Shirley Jump Return of the Last McKenna

ISBN 13: 9780373178339

Return of the Last McKenna

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9780373178339: Return of the Last McKenna
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Dr. Brody McKenna has just returned home from serving as a medic in Afghanistan, and he has one more mission to fulfill....

Standing outside Kate Spencer's sweetshop, he takes a deep breath. Going through that door will take courage, for he's here to keep a promise made to his dying friend. He's prepared for tears or anger—not the deep attraction he feels for sparky-but-stressed Kate. One spontaneous offer of help later, this hero is surrounded by cupcakes, candy canes—and the greatest enticement to forget his past and take a new kind of risk....

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About the Author:

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shirley Jump spends her days writing romance to feed her shoe addiction and avoid cleaning the toilets. She cleverly finds writing time by feeding her kids junk food, allowing them to dress in the clothes they find on the floor and encouraging the dogs to double as vacuum cleaners. Chat with her via Facebook: www.facebook.com/shirleyjump.author or her website: www.shirleyjump.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Brody McKenna checked his third sore throat of the morning, prescribed the same prescription as he had twice before—rest, fluids, acetaminophen—and tried to count his blessings. He had a dependable job as a family physician, a growing practice, and a close knit family living nearby. He'd returned from his time overseas none the worse for wear, and should have been excited to get back to his job. He wasn't.

The six-year-old patient headed out the door, with a sugar-free lollipop and a less harried mother. As they left, Helen Maguire, the nurse who had been with him since day one, and with Doc Watkins for fifteen years before that, poked her head in the door. "That's the last patient of the morning," she said. A matronly figure in pink scrubs decorated with zoo animals, Mrs. Maguire had short gray hair and a smile for every patient, young or old. "We have an hour until it's time to start immunizations. And then later in the afternoon, we'll be doing sports physicals."

Brody's mind drifted away from his next appointment and the flurry of activity in his busy Newton office. His gaze swept the room, the jars of supplies, so easy to order and stock here in America, always on hand and ready for any emergency. Every bandage, every tongue depressor, every stethoscope, reminded him. Launched him back to a hot country and a dusty dirt floor hut short on supplies and even shorter on miracles.

"Doc? Did you hear me?" Mrs. Maguire asked.

"Oh, oh. Yes. Sorry." Brody washed his hands, then dried them and handed the chart to Helen. Focus on work, he told himself, not on a moment in the past that couldn't be changed. Or on a country on the other side of the world, to those people he couldn't save.

Especially not on that.

"Lots of colds going around," he said.

"It's that time of year."

"I think it's always that time of year."

Helen shrugged. "I think that's what I like about family practice. You can set your watch by the colds and flus and shots. It has a certain rhythm to it, don't you think?"

"I do." For a long time, Brody had thought he had the perfect life. A family practice for a family man.

Or at least, that had been the plan. Then the family had dissolved before it had a chance to form. By that time, Brody had already stepped into Doc Watkins's shoes. Walking away from a thriving practice would be insane, so he'd stayed. For a long time, he'd been happy. He liked the patients. Liked working with kids, liked seeing the families grow and change.

It was good work, and he took satisfaction in that, and had augmented it with volunteer time with different places over the years—a clinic in Alabama, a homeless shelter in Maine. When the opportunity to volunteer assisting the remaining military overseas arose, Brody had jumped at it.

For a month, he'd changed lives in Afghanistan, working side by side with other docs in a roving medical unit that visited villagers too poor to get to a doctor or hospital, with the American military along for protection.

Brody had thought he'd make a difference there, too. He had—just not in the way he wanted. And now he couldn't find peace, no matter where he turned.

"You okay, doc?" Mrs. Maguire asked.

"Fine." His gaze landed on the jars of supplies again. "Just distracted. I think I'll head out for lunch instead of eating at my desk."

And being around all these reminders.

"No problem. It'll do you good to take some time to enjoy the day." Mrs. Maguire smiled. "I find a little fresh air can make everything seem brighter."

Brody doubted the air would work any miracles for him, but maybe some space and distance would. Unfortunately, he had little of either. "I'll be back by one."

He stepped outside his office and into a warm, almost summer day. The temperatures still lingered in the high seventies, even though the calendar date read deep into September. Brody headed down the street, waving to the neighbors who flanked his Newton practice—Mr. Simon with his shoe repair shop, Mrs. Tipp with her art gallery and Milo, who had opened three different types of shops in the same location, like an entrepreneur with ADD.

Brody took the same path as he took most days when he walked during his lunch hour. He rarely ate, just walked from his office to the same destination and back. He'd done it so many times in the last few weeks, he half expected to see a worn river of footsteps down the center of the sidewalk.

Brody reached in his pocket as he rounded the corner. The paper was crinkled and worn, the edges beginning to fray, but the inked message had stayed clear.

Hey, Superman, take care of yourself and come home safe. People over here love and miss you. Especially me. Things just aren't the same without your goofy face around. Love you, Kate.

Brody had held onto that card for a month now. He ran his hands over the letters now, and debated the same thing he'd had in his head for weeks. To fulfill Andrew's last wishes, or let it go?

He paused. His feet had taken him to the same destination as always. He stood under the bright red and white awning of Nora's Sweet Shop and debated again, the card firm in his grip.

Promise me, Doc. Promise me you'll go see her. Make sure she's okay. Make sure she's happy. But please, don't tell her what happened. She'll blame herself and Kate has suffered enough already.

The promise had been easy to make a month ago. Harder to keep.

Brody fingered the card again. Promise me.

How many times had he made this journey and turned back instead of taking, literally, the next step?

If he returned to the thermometers and stethoscopes and bandages, though, would he ever find peace?

He knew that answer. No. He needed to do this. Step forward instead of back.

Brody took a deep breath, then opened the door and stepped inside the shop. The sweet scents of chocolate and vanilla drifted over him, while soft jazz music filled his ears. A glass case of cupcakes and chocolates sat at one end of the store while a bright rainbow of gift baskets lined the sides. A cake made out of cupcakes and decorated in bridal colors sat on a glass stand in a bay window. Along the top of the walls ran a border of dark pink writing trimmed with chocolate brown and a hand lettered script reading Nora's Sweet Shop. On the wall behind the counter, hung a framed spatula with the name of the shop carved in the handle.

"Just a minute!" a woman called from the back.

"No problem," Brody said, stuffing the card back into his pocket. "I'm just.."

Just what? Not browsing. Not looking for candy or cupcakes. And he sure as hell couldn't say the truth—

He'd come to this little shop in downtown Newton for forgiveness.

So instead he grabbed the first assembled basket of treats he saw and marched over to the counter. He was just pulling out his wallet when a slim brunette woman emerged from the back room.

"Hi, I'm Kate." She dried her hands on the front of her apron before proffering one for him to shake. "How can I help you?"

Kate Spencer. The owner of the shop, and the woman he'd thought of a hundred times in the past weeks. A woman he'd never met but heard enough about to write at least a couple chapters of her biography.

He took her hand, a steady, firm grip—and tried not to stare. All these weeks he'd held onto that card, he'd expected someone, well, someone like a young version of Mrs. Maguire. A motherly type with her hair in a bun, and an apron around her waist, and a hug ready for anyone she met. That was how Andrew had made his older sister sound. Loving, warm, dependable. Like a down comforter.

Not the thin, fit, dynamo who had hurried out of the back room, with a friendly smile on her face and her coffee colored hair in a sassy ponytail skewed a bit too far to the right. She had deep green eyes, full crimson lips and delicate, pretty features. Yet he saw shadows dusting the undersides of her eyes and a tension in her shoulders.

Brody opened his mouth to introduce himself, to fulfill his purpose for being here, but the words wouldn't get past his throat. "L..I...uh," he glanced down at the counter, at the cellophane package in his hands, "I wanted to get this."

"No problem. Is it for a special person?"

Brody's mind raced for an answer. "My, uh, grandmother. She loves chocolate."

"Your grandma?" Kate laughed, then spun the basket to face him. "You want me to, ah, change out this bow? To something a little more feminine? Unless your grandma is a big fan?"

He glanced down and noticed he'd chosen a basket with a red Sox ribbon. The dark blue basket with red trim, filled with white foil wrapped chocolates shaped like baseballs and bats, couldn't be further from the type of thing his staid grandmother liked. He chuckled. "No, that'd be me. I've even got season tickets. When she does watch baseball, my grandma is strictly a Yankees fan, though you can't say that too loud in Boston."

Kate laughed, a light lyrical, happy sound. Again, Brody realized how far off his imaginings of her had been. "Well, Mr. Red Sox, let me make this more grandma friendly. Okay? And meanwhile, if you want to put a card with this, there are some on the counter over there."

"Thanks." He wandered over to the counter she'd indicated, and tugged out a card, then scribbled his name across it. That kept him from watching her and gave his brain a few minutes to adjust to the reality of Kate Spencer.

She was, in a word, beautiful. The kind of woman, on any other day, he might have asked out on a date. Friendly, sweet natured, with a ready smile and a teasing lilt to her words. Her smile had roused something in him the minute he saw her, and that surprised him. He hadn't expected to be attracted to her, not one bit.

He tr...

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