By Marina Adair
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A blast from her past . . .
Charlotte Holden, Sugar’s favorite pediatrician, knows better than anyone that love only leads to heartbreak. Instead, she’s focused on creating the Grow Clinic, an outpatient center for children. All she has to do now is to host the best Founder’s Day Parade in the history of Sugar, Georgia, to win over a big-city donor. Easy as peach pie. Then sexy Jace McGraw blows back into town and utters those three words every woman dreads: we’re still married.
. . . leads to tantalizing trouble
Jace McGraw was making an offer on his dream business in Atlanta when he was told that his wife had some credit issues. Wait, his wife? The annulment went through years ago-or so he thought. He’d walked away only to keep his troublemaker reputation from ruining her dreams. But now that they have a second chance, Jace offers Charlotte a deal: he’ll grant a discreet divorce in exchange for 30 days and nights of marriage. Because this time he isn’t going to let her go without a fight.
Dr. Charlotte Holden took pride in her decorum and her ability to show grace under pressure. As a four-time Miss Peach and current medical director of Pediatrics at Sugar Medical Center, there wasn’t much that made her sweat—her mama raised her better than that.
Not that she was sweating. But a distinct, thin sheen of perspiration seemed to be forming on her skin every time her phone vibrated with another message, and that really burned her britches. She was nearing the important part of her tour with a group of potential donors when someone texted her with a Code Silver in exam room 22—which was never a good sign.
“Do you need to take that?” Tipton Neil, chairman of Mercy Alliance, asked when Charlotte looked at her phone again.
The last thing she needed right then was to bring attention to the fact that there was a Code Silver. Not with so much riding on the hefty endowment that was up for grabs.
She’d invested three years and her entire heart into getting the new pediatric ward funded and built. The Grow Clinic—an outpatient center that would provide kids with the therapy and tools they need to thrive in the world after hospitalization—was the final step in realizing her dream. And it was almost ready to open.
“Nothing that can’t wait, I’m sure,” her father answered for her. Something he did often, and it bugged her to no end. Whereas Charlotte was the heart of the center, Reginald Holden the Third was all about the bottom line.
And the bottom line was—Mr. Neil was their last shot.
She took one last look at her phone, then her father—who was sending her every visual cue possible—and texted instructions to hand the patient off to the other doctor on duty.
“All handled,” she said, powering down her phone. “Now, over here is the centerpiece of the new Fairchild Pediatric Center.” It was the centerpiece of the entire medical center—a prime example of what made Sugar Medical so special. “Our Grow Clinic.”
Tipton took in the massive play center, the brightly colored physical therapy room, and the state-of-the-art equipment. “I was skeptical about what a small rural community could offer, but your new facility and unique approach to medicine could rival the Mayo Clinic.”
Well, if that didn’t butter her biscuit.
“My Grow Clinic can stand up to any big-city facility. We might be small, Mr. Neil, but we are certainty not backwoods,” she said with a laugh.
Her father did not laugh. Dressed in his three-piece suit, suspenders, bow tie, and look of constant disapproval, he was the picture of the quintessential Southern medical director. “What my daughter meant to say is that being a smaller, privately owned clinic has allowed us to stay both profitable and cutting edge.”
Actually, she’d meant exactly what she’d said. Being a family-owned clinic allowed them to offer treatments and programs that met their patients’ unique needs. It wasn’t just a small-town clinic, it was the town’s clinic. And as such, it should benefit all of the town’s people, not just the insured ones. But she wisely kept that to herself.
“This is exactly the kind of project Mercy Alliance was created to fund,” Tipton said, and Charlotte struggled to contain her excitement. But it was difficult. Almost as difficult as not blurting out, “I told you so.”
When she’d reached out to Mercy Alliance it seemed like nothing more than a Hail Mary. No one, including her father, had considered it a realistic possibility. But Charlotte had. Even though their medical center had been labeled “too small” or “too ambitious” by every investor the board had approached, she knew that all it took was one person to see the potential of their idea.
So when a friend from medical school mentioned that Mercy Alliance was pulling its funding from a midsize hospital chain out west, Charlotte contacted them immediately. And now she was about to see her dream become a reality for thousands of kids in the area.
Beating death and living life were two separate challenges, and Charlotte wanted to bridge the gap where insurance left off. Her vision was to create a pediatric rehabilitation clinic where no child was denied treatment based on the family’s ability to pay—which was where Mercy Alliance, and their generous endowment, came in.
“But the board feels that at a bigger facility, our funds would go further, help more people,” Tipton added, and suddenly all that excitement felt like a big, suffocating knot in her chest.
Why she’d thought that all she had to do was convince this one man that her plan was good enough she had no idea. But her dad’s look said he’d expected this all along. In fact, his grim expression seemed to be doing the I-told-you-so dance all over her morning.
“Paging Dr. Holden to room 22,” a slightly harassed voice came over the hospital’s intercom. “Paging Dr. Charlotte Holden. Code Silver in room 22. Dr. Holden to room 22.”
And just like that, the knot in her chest grew to cut off her entire air supply.
* * *
“Please tell me I misunderstood the page,” Charlotte asked, taking the medical chart from Dr. Benjamin Clark.
“Wish I could,” Ben said, hustling to keep pace with her. He was handsome in that intellectual way that usually got her. And he had gotten her, which made him her ex. They’d dated all through undergrad and then again last summer when he’d been hired at the medical center. He was a bright, rising star in medicine who came from a good family—and was just like her. Which was why they quickly decided they were better suited as friends. “I also wish I could have handled it myself, but the situation requires a woman’s touch.”
“Damn right. She took one look at my anatomy and went straight for the boys. I barricaded myself behind the exam table and paged you.”
“You always were a little skittish when it came to aggressive women.” Ben rolled his eyes at that but didn’t argue. “Keep watch and make sure no one comes in.”
The last thing she needed right then was to have another patient, or God forbid Mr. Neil, walk by. Charlotte tapped on the door, waited the respectful amount of time, then entered.
Four years of medical school, another three in residency at one of the top hospitals in Georgia, and this was what her life had come to. She stared at her patient, who was on all fours licking the soap dispenser, and allowed herself a quick roll of the eyes before plastering on her most Southern smile, entering the room, and making sure to close the door behind her.
“Mrs. Ferguson,” Charlotte greeted, then looked at her patient, who had moved from the soap dispenser to nuzzling the hospital gown on the exam table. “Woolamena.”
June Ferguson stood and smoothed down her dress. It was denim with cowhide trim and speckled with fertilizer—which was appropriate since she was co-owner of Ferguson Family’s Feed Line and Fertilizer Farm.
The Code Silver in question dropped the gown and bleated a loud baa-ah before huddling under the exam table—which was appropriate since Woolamena was a sheep. Not just any sheep, but the reigning sheep scurry champion of Sugar County, who was expected to defend her title at the Founder’s Day Fair in a few weeks.
“I know what you’re going to say, but it was an emergency,” June explained.
“Then you know I’m going to remind you I am a doctor. Not a therapist or a life coach or a veterinarian. And this is a hospital. For humans.” They’d had this conversation last spring when one of her prize heifers went into early labor and June tried to convince Charlotte to act as the midwife.
In fact, livestock in the hospital had become such a problem they’d even created a code and a room for such occasions. Silver being the Lone Ranger’s horse. The 22 was because Noah filled his arc two by two. Not that the big-city donors would understand that. Which was why Charlotte needed to clear that room stat, before the welcoming tour made their way this direction.
“Your card says family practitioner.” June produced a card from her purse as proof and waved it around. “And seeing as Woolamena here is family, I brought her to you.” The older woman leaned in to whisper. “I think she needs some of those little feel-good pills you are all pushing these days.”
Charlotte choked. “You want me to prescribe Viagra for your sheep?”
“Woolamena. She has a name. And what school did you say you went to again?”
“A very good one.”
“Ah-huh.” The older woman didn’t look so convinced. “I was talking about pills for people who are thinking of buying the farm.” The woman mouthed the last few words as though the sheep, excuse her, Woolamena, could understand.
“You think, uh, Woolamena is a risk to herself?”
“I think that Diablo led her on and now she’s got a broken h-e-a-r-t.”
“And Diablo is another sheep?”
“No, he is the stud we brought in for the heifers. Paid a farmer from Magnolia Falls a good price to bring him down, but instead of knocking up my cows, he came on to Woolamena, wooed the girl, then left her good and dry. Didn’t he, baby?”
At that, Woolamena’s ears went back and she wedged herself as far beneath the table as she could get, clearly not open to discussing Diablo—or his leaving. June, however, was just getting started.
“After he went home, she started acting a little off, moping around Diablo’s old pen, refusing to eat, tearing her wool out.” Which explained the big bald patch on her rump. “Then, last week, I found her standing in the middle of the highway, staring down one of them big Red Bull trucks headed toward Mable’s Market. At first I thought she was admiring the sexy bull, but I think she was tempting the devil himself, because today she wandered down to the lake and waded in, and she wasn’t taking a bath, neither. The water was already up to her brisket and closing in on her muzzle when my farmhand pulled her out. I said enough was enough and loaded her in the truck and came here.”
When June placed a hand to her mouth and gave a few heartfelt sniffs, Charlotte handed her a box of tissue and pulled out her stethoscope. This was in part because any woman who delivered nineteen calves in one evening had more pluck than Charlotte, but also because she was a sucker for broken hearts.
Having suffered from one herself several years back, which she’d barely recovered from, Charlotte understood the delicate nature of loss. She also understood the power of ice cream.
Charlotte poked her head out of the door. “Ben, could you bring me one of those ice-cream bars from the vending machine? A vanilla one without the chocolate shell?”
With a nod, Ben was gone. Too bad dating him had been like dating herself. He was one of the good ones, and between decorating her new house, the stress of the grand opening, and her mother’s endless matchmaking—since being single at thirty was a sin in the South—Charlotte could sure use a good man in her life. Not to mention an orgasm.
She could definitely use one of those.
Ben returned, and something about the way he looked at her had every warning flag rising to full mast. They’d been friends too long for her not to notice the way he shifted in his loafers. A sign that he had bad news. “Oh no. They know about the sheep.”
Baa-ah came through the door.
He looked down the hall and back at her. “No, I just saw your father load Mr. Neil into his car.” Damn it! “Reggie was wearing his camo jacket.”
Double damn it!
The only time Reginald Holden the Third wore camo was when he was going hunting. Which meant he’d hijacked Charlotte’s meeting. Not that she should be surprised. Her father’s answer to any professional situation was to bond over a good boar hunt, then get down to business.
He might have appointed Charlotte as head of Pediatrics, but he still believed that the best boardroom in town belonged to the Sugar County Hunting Lodge—a members-only club that hadn’t approved a single female applicant since Ada Bradly “accidently” shot her husband in the backside. She claimed that she saw a figure in the distance, recognized it as the one that had rattled many windows of the ladies on her block, mistook him for the worst kind of dog, and took action.
Mr. Bradly lived, Ada was sentenced to community service, and anyone lacking a Y chromosome knew not to apply. So if Charlotte wanted to finish her meeting with Mr. Neil, she’d have to wait until after the weekend.
If her dad’s “backwoods” business tactics hadn’t screwed up the deal by then.
“At least they didn’t see the sheep,” Ben said, knowing exactly where her thoughts were going, and held out not one but two ice-cream bars. “Between your patient load, the meetings with the donors, and now your dad, I figured you hadn’t had time for lunch and could use some ice cream right about now.”
She eyed the bar, then looked at Ben. Really looked at him, and wondered if maybe it could work, then caught sight of his designer shoes, Sunday-best attire beneath the white doctor’s coat, and shivered—not in a good way.
They matched. Even down to the brand of stethoscope. “Nope.”
He laughed knowingly. “Would make it easier, though.”
It sure would. Unfortunately, her heart had long ago given up on easy, and her other parts only seemed to be interested in courting hard—hard bodies with bad-boy smiles and tattoos.
“Thanks for this.” She took both bars—it was well past lunchtime, after all—ushered Ms. Ferguson out of the room and into Ben’s care, and closed the door.
Alone with the sheep, Charlotte sat on the floor at the edge of the exam table. “Now come on out.”
When the sheep just looked at her, watching her carefully, Charlotte scooted closer and held out the ice cream. “Well, we can talk about it or just plain eat it out, you choose, but moping around and pulling your hair out over a man is just not dignified. And a Southern woman with six titles needs to maintain her dignity at all times.”
The sheep let out Baa-ah of protest, but the ice cream was too much temptation to ignore. Eyes firmly on Charlotte, Woolamena slowly made her way out from under the table and took a tentative sniff. Then a nibble, and, as though the sheep could recognize another lonely soul, she curled up against Charlotte’s side and the two females ate their ice cream in silence.
* * *
It was a rare day in Sugar when Babette Holden graced the morning before the sun, especially when there was no one to bring her coffee in bed. But when Charlotte’s mother had her mind set, not even the threat of puffy eyes or lack of a front-door key could sidetrack her.
Babette stood at the counter in a cream pantsuit and enough pearls to accessorize the entire Miss Peach Court, staring down Charlotte’s coffeemaker as though waiting for it to make her a cappuccino and irritated that she’d had to wait. “I hit the red button and nothing happened.”
“You have to put water in it first.” And since Charlotte knew that wouldn’t happen in her lifetime, she moved into the kitchen, filled up the pot, and hit the red button.
“I prefer mine nonfat. Double shot, please.”
“It comes black, with cream or sugar. That’s it.”
Her mouth tightened. “If you had chosen to stay at home, where all good single Southern women belong, Mavis could have whipped us up a lovely cinnamon latte and delivered it to you in bed.”
“Along with my clothes, which you’d pick out and have neatly pressed and laid at the foot of my bed, while you sat next to them staring me awake.”
Reason number one that Charlotte had purchased her own home last month. She’d taken one look at the stately antebellum cottage with its pristine white stone structure, original leaded-glass windows, and ornate wrought-iron-enclosed balconies overlooking Sugar Lake and fell in love. That it was on the opposite side of the lake from her mother’s only made it that much more appealing.
The lake house was exactly the kind of home she imagined raising a family in. Not that she had a family or even a potential husband, but she still had hope. And for now, that was enough.
“You make it sound as though I smothered you,” Babette said dramatically, and Charlotte wisely chose not to comment. Then her mother carefully inspected Charlotte’s outfit, a black skirt with cream belt cinching her white cap-sleeved top, and sighed. “Yes, well, you really should invest in an iron, dear. And more pastels. They do glorious things for your complexion.”
It was said as though Charlotte needed all the help she could get. And maybe she did.
Charlotte had spent a good portion of the weekend fine-tuning what she was going to say to Mr. Neil. The other part, when she wasn’t pulling long shifts at the clinic and should have been sleeping, had been spent staring at the ceiling and waiting for the sun to come up, thinking about things she had no business thinking about.
Sitting there with Woolamena the other day had been like sitting with herself four years ago. And even though the pain had dulled and her heart had healed, the emptiness still remained, and Charlotte was tired of feeling empty. Tired of playing life safe. Tired of her father steamrolling over her career and her mother reminding her what it means to be a lady.
Tired of watching everyone else around her move on, find happiness, while she stayed in the same place.
In fact, she was tired of being tired. So this morning, instead of staring at the ceiling, she’d gotten impatient and decided to fix her life. She was a master fixer, it was what made her such a good doctor. Only instead of fixing her patients, she decided she was going to start with herself and act like the woman she wanted to be, not the woman she had become.
And then she walked downstairs to find her mother in the kitchen.
Babette clapped her hands. “You know what you need?”
A new lock? A good night’s sleep? Once again, Charlotte’s mind circled back to that orgasm and suddenly she felt like unbuttoning her blouse two more buttons, but resisted. She had a full workload, with the average patient being in diapers or with dentures, and her “need list” was about four thousand pages long.
Yet based on the way Babette was smiling, Charlotte didn’t think her mother’s idea would even make her extended list. “I need to leave for work.”
Babette’s face puckered, as well as a face could pucker when the forehead didn’t move. “It’s Sunday. Who works on Sunday?”
“Sickness doesn’t recognize the Sabbath.” Her father obviously did, since he’d decided to take a “personal day,” choosing to finish up his hunting trip with Mr. Neil rather than work the urgent care unit as he was scheduled to do, leaving a huge gap in patient load coverage. And since the clinic was perpetually short-staffed on the weekends, especially in urgent care, it was up to Charlotte to pick up the slack.
“Well, it should.”
Amen to that. “I’m covering a shift.”
“That’s sweet of you.”
Not professional, not ambitious, but sweet. As though all of the sacrifice and hard work Charlotte had put into her career was merely a way to pass time until she found herself a proper Southern man and set up a proper Southern home.
“I heard you had lunch with Benjamin.”
And there’s the reason for her visit, Charlotte thought while pouring coffee into a mug. She slid it across the countertop toward her mother, who looked offended, then tactfully dismissed the beverage with a shake of the head.
“I had lunch with a patient,” Charlotte said. And then, not to give her mother false hope, clarified, “A female patient. Ben and I are just friends.”
A car horn honked out front. Babette didn’t move and Charlotte got a nagging feeling in her stomach that her mother was up to no good. She walked to the window and looked out to find a silver Lexus idling in the drive. Ben smiled through the windshield and waved.
“Mother, why is Ben here?”
“Maybe he wanted to ask you to lunch.”
“It’s seven a.m. on Sunday.”
“Love does crazy things to a person.” Babette glided to the window and gave a regal wave, one that could only come from Miss Peach 1977, since the pearl bracelets she wore flashed in the rising sun yet didn’t make a single sound.
Ben waved back and opened his car door to walk over to Charlotte’s to—look at her tires?
“Why are my tires flat?”
“A handsome man is out fixing your tires at this god-awful hour and you are worried about how they got flat. Honestly, dear, you wonder why you’re single?”
Charlotte had never wondered about that. She knew exactly why she was single. Love hurt too much.
“My, he is handsome, isn’t he?” Babette fanned herself as Ben fished his phone out of his pocket—most likely to call the local tow truck. “He will bless his wife with such beautiful children.”
“I’ll be sure to tell his girlfriend that,” Charlotte said.
Babette deflated at the news, which was good. Because when her mom sank her teeth into something she was like a pit bull—a pit bull with a diamond-studded collar. And although a good Southern woman needed a good Southern gentleman, no lady poached on marked territory—regardless of how blue his family’s blood ran. So rather than clarifying that the closet thing Ben had to a proper girlfriend was Scarlett Johansson, she let her mother come to her own conclusion.
“Well, it seems as though you have managed to scare off another one.” Babette picked up her clutch and strode toward the front door. “What a waste of a morning. And to think I set my alarm for this.” Since it was undignified to holler, Babette paused under the threshold. “Don’t forget dinner tonight. Your father invited some big-city doctor over. Lionel is a Yankee, midforties, a bit on the pudgy side, but single.”
“He is also the new podiatrist on staff at the clinic.” But if her dad was bringing a guest to dinner, it meant he’d be at dinner, too, with his new hunting buddy. And although Charlotte wanted to secure the endowment, doing it while her mother passed around her baby photos was not how she envisioned her pitch going. “And has a habit of staring at ladies’ shoes.”
Babette eyed Charlotte’s shoes, then her skirt. “Yes, well, we work with what we have since we can’t afford to be choosy, now can we?” And then she was gone.
“Love you, too, Mom. We should do this more often,” Charlotte said to the empty kitchen.
Last year, she’d set out to find living arrangements that didn’t include sharing a zoning line with her parents and to prove to the hospital board—and her father—that she was ready to head up the Grow Clinic. She accomplished the first and was almost there with the second. Now she was determined to get the rest of her life in order. And that included really living again. Taking chances.
In medicine some of the most amazing advances came from approaching a problem from a different direction, taking risks that others were too afraid to even consider. And she believed life was no different, that if she wanted to enact change then she needed to start taking calculated risks.
A plan that was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time, because for a girl who mapped out her world down to when her coffeepot started brewing, every little risk felt like a huge challenge. The hope was that several small risks would give her the courage to take some bigger ones, until eventually she would be ready to take life by the horns.
She set her mug on the counter and marched back into her bedroom and riffled through the endless supply of cardigans and pastels, past the tea-length and cashmere forest, to locate the one outfit hiding in the back. It was red, sleek, sophisticated, and said grown-up sexy instead of Sunday tea. And was something she’d been waiting until she gathered the courage to wear.
Not that she had the courage now, but she was willing to fake it for a while. Which was why she’d slipped on her naughtiest pair of panties, mile-high heels, and left the top button of her blouse undone, then marched downstairs to head into work as the new and improved Dr. Charlotte Holden.
"A darling romance delivered in her charming downhome style...The wild town of Sugar is just as enchanting and wacky as in previous volumes, making the characters' meddling and manipulations fun and frustrating at the same time. Adair skillfully blends spicy romance with humor and tenderness. The resolution is both satisfying and charming, with the characters earning their happiness together."
--Publishers Weekly (starred review) on A Taste of Sugar
"The third book in the sexy and fun Sugar, Georgia series keeps the romance nice and sweet. The small-town quirkiness is as amusing as ever. This take on the familiar tale of the town bad boy and the good girl who love each other against their better judgment will make romance fans swoon."
--RT Book Reviews on A Taste of Sugar
- "4 stars! Just as sexy and full of sassy humor as [Sugar's Twice as Sweet], Sugar on Top is a tasty treat. The characters are likable and fun, and the romance is hard fought for with a satisfying conclusion."—RT Book Reviews on Sugar on Top
"Marina Adair writes with heart and sizzling heat. Sugar's Twice as Sweet will charm you!"
--Jill Shalvis, New York Times bestselling author
"A can't miss read with small town sweetness, endearing characters and a unique quirky flair."
--Carly Phillips, New York Times bestselling author on Sugar's Twice as Sweet
"In this delightful kickoff to the Sugar, Georgia contemporary series, Adair invokes small-town charm and all its perils...The sensual and satisfying conclusion feels solidly earned and leaves the door wide open for a strong continuing series."
--Publishers Weekly on Sugar's Twice as Sweet
"First in a new series, readers will find all the sweetness of small-town magic in Sugar, Georgia. As with all the best small towns, there are some quirky characters adding to the charm and romance, but it's the heart and heat that make this story a page-turner. Keep an eye on this series."
--RT Book Reviews on Sugar's Twice as Sweet
- On Sale
- Aug 25, 2015
- Page Count
- 400 pages