The winner for Shortcut To Love is Darla and I'll be emailing her soon. The next Book up is Murder and Mint Tea, a cozy mystery. There is a chapter on First Chapter Saturday I believe last week. This story is one I think of as a Who is going to kill her?
Katherine Miller has retired from two careers, one as a nurse and the other as a church organist. Though she has no desire for a third career, she may be forced to become a detective. Her latest tenant has brought trouble to the neighborhood. When Rachel's body is found in Katherine's garden she recognizes the murder weapon and knows any of her near and dear could be the killer. She refuses to accept that a friend or relative could be the killer and seeks to find the culprit.
Shortcut To Love
Janet Lane Walters
SHORTCUT TO LOVE
The mob of creatures waving signs circled him, leaving no room for escape. His frustration level soared. No matter which way he turned, he faced another sign.
"College debts. Medical school loans. Credit cards. Condo. Car. Money for the house he planned to build."
A deep voice, akin to his father's, chanted words that gradually rang clear. "You must pay the debts. You must pay the debts."
The strange creatures joined the chorus. They twirled the ends of Dali-like mustaches.
From a distance, his mother's voice added to the cacophony. "Michael when will I see grandchildren? You know how badly I want little ones to hug."
Michael West bolted upright and stared at the clock. He rubbed his eyes. This wasn't Saturday or Sunday. He was going to be late for his first day as the junior partner of Grandvue Hospital's premier group of surgeons. He threw back the covers and strode to the bathroom.
As he showered, the nightmare circled in his thoughts. "Sorry Mom," he whispered. The stack of debts had to be liquidated before he chose a wife.
He grabbed a towel and briskly dried. He had a plan. Five years would see it to completion. Then he'd be ready to give the woman he selected for marriage the things he believed she deserved. He dressed in new gray slacks and a black blazer, grabbed his medical bag and headed out the door.
Though he wished he had time for a hearty breakfast, on the way to the hospital, he stopped at the deli for coffee and a croissant. Ten minutes later, he sat in the doctors' parking lot and ate his meager meal.
After stuffing the trash in the take-out bag, Michael pulled his long frame from the car and strode toward the entrance. Just as he reached the door, the senior partner of the practice called his name. "Slow down."
Michael waited for Dr. Probst. "Good morning, sir. I didn't expect to see you here this early."
The gray-haired man smiled. "Always first in. Good to see you're of like habits. Three cases on the schedule this morning."
"Will I assist with them all?" Michael asked.
"Eager to get your hands in?"
Michael grinned. "Sure am, sir."
Dr. Probst chuckled. "How well I remember those days. Before we head to the O.R., we’ll make rounds and I'll show you around the surgical unit.”
“Then I'll introduce you to the new nurse manager. Young woman's a marvel. Been here six months. Shaped up the place and the staff. Not only smart, but quite a looker, too."
Michael's grin broadened. In November when he'd interviewed and toured the hospital, the nurse manager had been a starched older woman whose cold glare and thin-lipped smile made him think she detested young doctors. Young and pretty was more his style, especially if she was a woman who would be content with the company of a man with a five-year plan.
They left the elevator on the second floor and strode around the corner. When Michael saw the nurse seated at the long counter surrounding the open station, he abruptly halted.
"No," he whispered. “It can’t be.” He nearly bolted.
"Something wrong?" Dr. Probst asked.
Michael cleared his throat. "Nothing. I never expected to see--"
"Zelda, come meet the latest addition to the group," Dr. Probst called.
"Zelda." Michael groaned. The bane of his youth sauntered toward them.
His throat tightened. So did his gut. "You work here?"
He could have kicked himself. Why else would she be here dressed in a white uniform? A uniform that fit her slim body to perfection.
Dr. Probst beamed. "Michael, this is Zelda Carter, the miracle nurse manager."
Figures she’d find a way to plague me, Michael thought. The man was right about one thing. Zelda was attractive and probably efficient, but she was also a disaster attuned to Michael West MD. Like the visions seen by a drowning man, incidents flooded his memory. She had dynamited his high school romance with Ann and dive-bombed his summer fling with Bette.
Every time Zelda neared his vicinity, strange things happened. He tripped over invisible cracks in the sidewalk, dropped drinks and fumbled plates of food. In her presence he became an accident primed to occur.
He glanced at Zelda. Boy had she changed. Short, curly, brown hair. Blue eyes. Slender figure. His gaze lingered on her kissable lips, and he felt an urge to taste them. He sucked in a breath. Zelda? He jerked his eyes away from her mouth and forced himself to concentrate on his partner's briefing on the patients on the unit and the cases awaiting surgery.
His gaze and his attention strayed toward her. She kept her gaze on his partner. Zelda discussed the cases with Dr. Probst. Michael realized she was ignoring him more effectively than he ignored her. Still, he felt sure plans for destructing his life roiled in her head the way they always had.
A note, he thought. He'd write one and leave it in her office. Strong words designed to head her off. He pulled out a pen and scribbled on his prescription pad.
Dear Zelda, Nice to hear you're doing so
well. Let's work to keep our relationship
strictly professional. Unless you need to
talk to me about a patient, ignore me.
Your former neighbor, Michael.
After rounds, Michael followed Dr. Probst to the stairs. He paused at the door of Zelda's office. "Just a minute. I need to drop something on her desk."
Dr. Probst arched a brow. "Something brewing between you two already?"
"We used to be neighbors."
"Aha, the girl next-door."
Michael nodded. He wasn't about to explain the tangled past he shared with Zelda. He stepped into the office and placed the note on her desk. That should stop any problems, he thought.
As he and Dr. Probst reached the stairs, the stairwell door opened. A tall, gorgeous redhead exited. "Dr. Probst, good morning."
Her throaty voice, not to mention her voluptuous body, captured Michael's attention.
"Morning," the older doctor said. "Grace Lubke, this is Michael West, the newest addition to our team."
"Pleased to meet you, Dr. West." Grace's smile held interest and promises.
"Same here." Michael would have stayed to explore the possibilities, but his partner headed down the stairs. Michael started to follow and turned. "Grace, I'll see you around."
"I'll make sure you do."
Michael caught up with the older man. "Grace seems nice."
"She's a looker. Smart, too. Clinical Psychologist for the Mental Health unit."
Now I know where to find her, Michael thought. He intended to look her up very soon.
Zelda wanted to pinch herself, but she knew she wasn't dreaming. The bustle of her co-workers, the crackle of the public address system and the ringing phone told her she was fully conscious. Michael had returned home to practice surgery. She would see him every day. Maybe things would be different this time. Maybe he'd open his eyes and see the possibilities. Maybe there’d be no more strange and unusual occurrances when they met. Maybe she could find a crack in his stone heart and he’d know she was just right for him.
Never has, an inner voice reminded her.
She nodded. Too true. But this time she'd find a lure he couldn't resist. She inhaled deeply and swore the citrus scent of him lingered amidst the sharper hospital aromas.
"Ms. Carter, the lab,” the unit secretary called.
Zelda took the phone and jotted the patient information she'd requested. "Thanks." She turned to the unit clerk. "Karen, if anyone needs me, I'll be in my office."
"I'll let them know, boss lady. Oh, you need to call Nan."
"Right." Zelda strode down the hall. She had to inform the staff recruiter about the soon-to-be opening on the unit.
Inside her office, she reached for the phone and punched her friend's extension. After asking Nan to start the search for a qualified registered nurse, she saw the paper on her desk. When she noted the heading, her heart fluttered. Visions of Michael filled her thoughts. What did he want? Ignoring Nan's question, she drifted into a dream. His green eyes glimmered with interest. He smiled and asked her for a date.
"Zelda, are you there," Nan shouted.
She nearly dropped the phone. "Just spaced for a moment."
"So tell me. What's he like?"
"The new surgeon. The whole house is buzzing with curiosity."
"I have first dibs," Zelda said. "Don't you remember him? Six years ahead of us in school. Think red-gold hair and broad shoulders. Think football, basketball and baseball. Think handsome as sin."
Nan laughed. "Michael West. Wasn't he your dream man?"
"Was and is."
"Thanks." Zelda hung up and read the note -- twice. Anger simmered. She leaned back in her chair. She should shred this. How could he be so cruel? She'd loved him for years. Sure he'd ignored her then, but that was before she'd grown up.
‘Ignore me.’ That's what he'd ordered her to do. She'd tried for years to forget him and failed.
She glanced at the signature. Your former neighbor.
Laughter welled, then gushed. She couldn't wait to see his face when he realized she lived in the same condo. Heavens, their balconies practically touched.
She folded the note and tucked it in her pocket. This proved he wasn't indifferent. The way he'd watched her this morning had triggered her hopes. His missive had solidified them.
Michael West, watch out. I'll find a way to capture more than your glances because I know something you're too blind to see. I'm your perfect mate.
Zelda stood at the sliding door leading to her balcony and waited for Michael to appear on his. She swallowed a sip of white wine. Plans for gaining his attention raced in her thoughts. She could knock on his door. Maybe she could stage a faint into his arms. Or she could kidnap him and keep him a prisoner until he declared his love. She couldn't choose one until she saw his reaction to her close proximity.
A noise brought her to full attention. Then she saw him. He held a beer in one hand and the phone in the other. His taste in beverages hadn't changed. She only hoped his taste in women had.
She waited until he sat on the redwood lounge. Then she stepped outside. She put the wine glass on the round wicker table and moved to the rail.
"Hi," she said.
Michael jumped to his feet. "What are you doing here? Visiting, I hope."
"I live here."
He shook his head. "You mean...Wait a minute. A Mr. Ekholm owns that unit."
"Then how can you say you live here?" He grasped the metal railing.
"I'm renting. Mr. Ekholm's a friend of Mom and Elmer. He's moved to Florida, but he's not ready to sell."
"I don't believe this."
His gaze centered on her midriff. Zelda sucked in a breath. He's interested, she thought. "Want to come over for dinner? To celebrate your arrival. I made Shrimp Scampi and I have beer in the fridge."
"You read my note."
"That was rude."
"Not rude. Just a warning." He grabbed the phone and headed to the door.
"But you love Shrimp Scampi."
"Not any more...The hospital. The patients. That’s all we’ll ever share. I mean that. My mind is set."
In concrete. "Michael West, you're impossible. You’ll be sorry.
Michael closed the sliding door. He was sorry all right. Sorry he hadn't investigated his neighbors before he closed on the condo. Sorry he hadn't discovered Zelda's presence in Grandvue before he accepted the partnership offer.
Is she so bad, an inner voice asked.
Really? You're attracted to her. She’s easy on the eyes.
He nodded. She was, but Zelda wasn't the type of woman he wanted at this stage of his life. Who
knew what kind of mayhem would erupt if he gave in to temptation and asked her out?
Or what kind of hurt would arise, especially for someone who’s put his entire life on hold for the next five years.
A frown wrinkled his brow. His life was moving forward as fast as he wanted. He glanced toward Zelda's balcony. She sat at the round table. The plate in front of her was piled high. His mouth watered. Why had he turned down her invitation? Maybe --
Forget it. That way lies madness.
He pulled a microwavable dinner from the freezer. Tomorrow he'd take time and track Grace down. The redhead would be the perfect charm to dispel his neighbor's siren spell.
The afternoon sun scooted behind a dark cloud. Friday and all's not well, Zelda thought. Five days since Michael's arrival at the hospital, and she'd made no inroads into his resistance. She'd heard rumors about his current female interest, but she chose to ignore them.
"Why doesn’t he ever look at me?” She heaved a deep sigh and glanced around. She hoped none of the sunbathers gathered around the condo pool had heard her complaint. She was decades from Social Security and just as distant from marriage to the man she'd loved since she was six years old.
With another sigh, she dropped the towel and the note she'd pulled from her apartment door onto one of the poolside lounges. Another note from Michael, and probably not one designed to make her heart flutter with delight. This was the second missive since he'd returned to Grandvue to join the busy surgical practice of Probst, Frankel and Miraglia.
This afternoon, she'd found the page torn from his prescription pad taped to her door with a strip of adhesive tape, the kind designed to remove skin. Of course the letter could have been stapled to her chest in a perfect example of a surgeon's revenge.
She slumped on the lounge and slipped off her sandals. Then with hope destined for destruction, she opened the note.
Dear Zelda, if you know what's good for
you, you'd better butt out of my life.
She was ninety-nine percent sure that was what he'd written. Six years of reading doctors' handwriting had developed her ability to translate the indecipherable -- most of the time.
This is a warning! Do not interfere this
time. My scalpel is honed. If you don't
remain uninvolved, I'll collect a bit of
flesh. I'm seeing Grace. She's the woman
of my dreams. Your reluctant colleague,
Zelda groaned. Grace, the woman of his dreams and the creature of her nightmares.
She slathered sunscreen on her legs. Across the pool, a man rubbed lotion on a woman's back. For a moment, Zelda imagined Michael performing the same service for her. The image was so vivid, she could almost feel his strong surgeon's hands stroking her skin and his supple fingers massaging each vertebra.
The fantasy sent her pulse racing. Reality slowed the beat. She had as much chance of sharing that kind of moment with Michael as she did of catching bubonic plague. After all her name began with Z and he had just reached G. Since high school he'd pursued this alphabetic quest. She wrinkled her nose. Did he realize he chose his female companions for their position in the alphabet? Sure there were other reasons, but she refused to believe them. “Why didn’t my mother name me Ann, Bette or Claire? Then I’d have a chance to be married before I’m too old to enjoy.”
She wrapped her arms around her knees. She'd met his two college steadies, Claire and Donna. His med school and residency duo, Eileen and Fran, were mysteries. His mother had moaned that they were unlikely candidates to provide her with grandchildren before she reached senility.
Zelda knew Grace. Not in the imagination of the world's greatest dreamer will I ever become the woman of his dreams.
Michael's wants were few. A woman needed to be blonde, beautiful and bewitching. Or have red hair, be ravishing and regal. Or have ebony hair, exotic features and be enchanting.
She fit none of the above. Her ability to be a three B, three R or three E woman was nil. For the twenty years since she and her mother had moved into the house next-door, Michael had considered her a pest. Was it her fault odd things happened every time their paths intersected? Was she to blame if the women he dated became upset over the slightest trifle? Like the way Ann, his date for the senior prom, had gone ballistic. Zelda hadn't meant to fall from her perch in the oak tree, and she certainly hadn't meant to break Michael's arm.
She smoothed the blue one piece suit over her hips and strode toward the rectangular pool. The sun moved from behind a cloud making the clear water shimmer with iridescent red and orange hues.
Just as she prepared to dive in, her well-honed Michael detector caused her to pivot. She gulped a breath and devoured him with her eyes.
Sunlight burnished his hair to the copper-color of a newly minted penny. Gray slacks showed off his narrow waist and drew her attention to his muscular thighs. Over the years she'd watched those quadriceps develop from a boy's to a man's.
He held his jacket over one shoulder. His tie hung loose under the collar where he’d undone the top button of his shirt. Zelda sucked in a breath. Beneath the pale green fabric of his shirt, she envisioned his well-developed pectorals and his sun-bronzed skin.
As she thought about stroking his biceps and running her hands along his intercostals, her palms burned. Her heart thudded kettle-drum loud. A moan filled with anticipation escaped.
"Michael." His name flowed from her lips.
His voice held none of the husky overtones she yearned to hear. Instead, he sounded like a harried physician dismissing the hypochondriac of the year.
"I got your note."
"Good." He edged past her. "See that you follow the doctor's orders. You've caused enough problems in my life, and I don't have time for damage control. Remember what happened with Claire?"
"Michael wait. I didn't know she was allergic to strawberries."
"And that's why you sent her a ten pound box of chocolate-covered ones in my name. Try again."
"That was years ago. I've changed."
"Sure you have...not."
Did he have to sound so skeptical? "What else are you blaming me for?"
"I didn't realize she was afraid of heights. Your mother took me to visit your college to see if I wanted to go there. Can I help it if your dorm was on the tenth floor? It’s not like I asked her to lean out the window with me. Donna was a twit."