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
's premier group
of surgeons. He threw back the covers and strode to the bathroom. Grandvue
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.