When nurse Sara Peters treats celebrity billionaire Trenton Merrick for a mysterious injury to his forehead, she is blindsided by what follows: a passionate exchange in the examination room and an invitation to Trenton's house for dinner.
Trenton spins a web of deceit and seduction around Sara that both repels and attracts her. One part humanitarian, the other international financial mogul, his personal and professional lives are a curious contradiction. As Sara journeys deeper into her feelings for Trenton and begins unraveling the mystery behind his injury, she finds herself embroiled in a game of trust and betrayal, where the odds are stacked in Trenton's favor and the outcome for the loser is too terrifying to conceive.
BONUS CONTENT includes four short stories written exclusively for this release.
"Pleasant But Not Nice" takes a closer look at the friendship between Kelly Sheridan and Denim Jacobson prior to Sara Peters' arrival in New York.
"The Five Rs" accompanies Sean Mavis and Christopher Maida on a stakeout and reveals their initial impressions of Kelly and Denim.
"Dust" is an intimate look at Trenton Merrick's relief efforts in Haiti days after the devastating earthquake.
"The Celibate Spy" transports us back to 1969 when Randall Wolverhampton takes on his first mission as a junior agent in MI6, Britain's foreign intelligence agency.
PLUS the first chapter of the upcoming sequel to Frontline coming in 2015.
The emergency room at Manhattan General Hospital is especially busy for a Friday night. Holidays tend to bring out the worst in people in terms of sickness and injury, and Memorial Day weekend is no exception.
With a sigh, I tighten my ponytail and survey the waiting room. No matter how many people I usher through Triage, the crowd keeps growing. My shift began at seven thirty this evening, it’s now almost midnight, and I haven’t had a break. It’s going to be a long one.
I pick up the top folder in the pile at the Triage nurses’ station and read the preliminary information on the next person in line, taken by my coworker, Lindsay, who has the unfortunate job of screening people when they walk in the door and weeding out the minor cases from the serious ones. We’re not a trauma hospital, so many of the cases we receive are relatively straightforward.
I step out from behind the desk, adjusting the stethoscope around my neck. “Mr. Ronald Collins?”
Eager faces shoot from behind year-old magazines, frowning again as quickly as they brightened. Most of them were here when I started my shift. If they’re lucky, they’ll be seen before I leave in the morning.
A man in the back stands and saunters toward me, looking every bit the Mommy-I-don’t-feel-well-I-don’t-want-to-go-to-school-today type. His medical chart states he’s forty-two years old.
I smile. “Mr. Collins?”
He nods and moans at the same time, as though words are too painful. I usher him through the swinging double doors toward the main area of the emergency department and have him sit down on one of our available beds before drawing the curtain for privacy.
“What brings you to the hospital tonight, Mr. Collins?”
He sniffles. “I have a sore throat and a fever.”
I withhold a sigh and remove a pen from the pocket of my scrubs. I’m going to personally thank Lindsay for not directing him to the nearest drugstore for over-the-counter cold medication.
“How long have you had these symptoms?”
“Since this morning.”
I record this information in his chart for the doctor. “When you last took your temperature, what did it read?”
He hunches his shoulders. “I haven’t taken my temperature.”
As required, I check his vital signs.
Blood pressure: 122/84.
Heart rate: 82.
Oxygen saturation: 99%.
Respiratory rate: 18.
His throat is a little red, but not swollen. Lungs sound clear.
My hunch is correct. He has a mild cold.
“Do you have any other symptoms, Mr. Collins?”
After fifteen minutes, I’ve finished taking his health history and I tell him the doctor will see him shortly. Nurses are not allowed to diagnose a patient, no matter how obvious the conclusion from their assessments.
I politely excuse myself and set Mr. Collins’ chart down at the nurses’ station, ready to head back to Triage to collect the next person in line.
“Sara,” a man whispers behind me.
I don’t need to turn around to see who it is. Dr. Harvey Shore. He’s flirted with me endlessly in the last six months since I started at Manhattan General, my first job after graduating from nursing school.
Dr. Shore peers over my shoulder at the opened folder on the desk. I stifle a gag as his pine-scented cologne assaults me.
“Another cold, huh?” he says into my ear.
I step aside and turn to him, forcing a smile. Dr. Shore is a thirty-four-year-old bachelor and graduate of Columbia Medical School. He’s Manhattan General’s very own McDreamy—known as McFantasy here—with coiffed blond hair and a movie star smile. He casts a spell over every nurse in the hospital, leaving them panting and starry-eyed—except the nurses who work alongside him in the ER.
“Yes,” I say.
Dr. Shore inches closer.
I relax as my friend, savior, and the full-time ER night receptionist, Derek, approaches.
“Dr. Shore, there’s a never-ending nosebleed in Room Six. Angela needs help.”
Dr. Shore looks annoyed by the intrusion, since it happens often, and deliberately. He regards Derek pointedly. “Tell Angela to grab an epistaxis tray. I’ll meet her in the room in five minutes.”
Derek stays put.
Dr. Shore scowls. “I have new orders to relay to Miss Peters about a patient she saw earlier.”
Unfortunately, the phone rings at Derek’s desk. He shoots me an apologetic look before leaving to answer it.
Dr. Shore rests his palm on the desk and leans in. “Now, as I was saying, Sara …”
The double doors swing open and the nurse manager, Valerie Hendrix, rushes into the ER from Triage. She wears a smart navy blue pantsuit. Her wide eyes dart around the vast room.
Valerie has been a nurse for over two decades—away from the bedside for ten of those years in a managerial capacity—and nothing seems to faze her. I’m curious as to what has her so worked up. She rarely leaves her cozy office to mingle with us common folk, especially when she works nights.
Valerie walks straight toward Dr. Shore and me, her high heels clicking along the floor. Her presence commands the interest of everyone in the room. She stands in the middle of the nurses’ station, claps twice loudly, and gestures for the rest of the staff in the area to approach.
“I need everyone’s attention, please.”
“Is this a nurse thing?” Dr. Shore asks. “Because if that’s the case, this isn’t my—”
“We’ll need your assistance.” Valerie looks around the group and drops her voice to a whisper. “Is anyone here familiar with Trenton Merrick?”
Most of the people in the circle nod, including me. I’m aware of him and what he looks like, but we don’t exactly run in the same social circles. Trenton Merrick is rich—very rich—and the poster boy for such publications as the Wall Street Journal, TIME magazine, and Forbes. He’s only about thirty years old, but he’s the CEO of some major company, and I think, once, he was in People magazine’s Most Beautiful People issue.
“Well, he’s here.”
“Here?” Michelle, a newbie like me, echoes. Her eyes widen.
“Yes, Mr. Merrick is here at our hospital,” Valerie says. “He has a laceration on his forehead. Lindsay put gauze over it and placed him in a chair in Triage. We can’t have him waiting there long.”
I arch my eyebrows. “Why not? Everyone else has to wait at least six hours before they’re seen. It’s a holiday weekend and—”
Valerie’s icy stare silences me.
“Mr. Merrick is a very wealthy man,” she says, her voice low. “We are not a wealthy hospital. It’s not rocket science, Miss Peters. I don’t know why he chose to come to Manhattan General, but we must make him feel welcome. He is very charitable. Perhaps if we pull out all the stops, we may, one day soon, be on the receiving end of his generosity.”
Harriet, a veteran nurse who’s worked in the profession even longer than Valerie, folds her arms across her chest. “I’ve dealt with my share of celebrities in the past. There’s no way I’m going out of my way to cater to this Merrick character.”
“Harriet, please.” Valerie’s tone shifts from scolding to begging. “I need you and Karen to assist Dr. Shore in treating Mr. Merrick. You’re the most experienced nurses we’ve got.”
Karen nods. “I’ll do it.”
After some additional coaxing, Harriet also agrees.
“Wait a minute,” Dr. Shore says. “I’m more than capable of handling this guy on my own. After all, I come from an affluent background, too. If anyone can relate to him, I can.”
I refrain from rolling my eyes. Derek, who hovers outside the circle, sorting through papers, doesn’t.
“Like I said, Harriet and Karen will assist you, Dr. Shore,” Valerie replies. “We must show Mr. Merrick that all the medical staff here at Manhattan General are expertly trained. I’ll have another physician cover your patients. Plus, you may need the extra hands. According to Lindsay, Mr. Merrick needs stitches.”
Dr. Shore sighs and turns to Harriet and Karen. “Ladies, it’s best if I do all the talking. We high society types are accustomed to a certain level of conversation and—”
The two women scowl at him and he shuts up. They leave for Triage.
“Wait a minute,” Valerie says. “Miss Peters will greet Mr. Merrick first and escort him to Room Three.”
I gasp. “Me?”
“We must show Mr. Merrick that we work as a team. I would greet him myself, but we don’t want to look too obvious now, do we?”
Before I can protest, Valerie addresses Dr. Shore. “While Miss Peters greets Mr. Merrick, you, Harriet, and Karen will gather the supplies needed to treat a superficial head wound and set them by the bedside for maximum efficiency.”
Dr. Shore holds his hands up in defense. “That’s a nurse’s job. I’m a medical practitioner.”
Valerie grits her teeth. “Now, Harvey.”
Dr. Shore mutters something under his breath and walks toward the supply room, Harriet and Karen in tow.
Valerie faces me. “Quickly, Miss Peters. Time is money.” She leaves me standing with the remaining RNs who offer sympathetic smiles before dispersing.
Derek approaches and slaps me on the back. “Work it, girl. Show that billionaire who’s boss.”
I swallow hard and nod.
On my walk to Triage, I look down at my baggy scrubs. I’m not wearing any makeup and my hair is a mess. And Valerie wants me to greet the VIP in the next room?
So much for a donation.
I smooth out my top and straighten my shoulders before pushing open the double doors. Triage has exploded in my absence. Lindsay rushes around the room, trying to keep up with patient screening. I glance at the pile of charts at the nurses’ station. Mr. Merrick’s file coincidentally sits on top.
As I step out from behind the desk with the folder in hand, a young woman rushes up to me, holding an infant in her arms.
“Please, help my son! He has a fever and hasn’t been feeding well for two days.”
“Yes, of course.” I look over her shoulder. “Lindsay! I need help here.”
A firm hand grabs my forearm. It belongs to Valerie.
She glares at me. “Attend to Mr. Merrick.”
I open my mouth to object as the young mother weeps in my ear, but Valerie speaks first. “Please have a seat, ma’am. A nurse will see you shortly.”
“But my son!”
Valerie smiles thinly. “Please have a seat.”
The young mother staggers toward a vacant chair and sits down. Tears cascade down her cheeks. Anger encourages me to stand my ground and advocate for her son to be seen first, but arguing with my boss is futile. Valerie gives me another glare and then vanishes.
I sweep my eyes across the room in search of Mr. Money Bags. He sits in a chair in the corner, swiping his thumb over his cell phone screen. A bloodstained gauze is taped to his forehead.
Mr. Merrick looks up as I approach. I inhale sharply when I meet his vibrant blue eyes, inviting his dark, spicy scent into my lungs.
“Hello,” he says.
I survey all of him at once: mussed brown hair, fancy suit, shined shoes. My throat seizes so I can’t speak while my mouth hangs wide open. He holds me spellbound until a shrill cry from a child in the waiting room reminds me of the hysterical mother and her sick infant still waiting to be seen.
“Mr. Merrick.” I square my shoulders. “Right this way, sir.”
He holds my stare and makes no move to follow me. I swallow the lump in my throat.
“Mr. Merrick,” I say, louder this time. “The doctor will see you now.”
The corners of his mouth lift into a smirk. My heart launches into a frantic pace, as though I’ve received a shock from a defibrillator.
“Thank you, Miss …” His eyes roam to my breasts. “Peters.”
I blush, realizing he was only reading my identification badge.
You’re an idiot, Sara.
Mr. Merrick looks like Mr. GQ while I’m modeling the latest in frumpy nurse fashion. I curse myself for buying my scrubs two sizes too big just because they were on clearance.
Shaking my head, I try to refocus on the task at hand. Mr. Merrick looks amused by my hesitation. I assume he receives this kind of reaction from all women and thrives off it.
And I thought Dr. Shore’s ego was massive.
I gesture for him to follow me. “Sir, if you please.”
Mr. Merrick stands and buttons his suit jacket. He’s tall, around six feet, and his build is strong and lean. I try and pinpoint what it is about him that has me scrambling to put a coherent sentence together. My answer comes easily, even though I’ve had only one serious romantic relationship in all of my twenty-two years, which was short-lived and mediocre at best.
Trenton Merrick exudes pure sex. Chiseled features, bedroom eyes, delicious smirk. Everything about him screams confidence and sexual prowess. Even more, it seems effortless.
His stare intensifies. The heat rolling off my body is enough to warm a Manhattan winter night. After a glance at his blood-soaked bandage, I escort him across the waiting room, attempting to ignore my heart’s erratic flutter.
The scene that greets me on the other side of the doors is something out of The Twilight Zone instead of a typical Friday night in Manhattan General’s ER. All eyes focus on our new patient and then hurry to look away, their attempts at nonchalance failing epically. The cleaning staff polish the unit as though they do such a thorough job regularly. They even pull out the good stuff—strawberry scented soap—in place of the nightly blast of bleach.
Michelle and another young nurse, Chelsea, chart at the nurses’ station with large smiles on their faces, as if they’re contestants in a beauty pageant. Derek answers the phone with additional pep in his voice. All that’s missing is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs singing ‘Whistle While You Work.’
I lead Mr. Merrick toward Room Three, thankful to see Harriet, who seems to be the only person in this hospital unimpressed by Richie Rich.
Besides me, of course.
I enter the room, which is normally reserved for seriously ill or isolated patients who require walls and a sliding glass door instead of just a curtain. Dr. Shore and Karen aren’t here yet.
“Harriet.” I gesture beside me. “This is Trenton Merrick. Trenton Merrick, meet Harriet. She’ll be your nurse.”
“I want you.” Mr. Merrick grips my arm, his eyes sweeping down my body unabashedly.
His touch and sultry gaze weaken me. His file falls from my grasp, the papers fluttering to the floor.
“Excuse me?” I say.
“I thought you were my nurse.” He removes his hand from my arm.
I look down at the skin he touched, expecting to find it ablaze. “I, uh—”
“Mr. Merrick, welcome to Manhattan General!”
Dr. Shore stands in the doorway with Karen. They smile warmly. Dr. Shore extends his hand to Mr. Merrick and they share a firm shake. I retrieve the fallen chart from the floor and silently chastise myself for acting like such a klutz in Mr. Merrick’s presence. Just because he’s worth a ton of money doesn’t mean he deserves special treatment. There’s no reason for me to feel flustered around him.
“I hope you didn’t have to wait long, Mr. Merrick.”
Dr. Shore’s comment reminds me of Mr. Merrick’s unjust preferential treatment.
“Disgusting,” I say under my breath. “That poor woman and child.”
The conversation ceases and four pairs of eyes focus on me.
“What did you say?” Mr. Merrick lifts his eyebrows.
I promise if he smirks, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind.
He waits for my reply. No smirk.
I slap his folder down on a nearby table. “Nothing.”
I feel myself gain the upper hand as I leave the room, sliding the door shut behind me. On my walk to Triage, I ignore calls from Derek, who undoubtedly wants details on our wealthy visitor. I’d rather not see or discuss Mr. Merrick ever again.
As I reach the double doors, Valerie jumps in my way, foiling my escape.
“So, how did it go?”
I shrug. “I greeted him, he’s in Room Three … I’m going back to Triage.”
She places a hand on my shoulder. “Did he mention anything about the service or his thoughts on the hospital?”
Plastering a smile on my face, I say, “Dr. Shore is in there now. I’m sure he’ll give you a full report when he’s finished.”
I step around her and push through the doors, but Valerie catches my arm and drags me back. I turn around. Harriet walks toward us with her purse hanging from her shoulder.
“What’s going on?” Valerie lets go of my arm.
“I’m going on break,” Harriet says with a quick wave of her hand.
Valerie sputters a protest, but Harriet disappears through the doors without looking back. Dr. Shore and Karen enter the nurses’ station, both frowning.
“Dr. Shore,” Valerie calls. “What’s wrong? Why aren’t you treating Mr. Merrick?”
Dr. Shore drapes his stethoscope around his neck. “I completed my assessment. He definitely needs stitches, but—”
“He wants you.” Karen looks directly at me.
The room stills. Blood drains from my face.
Dr. Shore steps forward, looking unimpressed. “He dismissed us. He said he’ll only let me stitch him up after he talks with you. Alone. I’m not surprised after the attitude you gave him.”
Valerie’s vicious stare lands on me. “Fix this, Sara. Now.”
Before I can run away, she places her hand against my lower back and vaults me down the corridor into Room Three. She pulls the curtain for privacy and slides the door shut.
Mr. Merrick approaches me from the other side of the room with a graceful and purposeful prowl. I cast my gaze to the floor, wringing my hands in front of me, trembling from his closeness. I don’t need to look at him to know his eyes are smoldering. Sparks course through my body, igniting a deep yearning.
Time passes. My heart palpitates, my breaths deepen, the mere awareness of him in my personal space affecting me as though his hands were all over me.
When I finally lift my gaze, the first thing I see is that smirk. Then Mr. Merrick dips his head, his expression softens, and the gap between our lips vanishes.