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Combat doctor Ian Shupe returns home from overseas with his most important mission: to raise his little girl. But Ian's a single dad, and working at Eagle Point's trauma center means having to find child care. When bighearted, struggling lodge owner Bri Landis offers babysitting in exchange for construction work, Ian accepts. He vows to keep his emotional distance from Bri, yet can't deny that his daughter is blossoming under her tender care. But is he ready to believe that his heart's deepest prayer may finally be answered?
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Born Valentines Day on a Navy base, Cheryl Wyatt writes military romance. Her books earned RT Top Picks, a Reveiwers Choice Award, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence final, plus #1 and #4 on Harlequin's Top 10 Most-Blogged-About-Books, lists including NYT Bestsellers. She loves connecting with readers. Find her at www.CherylWyatt.com, or https://www.facebook.com/CherylWyattAuthor.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Bri Landis's pulse lurched like the ladder beneath her feet.
With her waist at roof level, she clawed at the eaves of her run-down lake lodge, understanding her brother Caleb's caution to never climb alone. Heart thumping, Bri clutched the gutter. Ominous buckling. No!
It ripped free in a spray of rust and screeching metal. Screams tore through her as she plummeted...into a bush.
Bri could only gulp. Blink. Moan. She should have listened to her brother, she thought. Caleb was overseas on army medic duty instead of here at home in Eagle Point, Illinois, witnessing Bri make friends with her favorite shrub.
Now the shrub was squished and she was sprawled in it, lamenting her long hair. She disentangled her blond hair, then struggled to get upright amid a sharp sea of scarlet. Sweat beaded her forehead despite late-December's chill.
Her untimely ladder escapade put a painfully ironic twist on this being the last day of "fall."
Bri emerged, corky twigs crackling and biting like spindly wooden teeth. Jagged underbrush snagged her brother's favorite hoodie. Bri pulled it from the branches holding it hostage. Gasp.
Pain seared her left arm. She slid the cuff and looked at it. Unnatural angle. Disbelief slid through her like the ladder off the roof. No question: arm broken.
And with it all hope of meeting the bank's deadlines.
Dismay ran through her. Saving Landis Lodge— Eagle Point's only retreat center and her family heritage—from foreclosure, meant renovating and renting seven cabins by mid-February. Roughly one cabin a week. She'd sold the daycare she owned in Chicago and moved home to make it happen.
Now days from Christmas, she risked losing the last thing her late mother loved—the lodge Bri had inherited and promised to save. No way could she afford contractors.
Her teeth chattered. "Where's my stupid phone?" She needed help ASAP.
Forget going back into the bush to find her phone. A new trauma center sat right next door. Bri held her arm high and stationary and bolted from her yard, not caring if she resembled a maniac.
Eagle Point Trauma Center came into view over a leafy hill.
She'd never been so glad to see a modern facility nestled against rustic Eagle Point Lake, stately risen bluffs, scenic trails and seriously fun caves. The serene landscape of Bri's childhood home calmed her against the mind-bending pain gnawing her arm.
Halfway to EPTC, dizziness hit Bri. She fell to her knees and clung to a parking barricade.
"She's hurt!" someone yelled across the lot. Bri couldn't be sure who it was. Nausea sent her face between her knees. Rapid footsteps pounding nearby pavement competed with the pulse swooshing her ears. Strong hands gently braced her shoulders. "Hey, you okay?"
Her bad day just got worse.
Bri blinked up into the stunning aqua eyes of the absolute last person she wanted seeing her in this state. Dr. Ian Shupe.
Yet, for the first time since meeting him weeks ago, concern and compassion emanated from the tall, dark and imposing anesthesiologist's normally sullen eyes.
"What happened, Bri?"
"Ladder slid. I f-fell," she puffed past savage pain. Ian's assessing eyes quickly roved over her. "How far?"
Tremors overtook her. "Maybe nine feet."
Did his face just pale? For sure, his jaw tightened. Probably thought she was an idiot. Ian's warm fingers felt soft yet strong and capable as they examined her elbow.
Kate, the center's surgical nurse, skidded in, dropped to her knees, took one look at Bri's injured arm and gave Ian a pointed look.
He nodded once. "Already saw it. Get a gurney and splints."
"Will do." Kate flashed Bri a strength-infusing smile, then dashed back toward the trauma center.
"C-collar, too," Ian called to Kate, then faced Bri again. Broad shoulders and impressive arms obviously well acquainted with a gym flexed and bunched as he maneuvered closer, training his eyes on her. His firm strength and sure demeanor erased her fears and convinced her that despite his terse reputation she was in good hands. "Where do you hurt most?"
"My left forearm. But I think I can walk the rest of—"
"No. In fact, don't move." Ian shirked off his suit coat, its raven color identical to his black military-style hair. Coat spread on asphalt, he settled Bri on it. His palms became her pillow. His gesture soothed. "Did you land on concrete?"
She started to shake her head but stopped when Ian's thumbs pressed against her temples, keeping her neck still.
"No. I landed in the waiting arms of a winged eu-onymus."
"A what?" Confusion amped up his cuteness.
"Big red hedge. More widely known as a burning bush."
A congenial nod seemed out of character for his usual surly self. His fingers kneaded and prodded her bones and muscles. Fierce concentration knit his brows. Had he any idea how handsome he was in doctor mode? Her arm might be broken, but nothing was wrong with her eyes. Bri chided herself for noticing the good doctor's bad-boy looks.
Not only had military deployments and divorce left him notoriously difficult and brooding, Bri's heart still felt raw after the end of a bad relationship with a verbally abusive boyfriend.
Her move from the Chicago suburbs to downstate Illinois had finally given her the long-needed courage to break up with Eric two months ago. If only he'd stop calling and harassing her. Dr. Shupe's abrasive manner reminded her too much of Eric. Except, Ian wasn't being curt and caustic now, but gentle and thorough.
Bri huffed at the physical exam. "Nothing's numb. Or tingly. Or blurry. I didn't hit my head or black out, either."
Ian's mouth twitched. Wrestling back a smile? She'd love to see it. She didn't think him capable of glee before now.
Bri sighed. "Sorry. Caleb's injury training wears off on me. I'm his study buddy and procedural guinea pig. He splints, tags, bandages, braces and bores the living daylights out of me for his military medic certifications and field practice exams."
The humor whispering along Ian's lips in a near smile spread to his eyes now, deepening them to a breathtaking blue. They turned serious and probing. "What were you doing on the ladder?"
"Renovating the lodge. Replacing eaves." Or attempting to.
Here came the lecture. She got enough of those from Caleb over her fierce determination to save Landis Lodge.
If she lost the lodge, she might also lose the memories, especially of childhood with Mom. Grief knotted her throat.
"Who else do I have?" She bit her lip as Ian's eyebrows rose. But she had valid reasons to grouch. Her ex was a dud, her dad a deadbeat, her mom was deceased, her brother was deployed and a bank breathed ultimatums down her back. Now a broken arm ordeal that she didn't have time for. But it could have been much worse. Lord, thank you for cushioning my fall.
"Who's on call?" Bri instantly regretted her words. "You're obviously off duty and not who'd take care of me, since you're an anesthest—however you say it. I won't need one of those, right?"
Ian's vague expression did not make her feel good.
Lord, please don't let me need surgery. Ian's inexplicable rudeness since she'd moved back here proved she wouldn't be his first choice in a patient.
Her new friends, Lauren and Kate, had told her that Ian only acted abrasive because he was attracted to Bri in the wake of his unwanted divorce. Gibberish.
On the other hand, the girls had to be in the know, since they were nurses on Ian's trauma team. Plus Lauren's fiance, Mitch, was Ian's best friend and lead trauma surgeon on the team. Ian suddenly flashed a penlight at her eyes, dotted with... "Fairy stickers?"
He smiled wryly. "My little daughter put them there." The five-year-old he'd been embroiled in custody battles over. Ian would probably freak if he knew how Bri knew about that. She focused on the fairies to distract from excruciating arm pain.
Kate arrived with a gurney and supplies. After applying the neck brace, she brandished a pair of bandage scissors.
"Don't cut my hoodie! It's Caleb's keepsake. Please, I have a tank top underneath." The world went sideways as they rolled Bri onto a backboard before righting her. Kate texted someone.
"I'll try. No guarantees." Ian eased the hoodie off and splinted her arm as if he'd done it a hundred thousand times. Probably had, overseas during combat surgeries.
"Didn't realize you could do all that being an anest—that."
Ian's mouth thinned into another smirk.
Kate leaned toward his ear. "Since your final custody hearing's in an hour, I paged the nurse-anesthetist on call."
Ian glanced at his watch. Scratched his jaw. Addressed Kate in low tones. Bri heard mention of her brother's name. Caleb had commissioned Ian to watch over her when he deployed last week. Why Ian? Especially in light of Ian's hostility toward her.
Then Caleb had suddenly dubbed Ian her bodyguard? What was up with that? She didn't need to be protected. Or babysat.
Ian plucked sage twigs, fiery leaves and feathers from her hair. "Nest?"
"Almost." Kate winked and strode in her usual militant but graceful fashion. How Kate could be runway-model pretty and a black belt was beyond Bri, but Kate was someone Bri was glad to know. Except she aimed a needle at her now.
Bri squished her eyes until the worst was over. Eyes open, she realized she'd not only grabbed Ian's arm but left crescent marks. Bri recoiled, fearing an acrid verbal assault like ones Eric was prone to.
But Ian didn't seem fazed. Calmly and gently, he wiped his arm with sterile gauze.
Perhaps Bri's friends had been right: the c...
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Book Description Love Inspired, 2012. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110373877900
Book Description Love Inspired, 2012. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Brand New!. Seller Inventory # VIB0373877900
Book Description Love Inspired. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Condition: New. 0373877900 Ships promptly. Seller Inventory # Z0373877900ZN