by Jasmine Aherne
contemporary sensual romance
Landscape designer Marianne Dawson thinks she's hit her head pretty hard when she wakes up in hospital to the handsome face of Dr. Noah Campbell. They hit it off, but the emergency ward is too busy to get friendly. Mari's delighted then, when Noah turns out to be the blind date she agreed to as a favor for a friend.
Noah finds himself falling for Mari's sharp wit and ready smile, but his life's complicated enough as it is - he's just found out he has a twelve-year-old daughter, and he needs serious help becoming a father. With Mari's help, however, the sulky girl blooms, and they start to form a family.
But Mari's struggling with her own internal demons, and what will she do when a difficult choice threatens everything she and Noah have built together?
Marianne Dawson woke to the steady and determined thump of a headache. Gingerly, she lifted her hand and poked the sensitive place right above her right eye, wincing at the sudden, and intense, stab of pain. Yep, she probably had – or would very soon have – a very nice bruise. Just in time for the weekend.
She shifted with a grimace. Great. She’d passed out in the middle of a job. Hopefully she hadn’t been out too long; she’d just bet the well-to-do couple that had hired her to redesign their penthouse garden would be thrilled to find her unconscious on their patio.
But the surface under her didn’t feel like stone, slate…or even grass.
It actually felt a lot like…a bed.
Loathe to find out where she might be, Mari didn’t lift her lids. She slowly became aware of sounds around her. The steady, clinical beep of monitors, the rustle and slide of footsteps and, over it all, the blanket of antiseptic scent. Very slowly, she opened her eyes, her mind whirling with what she might see.
She supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised to see a hospital room, but she gasped nonetheless, causing the pounding in her head to escalate to new levels.
And then she remembered.
She’d been carrying a large bag of fertilizer across the Wyndham family’s gorgeous penthouse garden, the bag so large that she could hardly see over it. The October sunshine, unusually bright, shone down and, lost in a daydream, Mari hadn’t bothered to check the ground beneath her.
The ground on which she’d recently laid her rake.
The memory made Mari cringe. Only people in slapstick movies – and apparently now her – got hit in the face by a rake.
Hopefully the only person nearby had been her best friend and business partner, Jen, who had presumably brought her here.
But had that really been necessary? Mari tried to sit. Her gaze traveled the length of her body, down to her hot pink sneakers, before a wave of dizziness assaulted her. Whoa. Apparently it had been very necessary.
Where had Jen gone?
Thinking caused a stabbing pain behind her eyes and Mari lay back on the flat pillows, rubbing her temples in small circles. It helped a little.
Around her, thin white curtains prevented her from the full effect of the working hospital around her. She could make out the shapes of feet under the curtain’s hem, the movement, but little else. Every few moments, half a shape appeared through the curtain fabric, as someone brushed too close.
“Ms. Marianne Dawson?”
Mari’s eyes snapped open. That hurt, too. She frowned, biting back a groan.
She soon forgot the pain when her gaze settled on the man standing at her bedside. A single coherent through made its way through her headache: My God, he’s hot!
He was tall and lean; she’d never seen a man fill out a doctor’s white coat better. His hair, a rich chocolate, glinted under the fluorescent lighting, picking out strands of coffee-dark and caramel-light brown. It looked like he might’ve styled and combed it earlier in the day, but through the day he’d obviously run his fingers through it, tousling the mass and causing a few tendrils to hang over his forehead, giving him a boyish, unkempt look.
Her gaze dropped to his face, drinking in beautifully sculpted cheekbones, a strong jaw, and eyes of an intense sea green.
“That’s me,” she said when her brain started to work again.
“I’m Dr. Campbell. How are you feeling?” he asked gently. “Do you need anything for the pain?”
“Not yet.” She rubbed her hand over eyes that still gave her a slightly fuzzy view of Dr. Dreamy. “I only just woke up.”
“Okay.” He wrote something on the clipboard he held. “I need to ask you some questions. Is that all right?”
“Sure.” She closed her eyes. The headache retreated a little.
“How old are you?”
“Do you have a history of any serious medical conditions?”
“My grandmother had pretty bad asthma.”
He made a note; she heard the quiet stroke of his pen on paper. “Do you feel nauseous or feverish?”
“Does it hurt to look at the lights on the ceiling?”
She opened her eyes and directed them towards the strip lighting. “My head still hurts, but no more than usual.”
“Where exactly is your headache, right now?”
She cautiously hovered her hand over the sensitive spot in her forehead. He made a noise that might have been a chuckle.
“What’s funny?” Mari asked.
He sobered immediately. “I’m sorry. Nothing.”
Mari resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “At least laugh with me and not at me. I could do with a good laugh right now.”
Indecision plastered his face, and then he said, “I’m guessing you received this injury by being smacked in the head by the handle of a rake.”
Grudgingly impressed, Mari asked slowly, “How do you know that?”
“Because the name of the local hardware store is imprinted in your forehead.”