The Kentucky clinic where Dr Levi Eaton is volunteering is worlds away from his wealthy Pennsylvania roots. Still, the South has plenty of attractions - like his colleague's captivating sister. Angela Chase is sexy, charming and looking for fun, not commitment.
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March 01, 2012
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Excerpt from Sweet Southern Nights by Rochelle Alers
'Levi, do you have anything planned for Sunday afternoon?'
Leaning back in his chair in the bar of the dimly lit restaurant, Levi Eaton stared at the foam-filled mug of draft beer. It was Friday night in the small Kentucky town less than half an hour from Louisville, and there wasn't much else to do but hang out with the three men he'd come to regard as friends. He ordered a second round for everyone at the table even though he knew he should've gone home after the first.
He was scheduled to see patients the following day and needed to be alert, especially when dealing with infants and toddlers, many of whom needed booster shots and vaccinations. Unfortunately, in the rural community where Levi practiced medicine, insuring a child's health was secondary to keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table for most families.
It had taken almost four months, but Dr. Duncan Chase had helped Levi make the transition from big-city doctor to smalltown practitioner. In fact, the town of Maywood Junction was so small the school was one building connected by breezeways separating the kindergarten from the grade school, and the middle school from the high school.
Duncan Chase, an oncologist, had been involved in a national research study on the effects of the workplace on cancer-related illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control data revealed industrial-related cancers were unusually high in several Kentucky communities like Maywood Junction. And Duncan had received a federal grant to open a clinic there. Additional funding from the state had allowed him to add a staff of part-time doctors, including a pediatrician, an ob-gyn and a dentist. Duncan's friend Levi had moved from New York to Kentucky to volunteer as the local pediatrician.
"What do you have in mind?" Levi asked.
Duncan Chase sipped the head of foam off his beer, and took a large gulp as he stared at Levi over the rim of his glass. "I'd like you to escort my sister to a family wedding." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, the two other men at their table pushed back their chairs and stood up to leave.
"This is where I bid you gentlemen good night," said Patrick Demorest, the dentist at the Maywood Medical Clinic. He dropped a twenty-dollar bill on the table. "That should cover the tip."
"Pat's driving, so I'm outta here, too," announced his twin brother, Andrew Demorest.
Levi sat up straight, staring as they quickly retreated. "Do they know something I should know?" There was a pause as Duncan stared into his mug. "What's wrong with your sister?" Levi asked, shouting in order to be heard over the applause once the house band returned to the stage for a second set.
Lines fanned out around Duncan Chase's large, dark brown eyes when he smiled. "There's nothing wrong with her."
Levi's eyes narrowed. "If that's the case, then why did Andy and Pat run out of here as if the hounds of hell were after them?"
Duncan glanced up, but didn't meet Levi Eaton's questioning gaze. "They have issues when it comes to Angela."
"What's wrong with her?" he asked again.
"Except what, Duncan?"
"Pat went out with Angela a couple of times and..."
"And what happened?" Levi asked when Duncan's voice trailed off.
Duncan stared directly at Levi. He didn't want to ruin his relationship with his colleague by asking him to escort his sister to a family wedding, but his mother had pressured him to find a date for Angela to avoid a possibly embarrassing situation. "Pat wanted more, and Angela didn't."
Levi gave Duncan a long stare. "Did more have anything to do with commitment?" He didn't know why, but he felt like a police interrogator.
Duncan nodded. "Yes." He held up a hand. "And before you ask, she does like men. She's just not interested in becoming that involved."
Levi took another swallow of his ice-cold beer. He was four months into his six-month commitment, providing care in the un-derserved community. His cousin, Dr. Mia Eaton-Chandler, had decided to practice medicine in West Virginia, but he'd decided his skills as a physician were better suited to a mining town in northwest Kentucky.
Duncan's request reminded Levi that since he'd arrived in Kentucky, he'd only been on one date. Levi had been honest with the woman, telling her upfront that he couldn't commit to a relationship since he planned to return to New York in a few months. Since she wanted marriage and children, they decided to part amicably.
He was scheduled to work from nine until two the next day, and his Saturday afternoons were usually spent picking up dry cleaning and shopping for groceries for the week. He saw patients on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and spent Sundays watching sports. He'd always been a fan of baseball and basketball. But since moving to Kentucky, he'd added football, tennis, golf and NASCAR. As much as he didn't want to admit it, he'd become a sports junkie.
"Where's the wedding?"
Duncan carefully concealed a smile as he brought the mug to his lips. "Louisville," he drawled, taking another swallow. "I'll think about it," Levi replied.
Lowering the sudsy mug, Duncan set it on the scarred oak table. "How long do you intend to think about it, Levi? The wedding is in two days."
Levi gave him a pointed look. He and Duncan Chase were the same age--thirty-six--but Duncan's hair was prematurely gray. Despite that, Duncan was still one of Louisville's most eligible bachelors. Tall, slender with masculine features in a tawny-brown face, his large, deep-set, gold-flecked brown eyes were his most arresting feature.
"I'll let you know after I talk to your sister."
"What's there to talk about, Levi?"
He leaned across the small table. "Is she aware that you're trying to set her up with a date?"
Duncan averted his gaze. "Not really."
Levi smiled for the first time, angular lines creasing his lean jaw. "That's what I thought." He reached into the breast pocket of his jacket, took out his cell phone and handed it to Duncan. "Give me her phone number. I'll call her and then I'll let you know tomorrow if I'll be her escort." Although he hadn't had an active social life since leaving New York, he also didn't want to waste his day off spending time with a woman who was totally incompatible.
Duncan took the BlackBerry and added his sister's name and number to Levi's contacts. "When are you going to call her?"
"Tonight," he said. Levi glanced at his watch. "Sorry, but it's about time I leave so I can call her before it gets too late." He retrieved his phone, reached into the pocket of his slacks and dropped a few more bills on the table. "Enjoy the music." He stood and walked out of the restaurant.
The parking lot was quickly filling up with couples who'd come to The Rook for dinner, music and line dancing. He signaled to a driver in a late-model pickup that he was pulling out and could have his parking space. It was only nine-thirty--early enough for Friday date nights, but a little late for Levi. Even though his first appointment was at nine, he always arrived at least an hour early to go over patient charts.
Heading straight for his off-white BMW four-door sedan with NYMD vanity plates, he opened the door and slid in behind the wheel. He'd purchased the car a year ago and it still had that new-car smell. It had been years since he'd bought a new car, and Levi had taken a long time deciding whether he wanted another racy sports model or something different. For years he'd driven a two-seater Mercedes-Benz, but now that he was older he felt it was time to change his image. He was still a bachelor, but a bit more serious. Now, dating had taken a backseat to practicing medicine.
For whatever reason, Levi always felt more like a Philadelphian because of his family's roots. Whenever he returned home for family reunions, or to celebrate a wedding, christening or a milestone birthday, it felt more like a homecoming, even though he now lived in a two-bedroom condominium in Mamaroneck, New York.
His younger brothers, who were married with children, constantly teased him about being marriage shy. But what they didn't understand was that when it came to women, he'd always been very discriminating. He had a mental checklist, and intelligence and patience were his top priorities. Levi wanted someone who he could talk to, a relationship that went beyond sexual attraction. And patience was a necessity since doctor's hours were never nine to five.
He wanted to get married and start a family, yet Levi knew he couldn't begin that chapter of his life until he completed his obligations in Kentucky.
Angela Chase clicked on the print icon and watched the pages slide out into the paper tray. A slow smile tilted the corners of her mouth. She'd managed to complete ten pages of her latest novel in three hours. It was one of her better writing days. All she needed was another five thousand more words to finish the manuscript.
Lately the scenes and dialogue had been slow in coming. It wasn't that she had writer's block, but her characters seemed to have stopped talking to her. Before starting any new manuscript, Angela went through a carefully planned routine of setting up the plot, then reworking it until she could visualize every scene as if viewing a sequence of film frames. Next, she began the task of developing detailed sketches of her characters. Once she developed her characters, she began a chapter-by-chapter outline that resembled a storyboard.
No one, other than her aunt and her cousin Traci, who was also her business partner in their downtown Louisville gift shop, knew she moonlighted as a romance writer. Always a voracious reader, Angela began reading romance novels her first year of college. Her novels sometimes took priority over her class work. She'd lost count of the number of times she'd had to cram for an exam or stay up all night catching up on required reading because she hadn't been able to put down a romance novel. What she refused to admit was that she'd become addicted to them. So much so, that after graduating she'd tried her hand at writing one. Her first attempt was not fit to print, but the fact that she'd completed it gave her the confidence she needed to try again.
It had taken more than four years to achieve something readable. But by the time she'd celebrated her twenty-eighth birthday, she'd become a published author. Her first novel had received lukewarm reviews, but it was the second one that had garnered the acclaim she'd hoped for as a writer. Using the pseudonym Angelina Courtland, she guarded her true identity like a double agent.
She usually kept a low profile. Although she answered reader emails, she didn't have a website. She didn't make public appearances or do book signings since her publicist had explained that Angelina Courtland was agoraphobic. The pretense that she was afraid to leave her home or be photographed only added to her mystique. She'd even had her attorney set up a holding company for her work so that her name never appeared on the copyright page of her novels. It wasn't until after the publication of her second novel that she revealed her nom de plume to her cousin.
Traci thought Angela was delusional until she accidently read a draft of her novel on her computer. That was when Angela had sworn her cousin to secrecy. The two had always been confidantes, so Angela knew she could trust Traci not to tell anyone that she was a bestselling author.
What her readers didn't know was that she did leave her home and that she actually had an active social life. The exception was when she was facing a deadline. And, she didn't have to go very far for inspiration. She had five brothers, who were all single, as well as the men she dated to research her male characters. And for her heroines, she had her own experiences, as well as women friends and family to draw upon. But none of her characters had names of people she knew, and she only used snippets of their personalities in developing her characters.
Taking the pages she'd printed and a red pencil, Angela moved from behind her desk to a plush club chair with a matching ottoman. Light from a floor lamp provided enough illumination as she settled in to read what she'd typed:
His fingertips feathered down the length of her bare skin, his gossamer touch reminding Ericka of the gentle brush of a butterfly's wings.
Does that sound too cheesy? Angela mused.
Her red pencil was poised to make changes when her cell phone rang, shattering the quiet. She reached for her cell phone. "Hi. This is Angela," she answered, without glancing at the caller ID display.
"Is this Angela Chase?" came a deep voice on the other end of the line.
A slight frown etched on her forehead. "Who's asking?"
She went still. "Who are you and how did you get my number?"
There was a brief pause. "Your brother Duncan gave me your number, Miss Chase. I work with him at the clinic."
There was another pause. "Why would he give you my number?"
"He said you needed an escort for a wedding on Sunday."
It wasn't until she felt the sharp twinge in her jaw that Angela realized she'd been gritting her teeth. It was something she did whenever she was stressed or at a loss for words. Her brother had no right! Duncan had no right to interfere in her social life! Her mouth gaped open when realization dawned. She was willing to bet her first born that her mother had asked Duncan to find a date for her.
"Duncan's wrong. I don't need an escort."
"Look, Miss Chase, I don't need to get involved--"
"It's Angela," she interrupted.
"As I was saying, Angela, I don't need or want to get involved in any family fracas, but I did tell your brother I'd be willing to take you as a favor to him. I'm sorry if I bothered you."
"Don't hang up!" she practically shouted into the tiny mouthpiece. "Are you still there?" she asked after several seconds. A low chuckle caressed her ear.
"Yes, I'm still here. Have you changed your mind?"
Angela's mind was in tumult. There was something about Levi Eaton's voice she liked. And, if the rest of the man matched the voice, then he could at least be character development material for her novels.