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Perfect Chance - Amanda Carpenter

Take a chance on love....

Mary Newman—her life was safe, predictable and reasonably happy. Until the day he walked in!

Chance Armstrong—he had no respect for rules and regulations and cozy life-styles. But he was

offering Mary the perfect chance for a lot of excitement, and she was tempted—oh, so tempted....

Until Chance offered the most tempting challenge of all...He asked Mary to marry him!

CHAPTER ONE

MARY paused to lean against the counter of the nurses' station as she surveyed the emergency'

room in the Newman wing at Memorial Hospital.

It was July 4th, the busiest day of the year.

It was midafternoon and she was already tired, having been on shift since eleven the night

before. She rubbed at the back of her neck and thought longingly of the shower she would have

when she got home.

Then a fresh influx of people rushed in. Urgent words swirled around and she snatched at a few

of them: a boating accident, seven injured, two badly.

She darted around a small group of young men who were soaking wet, caught a powerful whiff

of beer from them, and rushed toward one of the more serious cases.

A dark-haired girl, maybe six or seven, was being cradled in the arms of an adult. Mary checked

her over quickly. The girl had a compound fracture, there was an expertly applied tourniquet

above the knee, and she was unconscious.

The poor little thing. Her pulse was fluttering and too rapid, her skin ashen under her tan, and she

was covered in a cold sweat.

"She's in shock." The deep, gravelly voice sounded overhead.

"I see that. Bring her this way." Mary ran with him over to a cubicle. A sobbing woman tried to

follow but was diverted from the front desk by Sandy, who needed her to fill out forms. With

relief, Mary heard Sandy's soothing voice assuring the woman that her daughter was going to be

fine.

The man laid the little girl carefully on the gurney, and whipped around to the nearby cabinet.

He and Mary collided as they both reached for a blanket at the same time. She whoofed at the

impact; it was like running into a brick wall. He snapped, "Why don't you go find a doctor?"

Oh, not again! The top of her head seemed to ignite like a torch. "I am a doctor!"

Some people laughed; some people apologized. This one gave her a hard, narrow-eyed stare and

muttered grimly, "You'd better be."

She yanked the blanket out of his hands and shook it over the child. "Get out of my way."

He backed up rapidly. As she prepared an IV, Mary called out sharply, “Julie, I need you."

The nurse came at a run, and together they got the girl stabilized, bandaged and ready for X rays.

Mary glanced around for the father. There he was, leaning against the wall, watching everything

with hawklike intensity. Overlong blond hair fell into sharp hazel eyes, and his tanned, chiselled

face was thoughtful.

He's awfully calm, she thought, and she glared at him. No parent should be that calm when his

daughter's facing surgery. I'm a doctor and I'm not that calm.

What's the matter with him? She tried to gentle her voice. "What's your daughter's name?"

His attention shifted to her and his eyebrows rose slowly. "Erin Morley. But she's not my

daughter. Her mother's out in the lobby."

"Oh," Mary paused. Well, he's still to calm. She asked, "Would you go get her mother? I need to

know if Erin is allergic to anything."

"I asked on the way to the hospital. She's not allergic to any medications."

At that moment the mother walked into the cubicle and went to lean against the man, her face

streaked and traumatized. The man patted her back soothingly as she confirmed what he'd told

Mary, and with the little girl admitted to the hospital, Julie wheeled her gurney to X ray while

Mary moved to another patient.

Victor, the other doctor on duty, was still with the other seriously injured patient, a man with a

head wound. She passed the cubicle where he was working, sleek dark head' bent and handsome

features absorbed in his task. He glanced up and nodded to her. She waved back and attended to

others from the boating accident, all minor injuries now, listening sympathetically to compulsive

telling and retelling of the story.

Mary was a small woman, with a slight, coltish build and delicate, irregular features that made

her look far younger than her twenty-six years, but she was capable of a mighty big fury when

she was roused to it. Her large blue eyes flashed as she heard of the crash. Four young students

had been drinking and driving a speedboat that had collided with a large yacht filled with

passengers. She recognized a few faces from the faculty of the local university. They were all

very lucky; apparently, due to the quick action of someone on the yacht, there had been no

drownings.

Drinking and driving was hardly regulated enough on land to suit Mary.

People could have died, and did die in such accidents, and there wasn't even any law to prohibit

drunken speed boating. She had been born and raised in Cherry Bay, and had heard many stories

similar to the one she heard now. It never failed to outrage her.

The last patient needing attention was one of the drunken young men, waiting sullenly in one of

the cubicles, He needed stitches in his arm, and she attended to him in thin-lipped silence.

One of his friends was standing beside him, glowering. Except for their size, they looked like

petulant, unrepentant boys.

"They were arguing in a heated undertone about the accident. "Didn't I tell you? You should have

let me drive," said the one Mary was stitching.

The other one sneered, "Let you drive? For God's sake, Peter, you can't even sit up straight."

"God, my dad is gonna kill me. And you, Trevor he's gonna kill you, too. Do you know how

much that boat cost him? Thirty thousand dollars! How am I gonna tell him his precious boat is

sitting at the bottom of the lake right now?"

The image of the ashen-faced child with the broken leg flashed through Mary's mind, and she

controlled the urge to bash both of them over the head with an instrument tray. She finished the

job and reached for bandages.

Trevor ran his hands through his damp hair, jerked up his chin and said belligerently, "It wasn't

my fault, I tell you. Hell, they swerved in front of me-and anyway, his insurance will cover it. No

problem."

That did it. She slapped' down her handful of bandages, rounded on him and said tightly, "Get

out.

He ogled her, mouth slack. Then his face flushed, and he said insolently, "Sure thing, sweetie.

Soon's you're done patching up my friend here."

She said icily, "My name is not 'sweetie'. My name is Dr. Newman, and I have a job to finish

here. The police must be here by now, so why don't you go tell your story to them-or haven't you

got it straight yet?"

Alarm registered in Trevor's face and he started to back away. "Maybe I better take off, Pete-"

Fury darkened the other man's cheeks. "And leave me to clean up your mess? No way, dammit-"

He lunged off the gurney toward Trevor, knocking against Mary, who stumbled back, lost her

footing, and sat down on the floor so hard her teeth jarred together. Shock held her frozen for a

moment, then with a thrill of fear she scrambled to her feet and opened her mouth to shout for

help as the two men surged back and forth like prize fighters.

What came next happened so fast all Mary saw was a blur of movement. One moment the two

men were grappling each other and cursing, then the next moment Trevor was subdued on the

floor, and Peter was back on the gurney where he belonged, with a large, powerful hand locked

around his throat.

Mary's huge gaze followed the hand back to its owner. It belonged to a long, lean, hard-muscled

body dressed in faded cut-off jeans and a skin tight black sleeveless shirt: He stood casually,

weight

on one slim hip, blond hair in his eyes. He was even smiling a little. She recognized the man who

had carried-in Erin. Big, he's very big, she thought numbly. I didn't notice that before. And he's

still calm, but-oh, I don't like the looks of that smile. ..

"I'm getting a little tired of you two," he remarked quietly. His sparkling hazel eyes sliced to her,

sharp as a blade. "Are you through with this one, Doctor?"

"I. .." She twisted and untwisted her hands, staring.

Somehow the man's presence had such an aura of settled maturity that he relegated the other two

back to the status of spoiled boys. She worked her aching Jaw, 'then tried a nervous smile. "Yes.

No. I mean-" Darn it! "He needs a bandage and a prescription for antibiotics."

He looked down at the one on the floor, eyes hard and deadly. "You're the driver of the boat,

aren't you? I've already given my statement to the police. They're waiting out front to hear from

you. Get." After a resentful-pause, Trevor stood and scurried away. Then the blond man turned to

her. "Why don't you go write the prescription? I'll stay with this one while a nurse finishes his

bandage."

Mary sucked in a breath and bristled. Don't tell me what to do! The man cocked his head at her,

waiting. His hand was still locked around Peter's throat. Her courage. wavered when she looked

at the drunken young man, and suddenly she deflated and mumbled,

"Be right back."

Safely back at the nurses' desk, Mary scribbled out a prescription, pressing down hard with the

pen and slapping it down afterward. Who did that man think he was? Ordering her about! And

those other two what criminal stupidity! Worried about a thirty thousand dollar boat, when

people could have died! She wanted to find out how Erin was, she wanted to sit down and have

a. cup 'of coffee and eat that lunch she hadn't managed to get to, and she wanted a nap. She

looked around. Everything had gone quiet for now. She took a deep breath, rubbed her face hard

with both hands and shuddered.

A hand descended onto her slight shoulder, and she jumped. "What? Oh-hi, it's you."

Dr. Victor Prentiss stood looking quizzically down at her, Just under six feet tall, he was a

slender, elegant man in his early thirties. Mary had started dating him a few years ago when she

was still an intern. A quiet, rather shy, bookish individual, she had been thrilled when Victor had

shown an interest in her. Between the pressures of her internship and Victor's career demands,

their courtship to date had been sporadic. Now that Mary had started her residency and was

working closely with him, she felt it was even uncomfortable at times-she was inexperienced and

didn't know how to date a man and also keep a professional distance at work-but she greeted him

right now with relief.

“Are you all right?" Victor asked 'her gently. "I heard some of the ruckus."

"Yes, I'm fine. Just tired. I missed lunch," she said miserably. On top of a double shift. Were

those black spots in front of her eyes? Squinting, she tried to chase them down.

"The Fourth of July is always like this. Look, darling-it's almost six. Why don't you get some

dinner and go home?" He rubbed her back softly.

"Almost six?" She looked around in surprise.

Where did the time go? Working in the E.R. was always like that. Whenever she came in, it felt

like she was entering a twilight zone of crisis after crisis. This was a small community normally,

but as a celebrated resort area, the population more than quadrupled in the summer. She had just

started working at the E.R. in May but it felt like she had been working there forever, and she

could never shake the sneaking suspicion that she was inadequate for the job. Now guilt and

gratitude warred for supremacy. "Are you sure?"

"It's quiet now," Victor assured her. "And Kelly is due any minute. Don't drive hungry and tired,

though. Go on, get something to eat before you go home. And if you want to call tonight off, I'll

understand."

Victor was supposed to be taking her and her younger brother, Tim, to see the fireworks over

Lake Michigall that evening. She had been looking forward to it once, but now, with every bone

in her feet and legs aching, it didn't sound nearly as fun as it had.

"I'll think about it. I did promise Tim, though... ."

Her voice trailed off as she caught sight of Peter being marched toward the nurses' station by the

bossy blond man, who still wore an unpleasant smile as he kept a firm grip on Peter's newly

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