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Authors: Arlene James

His Private Nurse

BOOK: His Private Nurse
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“Well, that was odd. He kept talking to me like I'm your personal nurse or something.”

Royce ducked his head sheepishly. “I, um, might have accidentally led him to believe that.”

“What? Why would you do that?”

“Because I'm not supposed to leave here unless I have someone who can take care of me.”

Merrily blinked at him. “Me? You want
me
to move in with you?” she asked disbelievingly.

“I know it's selfish,” he said, taking her hand. She jumped, lightning flashing up her arm. “But I'm desperate. I'll make it worth your while.”

She gaped at his handsome face. This gorgeous man wanted her to move in with him, at least temporarily. He didn't have to just disappear out of her life, after all….

 

Dear Reader,

There's more than one way to enjoy the summer. By picking up this month's Silhouette Special Edition romances, you will find an emotional escape that is sure to touch your heart and leave you believing in happily-ever-after!

I am pleased to introduce a gripping tale of true love and family from celebrated author Stella Bagwell. In
White Dove's Promise,
which launches a six-book spin-off—plus a Christmas story collection—of the popular COLTONS series, a dashing Native American hero has trouble staying in one place, until he finds himself entangled in a soul-searing embrace with a beautiful single mother, who teaches him about roots…and lifelong passion.

No “keeper” shelf is complete without a gem from Joan Elliott Pickart. In
The Royal MacAllister
, a woman seeks her true identity and falls madly in love with a
true
royal! In
The Best Man's Plan,
bestselling and award-winning author Gina Wilkins delights us with a darling love story between a lovely shop owner and a wealthy businessman, who set up a fake romance to trick the tabloids…and wind up falling in love for real!

Lisa Jackson's
The McCaffertys: Slade
features a lady lawyer who comes home and faces a heartbreaker hero, who desperately wants a chance to prove his love to her. In
Mad Enough To Marry,
Christie Ridgway entertains us with an adorable tale of that
maddening
love that happens only when two kindred spirits must share the same space. Be sure to pick up Arlene James's
His Private Nurse
, where a single father falls for the feisty nurse hired to watch over him after a suspicious accident. You won't want to miss it!

Each month, Silhouette Special Edition delivers compelling stories of life, love and family. I wish you a relaxing summer and happy reading.

Sincerely,

Karen Taylor Richman
Senior Editor

His Private Nurse
ARLENE JAMES

Books by Arlene James

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ARLENE JAMES

grew up in Oklahoma and has lived all over the South. In 1976 she married “the most romantic man in the world.” The author enjoys traveling with her husband, but writing has always been her chief pastime.

 

Prologue

R
oyce leaned forward and placed his hands on the railing, staring into the silent darkness. On a warm summer night like this, nocturnal creatures usually kept up a steady chorus, crickets, coyotes and the occasional small owl on the prowl for an unwary field mouse or ground squirrel. Tonight, however, an unnatural silence reigned, and Royce knew why. Someone waited out there.

He gripped the squared edges of the wood railing. Rough and solid beneath his palms, it conveyed a sense of permanence, of ownership. Beyond the deck where he stood and the black, irregular skyline of scrubby forest that flowed down the hill upon which he had built his secluded home, San Antonio spread out in a rumpled quilt of white and amber lights, stitched together by the sinuously askew seams of major streets and highways. He often stood on the large, terraced deck, gazing out over the city he both loved and nightly escaped, a city he had
helped to build, often with his own two hands. This night, however, he studied the ground below, the murky black shadows of lush forest cedar interspersed with spindly sprays of mesquite and squat, wicked cactus.

She was there. Somewhere. He could not see her, but she was there. He sensed her, still attuned even after these many, many months to his ex-wife's volatile presence. Every time the kids slept over, she made some sort of scene, created some sort of crisis. He couldn't believe that tonight would be the exception.

Quietly, so as not to disturb his daughter, whose room in the large, rambling house overlooked the deck, he turned and moved to the top of the steep, open stairs that would carry him down to the narrow drive that ran behind the house. The warm summer breeze made his T-shirt stick to his back and molded the thin pajama bottoms to his body. He did not want another confrontation, but this madness had to stop.

He was certain that she was there, stalking, watching, planning her next scene, her next outrageous demand, utterly determined to ruin his life, to punish him for failing to make her happy, for failing to make all her mad dreams come true. She was there, wanting, needing, his destruction. Most of all, she wanted to turn his children against him, to ensure that he did not see them if she could, to remove his influence from their sad, unstable lives and, if she could not manage that, then to ruin every visit, every cherished moment that he spent with them, because, more than she wanted money, control, someone to worship at her feet and make all her fears go away, she wanted to remove every vestige of the love she could not claim from his life.

Until he felt the hands at the small of his back, he did not realize that, even more than she wanted to punish him, she wanted him dead.

Chapter One

P
ain swirled through his body, dull here, deep there, throbbing, pulsing, ambiguous. He floated on it, drifting blindly from one ache to another, trying to form thoughts, losing them. Then suddenly, hot pincers clamped his inner thigh and began slowly tearing the muscle from the bone. He heard a hoarse, agonized cry. A fellow sufferer or him? Him, he decided, dimly aware of trying to reach the source of his agony. His right arm felt as if it were nailed down, and when he tried to move it, a new pain flooded him.

Someone whom he couldn't see said, “I've got it. I've got it.” It was an angel's voice, melodic and female.

Small, cool hands kneaded away the anguish. The white-hot pinching faded. Ahhhhh. The relief felt magical. He was floating again, his whole being focused on the sensations aroused by those hands slowly working their way up his thigh, electrifying his flesh. A new sensation
rose—literally. A roiling sea of contrasts tossed him from one extreme to another: shadows and light, heat and cold, pain and indulgence. The relief of unconsciousness and the greed of arousal beckoned with equal appeal.

Lyrical, that voice whispered in his ear again. “There. How's that? Better? Cramp gone now?”

He tried to answer, but his tongue felt thick and unwieldly in his dry mouth. “Ungh.”

The wondrous hands vanished. He tried to bring them back, becoming aware of incapacitating weakness and muscles tight with soreness, of a dizzy head and confusion. Where was he? The unusual heaviness on his right side and in his groin weighed him down. Then he felt something brush against his lips. Ah, his erotic angel had not abandoned him. The heaviness in his groin grew more pronounced. He puckered his mouth around a small round something.

“Sip. Just a sip.”

Like honey, that voice. Cool, sweet water flowed into his mouth, and he gulped it greedily. Panting with relief, he squinted his eyes, trying to focus.

“Are you in pain? Use this.”

Something hard was pressed into his hand. He lifted his head, tried to look at the thing in his palm and got distracted by a new realization. A bed. He was in bed. But with whom? He tried to put a name, a face, a body to that voice.

“Like this.”

Slender fingers wrapped around and manipulated his own. The haze parted, and he looked up into a pretty, delicate face, one he had surely never seen before. Dark hair, a long, thick plait of it coiled beneath her ear. Soft, green eyes. The nose was almost too small, the chin almost too pointed, but the mouth… Oh, the mouth. A per
fect, pink, beestung bow. A mouth waiting to be kissed. By him.

Heat pulsed in his groin, and instinctively he lifted his arm, the left one, since the right had turned to stone. The hard thing fell away, but he paid it no mind as he clasped his hand behind her head, his erotic angel with the dulcet voice and gentle touch. Straining upward and pulling down, he brought his mouth to hers. Her lips were soft and supple. They parted against his, and he used all his strength to press harder, to taste her. Sweet. So very sweet. He held on to that as long as he could, his only reality in a nightmare of torture and chaos.

Hums and squeaks swirled around him, fire and pain, need and delight. Where had he met her? What was her name, and why couldn't he remember? Despite his best efforts, gloom eddied in the center of his mind, denying him answers and growing in rings of numbing shadow, darker, darker, until the world went black with a noisy clang.

 

An electronically generated bell
donged
in measured cadence. Merrily glanced away from the notation desk where she sat catching up on paperwork to check the alarm board. Room 18. At the thought of the patient there, color instantly bloomed in her cheeks. Royce Lawler was badly injured, movie-star handsome and dangerously seductive even when drugged out of his mind. Apparently, he had finally obtained full consciousness, poor guy.

Normally, with a patient in this much pain, Merrily would have jumped up and rushed to his aid, but this time, despite her sympathy for the man's injuries, she hesitated long enough to look around for someone else to answer this particular call. In just the time it took to turn her head, however, she knew the search was pointless. Short-staffed
as they were, every nurse was busy to the point of insanity. She was on her feet and moving before she could even tell herself that he wouldn't remember a thing that had gone on earlier.

In her short career as an after-trauma nurse, Merrily had been groped, pinched, patted, hugged, leered at and propositioned, but she'd never been kissed like that. By anyone. Her heartbeat sped at the memory of it, the strength, the possession, the expertise. Had he sensed her awareness of him as a man rather than merely a patient? Somehow her usual cool detachment had deserted her when she'd bared his body and massaged the cramp from the thigh of his injured leg.

Cramps were a real problem with immobilized patients. The docs prescribed potassium and calcium to try to prevent them, as even an unconscious patient would try to move to alleviate the vicious pain. Lawler, however, had experienced more cramps than the average patient. He'd kept the ICU nurses hopping after his surgery until the attending physician had figured out the correct supplement levels for him. This morning's cramp had undoubtedly been a result of the move from ICU to the floor.

Given the trauma and the drugs, Merrily told herself as she pushed through the door into his room, he could not possibly remember kissing her—or how she'd knocked over the trash can next to his bed afterward. Nevertheless, her pulse quickened and spots of color burned high on her cheeks even as she put on her most professional demeanor and prepared to assess and assist her patient. She turned toward the bed in the small, quiet, private room, then rushed forward, praying he hadn't torn loose the stitches, dislodged the broken ends of bones or worse.

 

Royce gritted his teeth and mentally cursed himself. His arm shook with the effort required to brace his twisted
body on his left palm, head dangling toward the floor. He was trapped by the traction device that kept his screaming right leg immobile several uncomfortable inches above the bed. The cast on his right arm and shoulder, though unwieldy, was at least maneuverable to an extent, though at the moment it weighed down on him like an anvil. Somehow the IV line tethering his left arm to the bags hanging over his head and the contraption clipped to the end of his left index finger remained intact, though his right hip felt as if it was being pulled from its socket. The nurse's call button dangled from its cord next to the bed. He'd banged his head against it on his way down but had no way of knowing whether or not he'd managed to trigger the thing.

He'd really gotten himself into a fine mess this time, and he wasn't thinking just about the fall he'd taken trying to reach the telephone, which some fool had placed out of his reach on the bedside table. Oh no, it was much more than that. Black memory spun through his head.

Shoving hands pitched him forward, and he fell, arms milling in cold fear. At the first impact on the sharp edges of the wooden stairs, a white hot snap in his right forearm blinded him and his right foot slipped between the open steps. Twisting, he fell forward in slow motion. Stars winked and whirled overhead. His leg wrenched, bones snapping. His shoulder and head impacted the steps in twin explosions of pain. Above him, the deck stairs loomed steep and dark, a pale figure hovering at the top. Deep, deep regret rushed through him in the instant before he died.

He'd really thought that he had fallen to his death. The same feelings he'd experienced then, pain, fear, regret, and now worry and sheer embarrassment moderated his
relief at discovering that he'd been wrong. At the moment, worry surpassed all the others.

“Mr. Lawler!”

Rescue had arrived, but embarrassment beat out relief, at least temporarily, and as feet rushed toward him, rubber soles squeaking on clean floors, he closed his eyes. Arms locked around his dangling torso, small, short arms. He knew a moment of grave doubt as he felt a body crouch next to him. A woman, small and slight. He half recognized the smell, sensed the size and shape of her. Then her legs pushed upward and he found himself being lifted. He wrapped his arm about her back and tried to give her as much help as he could, contracting already strained and bruised muscles.

“What happened?” she grunted.

His stupidity and impatience had happened, but he was puffing too hard to gasp anything more than, “Telephone,” as he flopped back on the pillow. She tsked, and lifted the bed rail back into place, but the expected lecture did not materialize as she went about settling him and making sure he hadn't done additional damage.

His rescuer didn't know how much additional damage could be done, however, and how much his fault it was. Why hadn't he seen how close his ex-wife, Pamela, was to the breaking point? Why hadn't he known this could happen? Idiot. He had to do something before anyone else got hurt. The list of those with whom he needed to immediately speak was long: his kids, especially Tammy, his parents, Dale, his secretary, his foreman, doctors. Mentally, he moved Dale Boyd, his best buddy and personal attorney, to the top of the list. He had to get that phone. Head swimming, he opened his eyes and looked up into a surprisingly familiar face.

So it hadn't been a dream. His angel was real. As her
hands moved over him with practiced, efficient purpose, he observed that his angel wore flowered scrubs and an oversize lab coat. He saw, too, that she was young, too young, little more than a teenager, it seemed, albeit a very pretty teenager, too young to have been kissed by the likes of him. Surely that part of it had been a dream; yet the impulse to capture that lush little mouth rose in him even now, and he found that annoying. This was not the time for complications like sexual attraction.

“How are you feeling?”

“Like I fell down a flight of stairs,” he retorted, shifting in an effort to ease the insistent throb in his shoulder. His voice sounded rusty and hoarse even to him.

“You have a morphine pump attached to your IV,” she said, checking tubes, bags and monitors.

“No morphine,” he stated flatly. He knew what the small cylinder lying in his lap was. The line snaking up to the blue box of the IV regulator promised instant relief, but he couldn't afford the clouded mind and lassitude it would bring.

“You can't overdose,” she informed him briskly, pouring water into a blue plastic tumbler with a straw standing in it. “The machine won't let you.” She lifted the straw to his mouth, and he gratefully sucked the small vessel dry.

“No morphine,” he repeated with a satisfied sigh. “Not yet. I need to make a telephone call.”

She ignored that. “Do you know where you are?”

He tamped down his impatience. “In a hospital. Not sure which one.”

“Big General,” she informed him, using the universal term for San Antonio's hub hospital, the largest and most sophisticated in the city. “Room 18. I'm Nurse Gage.”

A nurse. “You don't look old enough to be a nurse.”

She ignored that, too. “Do you remember how you got here?”

He rolled his head side to side in the negative. “I remember being…falling down the stairs at the back of my house.”

“You were brought in by ambulance,” she told him, reaching for the stethoscope draped about her neck. He noticed that her hands, though tiny, were long-fingered with short, oval nails. She listened to his chest, took his pulse, then asked matter-of-factly, “Do you need to empty your bladder? You dislodged the catheter in recovery, and it was decided to remove it.”

Recovery? He pushed that aside, along with the sudden need to do as she suggested. Everything else could wait. “I
need
to make a call.
Now.

“Your parents left their telephone number at the desk. If you want, I'll give them a ring a soon as we're finished here.”

He closed his eyes, frustration mounting. He didn't want to feel the resentment that surged through him, but he couldn't help thinking that most parents would be standing anxiously at the bedside of an injured son. Only his supremely self-absorbed parents would have more important things to do. Shoving that old anger away, he marshaled his reason and reached down deep for his usual easygoing demeanor.

“Listen, I don't mean to be difficult, but this is important. If you could just hand me the receiver and dial a number for me, I'd be eternally grateful.” He opened his eyes, well aware of the impact those big, baby blues could have. He saw it in her face then, the full memory of that kiss. So it hadn't been a dream, then. Damn. Suddenly the urge to empty his bladder became secondary to another.

She stepped back, bumped into the table and IV pole and flushed bright red. Busily righting everything, she said over her shoulder, “You should rest.”

“I can't,” he pleaded, “until I make the call. Please.”

She glanced at him then picked up the telephone receiver, bobbled it and, eyes averted, tucked it into the crook of his neck. Punching two buttons she asked, “What's the number?”

“Thank you,” he breathed, gratitude easing the physical need somewhat. He gave her the number and angled his head so he could hear the tones as she dialed. She moved out of sight, then appeared again at the foot of the bed, where she looked at his toes, which were all that the stiff cocoon of bandages encasing his right leg left visible.

Dale's secretary answered on the second ring, exclaiming at the sound of Royce's voice. He made himself answer her questions of concern before saying urgently that he had to speak to her boss. Nurse Gage moved to examine the fingers that extended beyond the cast on his right arm and shoulder, and a moment later, Dale came on the line.

“Royce? How are you?”

“Still among the living.”

“What the hell happened out there, man? I couldn't believe it when Tammy called.”

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