing oncologist had she run into such a stubborn set of relatives. She adored her job and Chicago, but days like these had her muttering “city folk” to herself and longing for the wide-open spaces of Cedar Point, Iowa. Even cows were more reasonable than this.
“I understand that you’re not interested in doing your job,” Eve Winchester said in a tight voice.
“There’s no need to be rude,” Carson Newport snapped. “The good doctor is doing her job. No one lives forever—especially not bitter old men.”
Eve wheeled on Carson and most likely would have demolished him in a verbal barrage of slings and arrows, but a voice interrupted them. “What seems to be the trouble?”
It couldn’t be. It simply wasn’t possible that she’d heard him. Not after all this time. Not right now, when she was barely keeping herself together in the face of one of her most challenging cases yet.
But then Carson turned and said, “Josh!”
And a little bit of Lucinda died because she wasn’t imagining this. She couldn’t be. Josh Calhoun himself had walked out of her nightmares and into her line of sight.
Oh, God. Her breath caught in her throat as Josh approached. He looked exactly the same as he had the last time she’d seen him. He was wearing jeans and a red plaid shirt. His longish brown hair stuck out around the base of his ratty-looking ball cap that looked exactly like the one he’d worn every single day back in school.
No, no, no. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be.
Josh Calhoun—a ghost from her past that she never wanted to face again—smiled widely at their small group.
Until his gaze landed on her.
Lucinda wasn’t surprised when that good-time grin of his died on the vine. After all, they hadn’t exactly parted on the best of terms when Lucinda had made an absolute fool of herself on the worst day of her life and Josh had turned her down flat.
They stared at each other and Lucinda was at least a little relieved that he was just as surprised to see her as she was to see him.
And then everything got worse. Because Josh Calhoun, the boy who’d shattered her already broken heart, lifted one corner of his mouth in what she knew all too well was his real smile.
Oh. Oh, my. Something about him had changed. He was a little taller and a heck of a lot more broad in the shoulders. His chin was sharper now and his eyes…
Josh Calhoun had grown up.
Lucinda did not allow herself to feel a rush of instant attraction. Lust had no place in her life. It was an inconvenient emotion at best, and she only had so much emotional energy to spare after spending her days as the head of the oncology department at Midwest Regional Medical Center. She couldn’t waste a bit of it, certainly not on the likes of Josh Calhoun, the last person she had allowed herself to lust over.
But watching Josh’s lips curve into that real smile instead of the big one he used when he was befriending every single person in the room? Lust hit her low and hard, and she wasn’t ready for it. She wasn’t ready for him. Not now, not ever.
But she refused to let any of that show. She didn’t suck in air, even though her lungs were burning. She didn’t allow her skin and circulatory system to betray her in any way. She didn’t even bat a single eyelash at him.
He was nothing to her. She didn’t need him; she didn’t want him, and she’d be damned if she let him know how much he’d hurt her back in high school.
Carson’s scowl broke into a wide smile as he said, “You made it!” Then he and Josh wrapped their arms around each other and performed a few manly thumps on each other’s back.
Lucinda couldn’t help but glance at Eve during this display of masculine affection. Eve was rolling her eyes.
“Man, I’m glad to see you,” Carson said to Josh. “Josh, this is Eve Winchester—it turns out that she’s my sister.”
“Stop telling people that,” Eve snapped.
Lucinda sighed heavily. She’d heard variations on this particular theme over and over again whenever it came time to make a decision about Sutton Winchester’s care. The Winchester daughters—Nora, Eve and Grace—refused to acknowledge that Carson was their half brother and did everything within their power to make sure that he did not have any say in family decisions.
But Carson Newport wasn’t exactly taking this decision lying down.
Just as he did every time Eve threw this insult in his face, Carson opened his mouth to retort that she didn’t have any choice in the situation. Lucinda knew the script by heart.
Josh didn’t. Instead, he cut Carson off with a warm smile and an extended hand. “Ms. Winchester, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I’m sorry that we can’t meet under better circumstances, but Carson has told me how impressed he is with how you’ve been handling all the new developments.”
Lucinda had no idea if this was a true statement or not. Maybe it didn’t matter. Josh’s words went off like a little bomb in the conversation, completely resetting the discourse.
She shouldn’t be surprised. Josh Calhoun had always been the peacemaker of their high school. He had a way of finding the common ground and making everyone happy.
Everyone except her.
“He…what?” Eve stared down at Josh’s outstretched hand. “Who are you?”
If Josh was insulted by this lack of manners, he didn’t show it. “Beg your pardon—I’m Josh Calhoun, of the Calhoun Creamery. I went to college with the Newport boys and I count them as some of my oldest friends. I understand that things have been challenging recently and I wanted to stop by and see if I could do anything to help.” As he said this last bit, his gaze shifted back to Lucinda.
Oh, come on—was he seriously including her in that statement? If that’s what he thought, he had another think coming.
But he was the Newports’ oldest friend? Figured. As if the Winchester/Newport feud wasn’t enough of a tangled web to be caught in, Josh Calhoun had to go and add another thread. A big, fat, complicated thread.
Carson jumped in, taking advantage of Eve’s stunned silence. “Josh, this is Dr. Lucinda Wilde. She’s the oncologist who’s overseeing Sutton’s care. If there’s one thing that Eve and I can agree on…” At this, Eve snorted. “It’s that Dr. Wilde has managed to stabilize our father. Without her, he would probably already be dead.”
“Dr. Lucinda Wilde,” Josh said, rolling each of the words off his tongue as if he was trying to figure out which part was the strangest. He leaned forward, his hand out. “Lucinda? And you’re an oncologist now? I should have guessed.”
She did not want to touch him. So she nodded her head and stuck her hands behind her back. “Josh. Sorry,” she added in a not-sorry voice. “Germs, you know.”
Eve and Carson shared a look. “Do you two know each other?” Carson asked.
She didn’t answer. She didn’t want to cop to knowing Josh. She didn’t want anyone in Chicago to know about their tangled past, and she absolutely didn’t want to be thinking about Josh Calhoun, past or present.
Sadly, it seemed as though she didn’t have much of a choice. “Yeah,” Josh said, letting his hand hang out there for a second before he lowered it back to his side. “Well, I knew Lucy Wilde.”
She shuddered at the sound of her name. She’d left Lucy Wilde behind when she’d left Iowa, and there was no going back. “We went to the same high school,” she explained to Carson and Eve. “But only for two years.” She shot a warning glare at Josh because if he took it upon himself to add to that simple truth, she might have to kick him somewhere very important.
He notched an eyebrow at her and something in his eyes changed, and she knew—knew—that he remembered exactly how things had gone down between them. Or not gone down, as the case may be. But, thankfully, all he said was “Yup.”
“I’m very happy for the high school reunion, but none of this brings us any closer to getting my father out of the hospital,” Eve Winchester snapped.
Josh—without looking away from her—asked, “Is that a possibility?”
Right. Lucinda had a purpose here that had nothing to do with Josh Calhoun or Lucy Wilde. She had ventured out to this dusty, half-finished work site to try to talk some sense into Carson and Eve because they were the most invested players in this family drama.
Not that that was saying a lot.
“It would be best for the patient if he remained in the oncology ward at Midwest,” Lucinda said as all three looked at her. “I want to keep him under my direct supervision, and there are several experimental treatments I would like to try—with his consent—that have the potential to increase his life expectancy. There are promising developments with low-dose naltrexone…”
“I don’t understand why these experimental treatments have to be done in the hospital,” Eve snapped, cutting Lucinda off. “Every day that he’s in a public space—and no, you can’t promise me that his privacy will be respected in that hospital—it becomes that much more likely that someone will access his records, take pictures of him while he’s incapacitated or bribe a nurse for information they can use against him in the court of public opinion.” She paused and shot daggers at Carson. “I want him home where I know that he’ll be protected and safe.”
Ah, so they were back on the script again. Josh looked to Lucinda for a reply, but she was unable to provide any other details of her patient’s medical condition to him. She was not about to break her Hippocratic oath for him.
Instead, it was Carson who answered. “We’ve been over this, Eve. He’s sick. He belongs in a hospital.” He turned to Josh. “He’s got inoperable lung cancer—years of smoking and hard living, I guess. It’s spread to his lymph nodes. Stage three.”
Josh had the decency to wince.
“But,” Eve said as she jumped back in, “he’s not going to die tomorrow.”
“You can’t just cut the cancer out?” Josh asked Lucinda.
She glared at him even harder. “I cannot share anything about my patient’s condition with a nonfamily member.”
Carson rolled his eyes at her. “As Dr. Wilde has explained to us, due to the original tumor’s location, she can’t perform surgery and traditional chemo, and radiation won’t be powerful enough to eradicate the malignant cells that have spread to the lymph system.”
Josh turned to Eve. “I’m so sorry to hear this,” he said in a gentle voice. “This must be hard for you and your sisters.”
Eve appeared stunned by this olive branch—and Lucinda appreciated someone short-circuiting the bickering.
Josh Calhoun was the same as he’d always been, that much was clear. This was what he did. She’d seen him talk down two guys in the middle of a fight so that, within minutes, they were all sharing a soda and laughing about good times or whatever it was men laughed about while one was wiping the other’s blood off his knuckles.
Once, she’d admired him for that. Okay, honestly—she’d more than admired him. She’d been fascinated by him. She’d never been much to look at, but Josh had never treated her like the know-it-all nerd everyone else did.
Well, almost everyone else. Josh’s best friend in high school, Gary, had asked her out after she’d verbally smacked down some bullies who were mocking Gary for being unable to lift his own backpack after a chemo treatment. And since no one else had ever even remotely looked at Lucy Wilde as someone they might like to go see a movie with—much less kiss—she’d said yes.
Lucinda shook her head out of the past. How long had it been since she’d allowed herself to think of Gary—or Josh? Years. It hadn’t been that hard. She’d been busy with her medical career and dealing with the likes of the Winchesters and Newports. And the Winchesters and Newports took all of her attention.
She had, of course, expressed her concerns to Sutton’s family—that was part and parcel of her job. She cared not only for her patients but their loved ones, as well. She’d had decades of helping people live and die—long before she’d become a doctor.
Long before she’d humiliated herself in front of Josh Calhoun.
But now that she thought of it, she couldn’t remember witnessing anyone else expressing their sympathies to any of the Winchester daughters. Certainly not Brooks Newport or his brothers. Carson’s grim acceptance of the situation had, until this moment, been as good as it got.
“Thank you,” Eve replied quietly. Then she turned her attention to Carson. “I’m not giving up on him. I just want what’s best for him and I don’t think being in the hospital is it.”
“What are the options?” Josh asked.
Why did he have to be here? Why did he have to be forging a peace between Eve and Carson?
Why did he have to be reminding her of things she’d tried so desperately to forget?
It was Carson who answered for her. “Eve and her sisters—our sisters—think it would be best to take him home. I’m not comfortable pulling him out of the hospital.” He stared at Eve. “We have questions and I want him to live long enough to get some answers out of him.”
It was blisteringly clear who the “we” was—Carson and his brothers.
Lucinda wanted to massage her throbbing temples.
Eve glared at him. “What you think doesn’t matter. He’s not really your father. You don’t know him and you don’t love him like I do—like my sisters do.” Her gaze swung back to Lucinda and she looked more determined than ever, which was saying something. “Money is no object. I can have a private medical facility that meets your specifications set up at his estate in a matter of days. I want him out of the hospital and safely at home. And if you won’t help move him,” she threatened, “I will find a doctor who can.”
“Beg your pardon,” Josh interrupted in that gentle tone that Lucinda didn’t really appreciate. “Does he want to stay in the hospital?”
It was a deceptively simple question and Lucinda knew it. What Sutton Winchester wanted was to go home and pretend he was not on death’s door. He never wanted to see her face or the inside of a hospital ever again. But that was not what was best for him.
“Of course, he doesn’t,” Eve stated flatly.
“Because if he’s got the means to be treated at home, maybe that would be best for everyone,” Josh said as if this were the obvious conclusion instead of a solution that entailed an unnecessary health risk.
Well, that went sideways on her. Lucinda gave him a dull look and Carson was none too pleased at this announcement.
Undaunted by their open hostility, Josh went on, “Carson, you’ve got to realize that if he’s more comfortable, he’ll likely be willing to answer some of those questions, don’t you think?”
She wanted to strangle him. It was bad enough that he was here and worse that she was having to talk to him. But for him to come down on the wrong side?
That, however, wasn’t the worst of it. No, what was the worst was that she could see Carson start to waver. Damn it. She knew there were many unanswered questions and she also knew that, currently, Sutton was in no mood to unburden his soul.
Carson Newport had been her ally in keeping Sutton Winchester in the hospital. But, before her eyes, she could see him switch sides. “Well…”
Josh didn’t wait for Carson to talk himself out of it. “If it won’t compromise his care, that is.” He turned his attention to Lucinda and turned on his all-American charm. “If Eve can get the room set up to your specifications, would you be willing to release Mr. Winchester? I know that no one wants to risk his health. That has to come first. I think we can all agree that your word is final, can’t we?” He glanced around their small circle, gathering approval to him like a cloak.
Lucinda blinked at him. Was that the bone he was going to throw her—that she had the final word? Very neatly, Josh Calhoun had sidestepped, diffused or completely undercut weeks of bitter arguments—and boxed her into a corner.
What she wanted to say was that he was out of his ever-loving mind and he could go crawl back into whatever hole he’d crawled out of.
But she didn’t. She had a professional reputation to maintain, and she would be damned if she let Josh Calhoun take that away from her, too. “In no way would moving him at this stage of his treatment be a good idea,” she said firmly.
This fell on deaf ears. “Okay,” Carson announced. “If we can get a room set up in his home, we can move him. But our brothers aren’t going to like this.”
“Graham and Brooks are absolutely not my brothers,” Eve said just as her phone buzzed. She glanced at it and Lucinda saw a small smile break through her icy demeanor. “Dr. Wilde, if you could get a list of equipment we’ll need, I’ll have everything else taken care of.”
“You do understand that this will be very expensive, don’t you?” Lucinda tried a last-ditch attempt. “You’ll need twenty-four-hour care to monitor him, as well—and not some random home-health nurse. He needs oncology specialists around him at all time.”
Eve and Carson shared a look. “That’s fine,” Eve said with a smile that made Lucinda’s blood run cold. “There’s plenty of room at the house. I’ll have the guest quarters prepared for your stay. Hire whomever you need.”
“Ms. Winchester!” Lucinda gaped at her in shock. When had she lost complete and total control?
Josh cleared his throat. Oh, yeah. The moment he’d walked back into her life.
But she didn’t get any further than that. Carson stepped forward and said, “That sounds like a good idea to me. Would you be able to do that, Dr. Wilde?”
This simply could not get worse. She had already been dragged into more than enough Winchester/Newport drama. Personally supervising Sutton Winchester’s care at home would only double and then triple that.
She had opened her mouth to find the words to politely yet firmly refuse when Josh spoke up. “At the very least,” he said, shooting her one of his big smiles that did absolutely nothing to her, “would you be able to see him settled?”
“I’m the head of the oncology department at Midwest,” she told him with an edge to her voice. “I cannot simply disappear to a private home for days or what could even turn out to be weeks at a time.”
Carson gave her a smile that bordered on predatory. “I’m sure, for an appropriate donation to that new cancer pavilion expansion they’ve been planning, they’ll be more than happy to help you find a way to make this work into your schedule.”
In other words, her medical services were going to the highest bidder—and there were no bidders higher in the greater Chicago region than the Winchesters and the Newports. The Newports were already funding this new children’s hospital. In the grand scheme of things, the cost of an expanded cancer pavilion meant nothing to them or the Winchesters.
Lucinda absolutely did not want to be a pawn in this tug-of-war between the two families, but that pavilion would do a lot of good for a lot of people. Damn it all to hell. “I suppose I could move a few appointments around and take a couple of days. But I won’t compromise anyone else’s care. And if I don’t believe your father will receive excellent care at home, I won’t allow him to be discharged.”
Eve sniffed, and there was determination in her voice as she said, “Fine. Do whatever you have to do. I’ll have the guest quarters set up.” Abruptly, she turned away and began texting rapidly.
“It sounds like you’re what’s best for the patient,” Josh said as if he were seriously complimenting her.
Lucinda had never physically assaulted anyone in her entire life, but she was damned close to taking a swing at Josh. That did it. He needed to get his nose out of this medical situation—and her business—before she lost what was left of her temper. “Can I talk to you for a second?” she demanded, not bothering to smooth her tone over with a smile.
Carson’s eyebrows jumped up, but Josh showed no sign that he understood the danger. “Sure.”
Good. Great. She was going to tell Josh Calhoun off the way she should have done seventeen years ago, and then she was going to get on with her life.