The Doctor's Former Fiancee(2)

By: Caro Carson


Pulling his company’s funding for this project was.

The new wing made West Central feel as strange to him as every other hospital he’d been to. He’d called on too many hospitals to count, flying from coast to coast, living in airports as he’d once lived in this hospital. But PLI rewarded him, raising his pay often and substantially, to keep him from being tempted by rival companies who tried to lure him away. There weren’t many executives who held both an M.D. and a Harvard MBA, so Braden was on the radar as a potential executive for practically every global biotech corporation.

As president of research and development for PLI, Braden flew less often now. He allowed his handpicked regional directors to screen the applications and research sites. He let them build the thick skin they needed to cut failing programs.

Braden personally flew in when the stakes were at their highest. Only the biggest investment. Only the biggest potential for return. Now his career had brought him full circle, back to where he’d started. Back to Texas.

Today, he’d kill a dream at the hospital where his own most valuable, most precious dream had died.

* * *

Dr. Lana Donnoli had been given less than an hour’s notice for this meeting. Her predecessor, the esteemed Dr. Montgomery, had once been the faculty adviser during her residency in this hospital. He’d survived a myocardial infarct weeks ago, a common heart attack that must have caused him to reconsider his career. From his hospital bed, he’d called her office at the Washington, D.C., hospital where she worked and had offered her his position. It was an opportunity she couldn’t refuse, a chance to skip a few rungs to get higher on her career ladder. For that, she could face Texas again.

She’d given her two-week notice, packed up her apartment’s meager contents in a do-it-yourself moving van and driven from the mushy snow on the gray Potomac River to the cool and dry hill country of brown Central Texas. Dr. Montgomery had welcomed her with a brief handshake, announced that he was leaving before the job gave him another heart attack and literally walked out the door.

This morning. Monday. Her first day as the new chair of the Department of Research and Clinical Studies at West Central Texas Hospital had started with a bang.

West Central. It was a fine hospital with a crazy name.

Is it west or is it central? You’re either in the west or in the center; you can’t be both. Every time she saw the hospital’s name on a sign, she heard the lightly mocking question in her mind. The voice that posed the question was always the same: always masculine, always affectionate. Always her ex-fiancé’s.

It had been a running joke between them, becoming so ingrained in her psyche that the thought played automatically, even six years after he’d left his medical training behind and moved to Boston. Six years after he’d traded in his white coat and stethoscope for an MBA from the prestigious Harvard University. Six years after he’d left her, his supposedly beloved fiancée, behind. Alone.

Still, she could hear his laughter: Is it west or is it central?

She pushed open the double doors with more force than necessary. The nurses stared, perhaps surprised at the amount of force coming from someone as petite as she was. Her Italian-American grandfather had fallen in love with her Polynesian grandmother in the South Pacific during World War II. Lana could have inherited her very black hair from either grandparent, but her grandmother’s genes had given her hair its straightness and her eyes just a touch of an almond shape—and the petite height that came with both Polynesian traits.

If I can be an Italian-Pacific-Asian-American, why can’t the hospital be West Central? Are you saying I’m an oxymoron?

No, you’re a perfect combination. Hands down the sexiest, brainiest, beautiful-est—

Beautiful-est?

Beautiful-est, unique-est woman on earth, and I’m smart enough to make you mine.

Braden had tapped the diamond she’d worn on her finger, the proof of his undying love.

He’d given her the ring in the middle of their third year of medical school. On their way to the surgical suite where they’d been interning, he’d taken her by the hand and pulled her into the quiet, dim light of the hospital’s small chapel, gotten down on bended knee and popped the question. She’d floated through their shift that day—her ring tucked into her bra so it wouldn’t poke through her latex gloves—feeling happy even when her arms had ached from holding retractors for hours while a thoracic surgeon repaired someone else’s damaged heart.

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