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       Exquisite, p.1

           Ella Frank
 
Exquisite


  Exquisite

  By Ella Frank

  Text Copyright © 2012 Jennifer Accardo

  Edited By Natalie Ballard 2012

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any print or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation to the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

  This is a work of fiction. The names, people, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or have been used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following word marks mentioned in this work of fiction: Norah Jones, Sinatra, Buble, Jimmy Choo, Dave Matthews Band, Boston, Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds, Nissan GT-R, Post-Its, Guinness, Tylenol, Ne-Yo, Pitbull, Romeo, Casanova, Dean Martin, Barney, The Cubs, Coldplay, The Cooking Channel

  Table Of Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Epilogue

  Dedication

  To my wonderful husband, who lets me get away with reading way too many books with no complaints. He’s also the first person to insist that I believe in myself. Without him, I wouldn’t know the true meaning of a happy ending. I love you very much.

  2001

  “I know Mom had to be driving you crazy tonight ‘cause she was making my head spin.” Carly laughed, rolling her eyes as she launched into the exact imitation of their mother’s high-pitched voice. “So, Lena? When are you going to meet a nice boy and settle down? You spend too much time with your head stuck in a book studying.”

  Lena laughed, as Carly stuck her tongue out before telling her, “Thanks for driving me home, sis. I swear if I don’t get a car soon I’m gonna go insane.”

  Focusing back on the dark road, they waited at a red light.

  “Go insane? That’s impossible, you’re already there.”

  “Whatever, loser.”

  Grinning, Lena watched the road, and then slowly started to accelerate as the light flicked to green. They had moved two inches forward when a blinding light came hurtling toward them. Tires squealed in protest as a bone crunching noise splintered through Lena’s ears, and everything went black . . .

  2010

  Jerking upright, Lena felt the sweat drip down her spine. She clutched her chest tight. Just a dream. Glancing over at the clock by her bed she watched as the red numbers flicked to 3:21a.m. Shit. Every time the nightmare was the same. Like a bad scene in a movie perpetually stuck on repeat, it just wouldn’t stop. The only major difference being, this was her reality. No matter what she did, for the last nine years of her life, Lena had been living with the ugly truth that she’d been behind the wheel the night Carly was killed.

  Leaning against the headboard, she squeezed the bridge of her nose and inhaled deeply. Lena looked over to the photograph on her empty dresser, taken at Carly’s 18th birthday, and sighed. Closing her eyes, she slid down into her bed staring at the ceiling fan as it spun slowly, making that irritating thwump thwump thwump with every rotation. Just another thing she’d neglected to fix, she thought to herself, and added it as a mental note. Kind of like the rest of her life. With that depressing thought, Lena rolled over onto her side, squeezed her eyes shut, and willed herself to get at least one more hour of sleep before she had to get up and go to work. However, as the seconds turned into minutes, she knew sleep was beyond her reach, and as she did every morning, Lena woke up thinking, well shit.

  Chapter One

  Lena raced through the hospital lobby and into the staff cafeteria.

  “Late again, Lena? I bet you haven’t been on time once this year.”

  Looking over at Shelly, who was drinking her coffee at a nearby table, Lena saluted her with her middle finger.

  “Bite me, Shelly. You only get here early so you can stuff your face with the breakfast they bring.”

  Lena got there right as the time turned 7:01a.m.

  “Shit,” she muttered. Walking over to Shelly, Lena picked up the other half of the donut and bit down. Pulling out the chair, she slumped into it, flinging her bag onto the table.

  “One minute. One lousy minute! I’m telling you, McKinney is going to kick my ass. He has eyes everywhere.”

  Shelly grinned as she continued stuffing her face. “What the hell do you do all night anyway that you can’t be here on time?”

  Lena rubbed her eyes then forced a grin onto her face. Motioning Shelly to come closer, she whispered, “I stay up all night getting hot and sweaty.” Well, it wasn’t that far from the truth.

  Shelly raised a blonde eyebrow and then sat back, picking up another donut. Munching down on it, she watched Lena closely and then tilted her head to the side. Lena had a feeling that whatever was about to come out of her friend’s mouth would be either brutally honest or completely embarrassing. That was the way Shelly Monroe rolled; there wasn’t a subtle bone in her body, and when you were friends with her, she held nothing back. She also took great delight in driving Lena insane.

  “You’re full of shit, Lena. No one as tense as you could be getting laid regularly.”

  Standing up, Lena slung her backpack over her shoulder, and then started to walk out. As she got to the door, she looked over her shoulder.

  “Shelly, I’m not tense. I am stiff - there’s a huge difference.”

  Lena left with Shelly’s laughter ringing loudly in her ears and before she could call her bluff. Shelly knew her too well. Her friend knew that she hadn’t dated anyone more than once in the last nine years. She also knew that there hadn’t even been a first date in a very long time. Getting into the elevator, she rode it up to level six where she got out and wandered down to the lounge. No one was in there, thank God, and McKinney was nowhere to be seen. Lena had been late so much in the last few months he’d called her into his office and asked her if he needed to buy her a watch. Asshole. It didn’t matter that she happened to be the best damn general pediatric doctor he had; he still had to give her hell.

  Walking through the lounge and into her office, she took off her sweater and hung it on the peg behind the door. She placed her backpack on the floor and pulled on her lab coat. Picking up her pens, she stuffed them in her scrubs and then bent down to unzip her bag. Pulling out her reading glasses, she slid them on, sighing. Honestly, she hated the things; however, they were a necessary evil when she was working on two hours’ sleep.

  She paused to look at the picture of Carly on one of the shelves in her office. It had been taken on Carly’s 16th birthday. Lena had her arm around her sister’s shoulder in the snapshot, and Carly was holding a bright yellow sunflower, smiling so joyously it almost hurt Lena to look at the picture knowing she would never see its radiance again. Lena kissed her fingers and placed
them on it. Then she turned on her heel, ready to face the day.

  As Mason Langley stood at the front desk of the pediatric ward, he mentally reminded himself over and over that he was so not ready for the challenge of children. Looking over at the young mother to his left clutching a chubby dark-haired monster, he watched in horror as the child screamed as though his hand was stuck in a door. She kept cooing to the child but the tiny terror was having none of it. He would take three deep breaths and there would be a lull for all of twenty seconds, then the little demon would start the ear blistering shrill all over again.

  Mason looked around the waiting room and tapped his foot, impatient. He’d been standing at the desk for the past twenty minutes with a huge bunch of red roses. He assumed they were for a patient. The little receptionist behind the desk had scurried off to look for Lena, whoever the hell that was. Quite frankly, he was beyond caring. At this stage, he just wanted to put a lot of distance between himself and the child who was trying to make him deaf before he reached thirty-five. He still couldn’t believe his mother had suckered him into dropping off flowers to a customer on his way back to the restaurant. He was about to call her and demand a phone number or at least a paycheck for his time—ha! Like she’d go for that—when the receptionist reappeared, looking frazzled.

  “Lena wants to know who they’re from.”

  Mason stared at her as if she’d gone mad. He leaned on the desk and slowly placed the vase down.

  “Does it matter who they’re from? They’re roses, for God’s sake.”

  The receptionist peered at him over the rim of her thick black glasses. He was sure she thought they were hip, but really, they just took away from her eyes.

  “It matters because it’s Lena. She doesn’t like anything. . .” she stopped as though she was looking for the right word. “Cheery.”

  Mason frowned and then sighed. See? That was the problem with women. Who the hell knew what made them tick? He braced his elbows on the counter.

  “Look. I don’t know who they’re from – the card’s sealed. To be quite honest, I really think that Lena needs to be a bit more grateful and just come and sign for the damn flowers.”

  He knew he was raising his voice toward the end, but with the screaming child and the way the receptionist stared at him, he thought she was lucky he hadn’t picked the flowers up and walked out with them. He watched as she shrugged.

  “I don’t know what to tell you, sir.”

  Mason clenched his teeth, prayed for patience, and then slowly smiled. All of a sudden it came to him that maybe, just maybe, a little charm might work. After all, he’d been charming women his whole life, if he included his mother and sister. He watched the lady’s eyes soften and her posture become less rigid and thought to himself, oh yeah, charm works every time. It was whether or not he could keep up the pretense with the onset of a major headache from the wailing banshee in the background.

  “Well, maybe you could go and get—” he stopped for a moment, forgetting the not-so-cheery lady’s name. “Lena? So I could talk to her?”

  The receptionist with the dark glasses smiled sweetly, and then nodded. “Okay, give me a minute. I’ll see if she’ll come out here.”

  Mason kept the fake smile plastered on his face. “Thank you so much.”

  If she won’t come out here, I’m dumping her flowers all over the waiting room floor. With that cheery image, he turned and took a seat on one of the chairs and waited for the annoying Lena to make an appearance.

  Lena had just walked into her office and taken a seat when Brandy came in smiling.

  “So? Did you find out who they were from?”

  Frowning, Brandy pushed her glasses back up her nose and then shook her head back and forth, implying that no, she had not found out. She seemed nervous for some reason. When she didn’t answer immediately, Lena probed, “Brandy? Did you find out who they were from?”

  “Oh. Nope. He said the card was sealed and that he wasn’t allowed to open it.”

  Rolling her eyes, Lena sighed. Oh, so that was the reason for the nerves. What? The flower guy suddenly had morals and ethics? She’d basically given him permission to check who they were from when she’d asked, hadn’t she? She didn’t have time for this.

  “No need to worry. I’ll take care of it.”

  Inwardly groaning, Lena stood and walked around her desk to go and get her flowers.

  Pushing open the door to the waiting room, Lena saw a tall, dark-haired man folded into one of the tiny waiting room chairs. He clutched a vase with a dozen red roses and the first thing she noticed was that he did not look happy. In fact, he looked extremely pissed off. The second thing was his very, very long legs, folded up at an awkward angle to balance the vase on his knees. Lastly, she noticed his tapping foot. It seemed to be getting more and more impatient before her eyes. He turned toward Lena and she watched his face change from a look of disgust to a fake blank smile. He stretched his tall frame and walked over to her. Lena stood at 5’7 and in heels she was often taller than most, but even she had nothing on this guy. Geez, what did his mom do? Stand him in manure every night as a child? Smirking to herself, she looked at him and asked, “Can you not read?”

  Mason stared down at the annoying—yeah he was going to think of her as annoying—woman in front of him and wondered how much trouble he’d get in from his mother if he lifted the vase and tipped the contents all over her. Taking a deep breath, he decided he didn’t need to put up with this crap. He’d already been there forty minutes more than he wanted to be. Standing there being patronized was not high on his list of priorities.

  “Excuse me? What did you say?”

  She didn’t step back from his cool tone. In fact, he watched her spine get stiffer, if it was even possible.

  “I asked if you could read.” She paused and then continued with her patronizing ramble. “Because that’s the only reason I can think why you couldn’t tell Brandy who the flowers are from.”

  Mason felt his eyes narrow and the hair on the back of his neck rise. Just who did this snotty thing think she was? The Queen? The psycho standing in front of him wore sky blue scrubs and had a stethoscope draped around her neck. Dark brown curls were tied up in a high topknot bun on her head with several of them escaping around her neck. A pair of thin wire-rimmed glasses magnified her big bottle green eyes. He swallowed and told himself to calm down; he was doing this for his mother. One other question he wanted answered was, who the hell would ever buy this woman flowers?

  “Yes. Surprisingly I was taught how to read all the way through elementary school,” Mason told her in the calmest tone he could find. Taking a deep breath, he tried to remind himself that his mother had instilled great manners in him and somehow he needed to find them, even though it would feel much better to—ahh, what the heck she deserved a little sarcasm. “I even managed to graduate. The reason I didn’t answer your little peon over there, princess, was because a) I didn’t want to, b) The card is sealed, and c) I didn’t want to. My job was to bring these flowers to your ungrateful self. Not stand here and take your condescending crap.”

  Mason watched her as she listened to him and wasn’t surprised to see no emotion whatsoever cross her features. What was wrong with this woman? He thrust the flowers at her along with the clipboard. “Just sign for them, sweetheart, so I can get the hell out of here.”

  Her eyes narrowed at the false endearment. She grabbed the clipboard out of his hands, scrawled her name across the bottom, and then snatched the flowers into the crook of her arm. Turning without another word, she looked about to storm away when she stopped and looked over to the opposite side of the waiting room.

  Mason watched, with something close to shock, as the angry woman he’d just encountered vanished right before his very eyes. The doctor he now knew as Lena, made her way to a little girl sitting at a small desk coloring in a picture with a bright red crayon she held in her hand. He watched as Lena crouched down beside her and pointed to the drawin
g, and then smiled. Mason couldn’t believe the change in her. She’d gone from rigid and ice-cold with him, to gentle and warm with the child. It fascinated him, although he shouldn’t have been shocked; she was a pediatrician after all, and she should be good with children. Maybe it was just adults where she lacked communication skills? After she finished with the child, she stood and moved over to the door where her receptionist gave her a small smile and nod. Okay, so maybe it was him she had communication issues with, which was kind of a shame because the lady was something else when she dropped her guard. However, right as Mason thought that she paused at the door and turned, aiming a cool glare at him—that’s right sweetheart I’m watching you. She glared, he smirked, and then she disappeared through the swinging doors.

  Wow! What an uptight package she was, but damn if he didn’t find her appealing. Shaking off that thought quick smart, Mason turned to see Brandy peeking at him from over her desk. He smiled slightly and waved. “Good luck with that one.”

  By the time Lena reached her office, she was furious. Furious with herself for behaving like an obnoxious jerk. It wasn’t as though she didn’t know she was doing it. Her excuse—well, the one she used—was that she did it to keep people away. The fewer people in her life meant the less she had to give a shit, and that equaled the less possibility that she’d get hurt. It was a good theory, if she didn’t have a soul, but she did have a soul apparently, because she was sitting in her office regretting that entire incident. She had erected a nice, oh ten-foot tall wall, right around her heart to protect it, and if that meant she had to come off cool and detached then so be it. A life without fear of losing the one you loved was better than falling head over heels and then having your heart ripped out of your chest, right?

  Lena put the vase on the edge of her desk and flopped down into her chair. Staring at the flowers, she willed them to go away, as if that would actually work. Then, when there was no other choice than to drive herself batshit crazy, she leaned forward and snatched up the card. Tearing it open, Lena thought of the mule-headed, freakishly tall flower delivery—what could she call him? Certainly not a boy. Okay, mule-headed, freakishly tall flower deliveryman. What was his problem anyway? It wasn’t as if he knew her. Another random thought came on the heels of that one and it was far less welcome. Why on earth could she not stop thinking about how blue his eyes had been? Pushing his irritating presence out of her mind, she looked down at the card in her hand knowing exactly whom they were from.

 
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