As a rising medical malpractice attorney, Charlotte Taylor believes in standing up for the injured, giving them a voice, and advocating for their rights. She couldn’t do it for her mother, so she does it for others, even if it means losing the love of her life.
Dr. Clayton Montgomery believes in working hard and playing even harder, until he reconnects with Charlotte. Barely noticing her crush when he tutored her ten years ago, Clay has a chance to make up for lost time when the beautiful lawyer comes back into town…until he discovers her chosen career path.
Now, philosophical differences soon become a reality and Charlotte is faced with the choice of representing a client against the hospital and against Clay. Will Charlotte give up her career and her tribute to her mother for a second chance with the man who got away?
Read the Excerpt
“Is that James Bond who just walked in?”
Charlotte Taylor followed Annie’s gaze to the entranceway of the Hyatt Regency’s Grand Ballroom. There stood a gorgeous man wearing a tuxedo and a frown. Her heartbeat stumbled and she blinked to defog her corneas. “Dr. Clayton Montgomery.” His name came out in a whisper. Like a prayer. Or a curse. Or both.
“That’s Dr. Montgomery?” Annie stretched her neck to get a better view. “I’ve heard he’s well-regarded at Nassau General.” Her voice became conspiratorial. “He also has the reputation of being a real player. Now I can see why.” She rattled on, seeming not to notice Charlotte’s face ablaze with a heat so intense it would surely scorch those around her. But it didn’t stop Annie’s soliloquy. “He doesn’t appear to be with a date. Do you think he came to the Gala alone? Charlotte?”
The sound of her name penetrated her haze[O1] . Charlotte slowly turned from Clay to Annie, her colleague and fellow associate at Cooper, Smith & Bartlett, a distinguished law firm in the area.
“Do you think he came alone? Because we’re dateless. Maybe we can get an introduction. Have a little friendly competition. You know, vie for the same man.” Annie elbowed Charlotte, looking for a response. “Too bad our table’s full or I’d ask him to join us. I wouldn’t mind going out with a doctor. Hell, I wouldn’t mind going out with a house painter. My love life has been a little lean these past few months. Do you think Paul Diamond knows him?”
She was referring to the head of the Estates and Trusts Department at their firm who sat across the table with his wife. Between the two of them, they knew everyone in town.
Charlotte finally found her voice. “I know him. I’ll go over and say hello later.” When I stop hyperventilating.
“You’re kidding. You just moved here. How do you know him?”
Charlotte inhaled in an attempt to settle her crazy insides, ignoring Annie’s question. She needed to get her bearings, decide what to do.
Charlotte stood. “I’m going to the bar for a glass of wine. Can I get you something?”
She hoped Annie wouldn’t come along, peppering her with questions on the way. This situation was discomforting enough without having to explain it to someone else right now.
Annie frowned at Charlotte, no doubt pondering her odd behavior. “No, thanks. I have a drink.” She picked up her wine glass and took a sip.
Charlotte cracked a brittle smile and made her escape. A drink would settle her nerves. Or give her the courage to head directly for the exit and avoid a nerve-wracking reunion.
But she couldn’t do that. Her law firm had purchased a table at tonight’s event. At three hundred fifty dollars a plate, it would be rude to just disappear.
Maybe Clay wouldn’t recognize her. She was eighteen when he’d last seen her, a mere child in his twenty-five-year-old eyes. But not in hers. She’d been in love with him. Or so she’d thought. Unfortunately, he hadn’t noticed.
Embarrassment wound around her in a snake-like spiral as if ten years had not interfered. She’d been so annoying, following him around the hospital like a star-struck groupie.
Charlotte reached the bar. “A glass of Chardonnay, please.”
The bartender poured, then handed her the liquid she hoped would dilute the anxiety that had taken over her body. She moved toward the corner of the room, surveying the crowd. If she knew where Clay was sitting, she could avoid that area. But her perusal produced no results. There had to be over five hundred people here. Maybe a good thing. It might be possible to pass each other by without notice.
As if her guardian angel had resorted to pranks tonight, Clay appeared at her elbow, and a tingle ran down her spine. “I see you like to stand on the outside looking in, too. These events are a little overwhelming, aren’t they?”
As they stood side by side overlooking the crowd, it became apparent within seconds that Clay thought he was striking up a conversation with a stranger.
Charlotte kept her knowing smile hidden. “This is my first gala. But, I agree. It is overwhelming.”
“Just stay close to me. I’ll help you through it.”
He was flirting with her. How…interesting[O2] . “Thanks. I just may take you up on that offer.”
Turning toward her, he clinked his glass against hers. “To new friends.”
She looked up into his familiar face. “To old friends.”
His brow furrowed before clarity struck and his eyes widened.
“Charley, is that you?”
His recognition sent her leaping over the moon, as his rich, smooth voice hummed over her skin and encased it with raw, tingly silk. Only one person used that nickname. Only one person could cause that reaction.
Unable to find a proper response, she nodded, drinking in the tall, dark, and devastatingly handsome man she’d pined over years ago.
“It is you,” he said. His jade green eyes sparkled as his dazzling smile chased the anxiety away.
“It’s good to see you again,” she murmured, ignoring her original angst over the possibility of such an encounter.
He leaned in and gave her a kiss on the cheek and his trailing scent awakened senses long forgotten. Pure male. Pure Clay.
“My God, you’re all grown up.” His appreciative appraisal heated her to the core as his eyes roamed from head to toe and back again.
Would he finally see her as a desirable woman? Although what difference would it make now? Ten years was a lifetime ago.
She studied him back. There was no God. He looked better than ever. An impossibility, but true nevertheless. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. She had forgotten about him. Sort of. Relegated him to a locked chamber of her mind where things that hurt were stored. And she couldn’t afford to let him out.
“What a surprise to see you here,” she said in as even a voice as she could muster. More like a shock. She should have guessed she’d run into him sooner or later. Princeton, New Jersey, was a small town. “How have you been?”
“Fine. Better now. I thought I’d have to suffer through this night politicking with the hospital administrators. But talking to you is much more appealing.” He shook his head. “Little Charley Taylor.”
Her happiness slipped a few notches and in its place a twinge of disappointment. While she may have been young back then, she had not been little—neither in height nor in maturity. Well, maybe a tad skinny. She’d been a senior in high school, living through the nightmare of her parents’ deaths as well as her own injuries. If nothing else, the experience had catapulted her from childhood to adulthood in the space of a few short months. Unfortunately, he hadn’t noticed.
He must have read her displeasure, for he corrected his mistake with a chuckle. “Not so little anymore. You look fabulous.”
The interest of a man in a woman shone in his eyes and she couldn’t help but smile. She’d craved that reaction more than life itself when she was an eighteen-year-old who’d had a mad crush on the good doctor.
“Who are you here with?” he asked.
“Some colleagues.” She was intentionally vague, not wanting to get into a discussion of her career choice. At least not yet.
“No date?” Was that hope in his voice?
“Good. So I can steal you away for a little while. We can catch up.”
Conflicting emotions collided in her brain. She was happy to see the man who had monopolized her adolescent fantasies, but embarrassment over her naive antics overshadowed the joy. Especially when she recalled one of the last mortifying moments she had with him. When she’d kissed him. Not a chaste, friendly kiss. But a passionate, loving kiss.
And he’d pulled away.
His attempt to rationalize his reaction had just punctuated his rejection. He was too old for her. She was too young. Translation: not interested. Her face burned as she relived the humiliation of that day so long ago. Did he remember? Or was it some insignificant event in his life that didn’t deserve a second thought? God, she hoped so.
He guided her to a less crowded area of the room, oblivious to the skirmish in her head.
“The last time I saw you, you were heading to college.” He paused. “Somewhere in New England, right?” He shook his head. “I can’t believe it’s been what? Ten years?”
She nodded, trying to keep the raw emotions from playing across her face. She’d spent six months at Nassau General Hospital after the accident that had killed her parents. Three months in traction and three more months in the rehabilitation wing learning to walk again. The only bright light had come from spending time with two of the interns who’d tutored her so she could graduate with her class and attend college in the fall, one of those interns being Clay.
“I’m surprised you returned to Princeton. I thought, when you left for college, you’d never look back.”
“That had been my intention. After I graduated from Boston U., I went to Stanford Law School and landed a job at a firm in San Francisco.”
“What made you return?”
A very good question. One she still wasn’t sure she could answer without pause.
“Family circumstances,” replied Charlotte.
Clay raised an eyebrow.
“My sister’s husband had a heart attack a few days after Christmas. He died.” Charlotte kept the somberness of her statement to a minimum, hoping to moderate the sorrow that usually accompanied this discussion. “I came back to help her out, at least until she can get on her feet. She has two young children.”
“I’m sorry. That must be devastating for her. For them.”
“Thanks.” Charlotte sipped her wine. She needed to change the conversation before he decided to walk away in search of lighter fare. “What have you been up to since I last saw you?”
“I’m still at Nassau General.”
“Head of the ER?”
A frown creased his forehead. “How did you know?”
“That was your goal back then, and you were so dedicated and driven, I knew you’d have gotten to where you wanted to be.”
While he may not have paid attention to her goals or dreams, she had hung on every one of his. Even though he was only an intern at the time, he’d already determined his calling was emergency medicine. He wanted to be the first on the scene, helping people who needed immediate care, hoping to diagnose their problems and treat their symptoms fast, so they wouldn’t suffer. He had such a good heart.
As Charlotte tamped down the havoc he caused by stirring up old memories, Clay followed up with polite chitchat. “So you lived in San Francisco. How’d you like the West Coast?”
“It’s nice. Better weather, at least during the winter. And I love living in a city. There’s so much more to do compared to living in a small town.”
“Ouch. I guess we Princetonians are a dull lot compared to San Franciscans.”
She shook her head at her unintended slur. “You have New York and Philadelphia close by. I’m sure you’re not dull.” He would never be dull in her mind. “Since I’ll be here for a while, I’ll give you a comparison report before I leave.”
“You’re on.” He sipped his drink. “Was it hard to find a job since you’re only here temporarily?”
“It’s odd how things work out. My parents’ former partner had been trying to entice me back to Princeton even before Jason died. Once I decided to stay longer than anticipated, I called him and accepted the offer he had left open.”
“What firm is it?”
“Cooper, Smith & Bartlett.” Charlotte kept to herself the fact one of the firm’s specialties, her specialty, was medical malpractice.
She studied his face for any telltale sign of name recognition, but there seemed to be none. Thank God. She hadn’t wanted him to walk away in disgust so soon after this fortuitous meeting.
She steered the conversation away from the subject of work and into other less controversial areas.
As they talked, Charlotte watched Clay’s lips, his eyes, his hands. She knew them. She’d studied them in the past. No ring encircled his finger. By Annie’s account, he wasn’t married and her heart beat a little faster at the thought. Ridiculous.
Just as she was relaxing into the conversation, a high-pitched squeal from the microphone told them the program was about to begin.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.” The chairwoman’s voice rose above the crowd, trying to get everyone’s attention.
“We’d better sit down,” said Charlotte, disappointment and relief vying for her consideration.
Clay nodded. “Where are you sitting?”
She pointed in the direction of her table and he escorted her, his hand on the small of her back, sending electricity to places better left alone. This was crazy. He pulled her chair out and she eased into it, feeling the stares of not only Annie but the other women at the table.
He leaned close to her ear and whispered, “I’ll look for you after dinner.”
Time stopped, the surrounding din ceased, and Charlotte saw only him as his fingers glanced over her shoulder. Delicious.
Heat smoldered its way through her blood and she felt her face flush in frustrating betrayal. Damn it. How could these old feelings come back so easily? As if ten years hadn’t interfered with her memory?
She raised her eyes and looked directly into his, feeling the power of her adolescent yearning crashing over her like a tidal wave, leaving her weak. And vulnerable.
As he walked away, she wanted to reach out, bring him back, satisfy the void his presence had filled two seconds earlier. But all she could do was watch his broad shoulders as he walked smoothly across the floor to his table.
She ran her tongue over her suddenly dry lips then sighed.
He was clearly more than a memory.