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Please note that this book is published by Amazon Publishing, and as such, will be available only on Amazon platforms. If you read on other platforms, you can download a FREE Kindle app to any device to read this book, or grab it in paperback or audio formats. This was a great opportunity for me, and I hope my readers on other platforms will check out this fun new book!

First impressions can be truly deceiving… Is it possible the brash doctor might be worth a second look?

Carmen
Babysitting a handsome, arrogant neurosurgeon isn’t how I imagined my first day at Miami-Dade General Hospital. After the tragic loss of my husband, I’ve focused on starting my dream career. Dr. Jason Northup isn’t going to mess up my plans, even if he makes my lady parts stand up and say hello. He checks every box on my cliché list. However, my heart—and other parts—don’t seem to care about clichés…

Jason
I have more important things to do than bail out an attractive new colleague, but I need her. Carmen is my only hope in convincing the Miami-Dade board to overlook my tarnished reputation—and she makes me feel optimistic again. Romantic entanglements are the last thing I need, but Carmen isn’t an entanglement. She’s a beautiful breath of fresh South Florida air. My feelings for her are quickly becoming the best kind of scandal.

From Marie: South Florida has played an important role in my life, and I’ve always wanted to set a book there. My dad attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Institute in the 1950s when it was located in Miami (it’s now a university and has since moved to Daytona Beach). He fell in love with South Florida and would’ve stayed there permanently, except he was the only child of a widowed mother at home in Rhode Island. So luckily for me (and my brother), he moved back home to RI where he met my mother and went to work as an aviation mechanic, eventually owning his own FAA-certified aviation repair station.

But every chance he got, he returned to South Florida. As a child, I swam in the pool at the Fontainebleau and spent time in Key Biscayne and Fort Lauderdale, where my parents wintered after they retired. My dad loved it there so much, and so did we. During the writing of this book, I made two trips to Miami and loved every minute of bringing Carmen and Jason’s story to life in a place that has meant so much to me and my family.

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How Much I Feel

Coming Aug 11, 2020

Chapter 1

Carmen

It took only one day for my dream job to turn into a nightmare. Actually, that’s being generous. In reality, it took one fifteen-minute meeting with the hospital president to throw years of studying, planning and dreaming straight out the window into the blistering South Florida sunshine.

Nowhere in the elaborate job description I was given at my interview to be Miami-Dade General Hospital’s assistant director of public relations did the word babysitter appear. Let’s face it, if I’d known what they really wanted me to do, I wouldn’t be wilting in the scorching early-morning heat waiting for Dr. Jason Northrup to arrive for his first day.

“Anything he wants or needs, get it for him,” Mr. Augustino instructed. “Just keep him away from the executive offices.”

“But today’s my first day, too. Wouldn’t it be better to have someone who knows the facility meet and escort him?”

“I want you to do it,” he said, leaving no room for further argument.

“Should I bring him up here to speak with you?”

“I’m with the board of directors all day. Don’t bring him anywhere near the conference room.”

Something stinks to high heaven about this whole thing. Why isn’t the hospital rolling out the red carpet to welcome Dr. Northrup? Mr. Augustino referred to Northrup as a world-class, board-certified pediatric neurosurgeon. If he doesn’t warrant the red carpet, who does? Most puzzling of all is why Mr. Augustino would let the newest person on his staff handle such an important task and not want to be there himself.

My boss’s late directive gave me no time to research my first “assignment,” which has me unprepared and out of sorts as I wait for him. Mr. Augustino gave me a photo of a sinfully handsome man with dirty-blond hair, golden-brown eyes and the perfect amount of scruff on his chiseled jaw. I can only imagine Northrup’s type: privileged, pampered and pardoned for his sins. Now it’s my job to kiss up to him and make him feel “welcome.”

After years of waitressing and taking care of actual children to put myself through college and graduate school, being told to babysit him infuriates me. All the carefully cultivated marketing and publicity plans I put together in anticipation of wowing the bosses on my first day are still stashed inside the leather-bound portfolio I clutch to my chest, useless in light of the task I’ve been given for the day as I roast in dense late-June humidity.

One thing I’ll say for Miami-Dade General Hospital is the grounds are gorgeous, with lush landscaping, colorful flower beds and grass kept green in the summer heat thanks to artfully hidden sprinklers.

Naturally, the good doctor is late, which gives me far too much time to consider my limited options as I try not to completely wilt in heat that makes my armpits feel swampy and has my ruthlessly straightened hair starting to curl. I could go to HR and tell them the position isn’t a good fit after all. With less than a day on the job, it won’t show up on my permanent record, especially since I only just completed the paperwork needed to enroll in the hospital’s payroll system and health insurance program. I could still put a stop to it.

But then I recall how proud my parents and grandmothers were when I landed my first big job following years of school. After moving back home when Tony died, I’m finally on my own again in a new apartment I recently rented near the hospital in Kendall. And there’s the wardrobe of power suits I purchased on credit so I could present a professional appearance at work. Paying for all of that is dependent upon my new cushy salary, which will be lost if I quit.

Quitting isn’t an option.

Not when I haven’t even given the job a chance. Besides, I’m not a quitter. My beloved Abuela would be so disappointed. She and my equally beloved Nona were happier about me landing this job than I was. Not to mention my top goal has always been to make Tony proud of me. I’m convinced he’s close to me, and I want him to see me surviving and thriving, not walking away from a challenge the first time it gets tough. I can’t disappoint everyone in my life by walking away from this opportunity. I’ve restored a bit of steel to my spine by the time the roar of a sports car draws my attention to the hospital’s long driveway.

I watch in disbelief as a sleek black convertible Porsche growls its way up the half-circle drive with Northrup at the wheel and a bottle blonde in a sexy red dress riding shotgun.

“What a cliché,” I mutter as he brings the low-slung black car to a halt two feet from where I stand ready to “welcome” him.

He alights from the car with catlike grace, tall, muscular and even handsomer than his photo—of course. As he comes toward me, he flashes a cocky smile, and damn if every cell in my body doesn’t stand up and sing “Hallelujah” in a loud chorus of tightening nipples and dampening panties, which infuriates me.

I don’t want any part of me reacting to any part of him, but I’d have to be dead not to notice this man. And while I might’ve been mostly numb for the last five years, Dr. Northrup is living proof that I’m still very much a living, breathing woman who recognizes a hot man when she sees one.

He props Wayfarer sunglasses on hair that’s messy from the convertible. On him, messy is sexy. His golden eyes sparkle, his smile is straight out of a toothpaste commercial and his body . . . Wow. He must’ve spent as many hours in the gym as he logged in medical school.

I realize I’m staring but can’t seem to bring myself to blink. Have I ever seen a more perfectly beautiful man in my entire life? The thought makes me feel disrespectful to the memory of the only man I’ve ever loved and snaps me out of the stupor I slipped into at the sight of Northrup.

I clear my throat and clutch the portfolio more tightly to my chest, desperate to hide any evidence of my ridiculous reaction to him. “Dr. Northrup?”

“That’d be me. And you are?”

“Carmen.” I extend a hand that I pray isn’t sweaty. “Carmen Giordino, assistant director of public relations. Welcome to Miami-Dade General Hospital.”

“Pleased to meet you, Ms. Giordino.” Somehow he makes the act of taking my hand, squeezing it lightly and releasing it into an erotic sex act that once again steals the breath from my lungs and the starch from my spine.

I hate him for making me react to him the way every other woman with a pulse has probably responded to him since puberty. I hate him even more when I discover he’s pressed a fifty-dollar bill into my hand. I’m about to ask him what it’s for when he fills in the blanks for me.

“Do me a favor, and please take Betty to the cafeteria, buy her some breakfast and send her off in a cab,” he says in a low tone that only I can hear.

“But—”

“Did someone ask you to meet me and see to my needs?”

The way he says the word needs has me imagining him sweaty, naked and at my disposal, which infuriates me. I’m not sure who I’m more pissed with—him or myself. I feel my face go hot, and when I open my mouth to respond to his outrageous request, nothing comes out.

“What I need is for you to take care of her.” He gives me an imploring look, and it’s all I can do not to swoon. “Okay?”

It’s insulting enough to be asked to babysit a neurosurgeon, but being asked to babysit his bimbo one-night stand is another story altogether. “I’m sorry, but I’m not willing—”

Ignoring me, he turns and gestures for “Betty” to join us on the curb. “Come on over and meet Carmen Giordino. She’ll help you find the cafeteria and a ride to the airport.” He kisses the blonde’s cheek. “It was good to meet you, but I’ve got to get to work now.”

“Thank you so much for everything, Jason,” Betty says with her worshipful gaze fixed on his perfect face.

Northrup flashes his version of a sincere smile. “My pleasure.”

I roll my eyes, imagining what “everything” included in this case. The pang of jealousy that nips at me only serves to further annoy me. What do I care if she got to take a spin with him?

He tosses his car keys to me, and I have the immediate choice of either catching them or letting them hit me in the head. I grab them a second before they would’ve hit me. “Can you find the staff lot and get Priscilla settled for me?” Winking, he adds, “Thanks. I owe you one.” Glancing at Betty, he flashes that brilliant grin. “Or maybe two.”

“But where’re you going?”

“To check out my new digs. I’ll catch up to you after a while.”

“I’m supposed to—” I stop myself when I realize I’m talking to his back. So now I’m babysitting a bottle blonde and a Porsche 911? This day just gets better and better. I’ve never been prouder of the years I spent sweating my way through college and graduate school than I am in this moment.

My low growl has Betty stepping back from me, tottering on sky-high heels. “I’m not really all that hungry.” Her nervous titter bugs the crap out of me.

I release my tight grip on the leather portfolio and let my arms drop to my sides, feeling utterly defeated an hour into my new “dream job.”

Betty’s eyes go wide, her red lips forming an O.

“What?” I look down to see what Betty is so focused on and notice that the veneer on my “leather” portfolio has baked onto the front of my very expensive and still-not-paid-for navy power suit. I let out a shriek of frustration.

“I’m sure it’ll come off at the dry cleaner.” Betty’s kind smile makes me feel bad about the nasty thoughts I’ve had toward an innocent bystander to my career implosion.

Deciding I have nothing to lose by making Betty my ally, I glance at the other woman, who towers over me thanks to those four-inch heels. “Could I ask you how you came to meet . . . him?”

“It was the oddest coincidence.”

Aren’t they all?

“I was at the luggage thingy in the airport waiting for my bags that never came and my now ex-boyfriend who never showed up to get me.” Betty swipes at a tear. “Then the airline couldn’t book me on a flight home until this morning. I used all my money and maxed out my credit card flying here to see the jerk who stood me up. No luggage, no money, no jerk. Jason saw me crying and asked if he could help. Thank God for him, or I would’ve had to sleep in the airport. He even took me out for a nice dinner and bought me a bottle of my favorite wine.”

“And what did he get in return for all this hospitality?” The question is out of my mouth before I can stop it. Horrified, I’m about to apologize for my rudeness when she continues.

“Nothing.” Betty doesn’t seem insulted by my question, which she absolutely should be. “He did me a favor and asked for nothing in return. He even slept on the sofa so I could have the bed. Then the alarm on his phone didn’t go off. He was running late for his first day and was all stressed out. Do you know what time it is? My flight to Philly is at ten thirty. I’d like to see if they found my bag before then.”

I check my phone, see that it’s almost nine and eye the Porsche. “Get in.” I wonder if it’s possible to be fired on my first day. I’m about to find out as I slide into the scorching leather driver’s seat and kick off my heels so I can drive this thing. The car starts with a growl that vibrates through my body, reminding me of the tingling reaction I had to its owner. His car smells the way I imagine he does—citrus and spice and hot man.

I’m thankful to Tony for teaching me to drive a stick in high school. That skill is about to come in handy.

If my palms were sweaty before, they’re downright wet now as I navigate onto the busy interstate in a car that costs more than I’ll make in ten years. Dr. Northrup told me to park it, not drive it nine miles each way to the airport. What if I crash it or hit something? The thought makes me sick to my stomach, as does pondering what the humid breeze is doing to hair I spent an hour straightening earlier.

It occurs to me in a sickening moment of dread that I never got the chance to tell his royal highness to steer clear of the executive suite. He won’t go there, will he? Oh God, please let him be more interested in operating rooms and laboratories than conference rooms.

Mr. Augustino instructed me to babysit Jason Northrup. In turn, he asked me to babysit Betty. So in reality, I’m just following orders by driving Betty to the airport, right? This has to fall somewhere under “other duties as assigned,” doesn’t it?

In the highly unlikely event that Betty ever returns to South Florida and encounters a medical crisis, she’ll remember the fine treatment provided by the staff of Miami-Dade General. There. I’ve done my part for public relations today.

“This is really nice of you,” Betty says as we take the airport exit.

“No problem at all.” I pull up to the curb at the departures level a few minutes later and release a sigh of relief that I didn’t hit anything on the way.

Oh my God!

My purse, wallet, driver’s license and cell phone are stashed in the top drawer of my desk back at the office. So on the return trip, I can also worry about being arrested for driving a “borrowed” car without a license. Fabulous!

The cop directing traffic at the drop-off area picks that moment to blow his whistle, which startles me and causes my foot to slip off the clutch. The car lurches forward and stalls. I miss hitting the car in front of me by less than an inch. It’s official—before this day is out, I’m going to suffer a nervous breakdown. Hopefully I’ll be back at the hospital when that happens.

Betty leans forward, stretching her neck to view the distance between the two cars. “That was a close one.”

“No kidding.”

“I’ll get out of your hair so you can get along back to work.”

“It was nice to meet you. I’m sorry you had such a lousy trip.”

“It wasn’t all bad,” Betty says with a shrug. “I found out there’re still nice people in the world willing to help a stranger in need.”

First impressions, I’m finding, are often misleading. “Take this.” I hand the fifty from Northrup to Betty. “He gave me this for your breakfast and cab fare.”

Betty eyes the money with uncertainty. “I wouldn’t feel right taking his money after all he did to help me.”

“Look at his car. I bet you need it more than he does. Take it. Get yourself home, and then you can write to him at the hospital and pay him back.”

Betty brightens at that idea. “I’ll do that. Thanks again, Carmen.”

“My pleasure.” I watch Betty scurry into the terminal, as well as anyone can “scurry” on four-inch heels. Her jerk of a boyfriend missed out on a gem, that’s for sure.

I return my focus to the task at hand, which is getting Dr. Jason Northrup’s Porsche back to the hospital without a scratch or dent and without getting myself arrested.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. 

~ Calvin Coolidge

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