My first guest is Susan Carlisle! She’s talented and such a sweetheart. So please say hello to her in the comments. That’s where she will pick her winner for a copy of DOCTOR’S REDEMPTION.
A love worth staying for…
Dr. Mark Clayborn never wanted to return to Alabama, but his father’s recent ill health has him back and facing his demons. Yet from the darkness shines a beacon of light: Laura Jo Akins—and he’s hoping she tastes as sweet as he imagines her to be!
For so long Laura Jo’s only focus has been her daughter, but despite her reluctance, gorgeous Mark incites feelings she’d thought herself immune to… Could Laura Jo be the one to give Mark the courage to stay—and discover the love he deserves?
The parades were what Laura Jo Akins enjoyed most about the Mardi Gras season in Mobile, Alabama. This year was no different. She placed a hand on the thin shoulder of her eight year old daughter, Allie.
Her daughter smiled up at her. “When does the parade start?”
“It should already be moving our way. Listen. You can hear the band.”
The faint sound of a ragtime tune floated from the distance.
Allie looked up at Laura Jo. “Can we stay for the next one too?”
The sure thing about Mardi Gras was that the parades kept coming. The closer the calendar got to Fat Tuesday the heavier the days were filled with parades. Sometimes as many as four a day on the weekends.
“No, honey. They’re expecting me at the hospital. We’ll watch this one and then we have to go.”
“Okay, but we get to see one another day, don’t we?”
“Maybe one on Wednesday. Next Monday and Tuesday you’ll be out of school for a long weekend. We’ll be sure to watch more then.”
“Why can’t I be in one?” Allie asked turning to look at Laura Jo.
It had been a constant question during last year’s Mardi Gras season and had become a more demanding during this one. “Maybe when you get older. For now we’ll just have to watch.”
As the banner holders at the head of the parade came into sight the crowd pushed forward forcing her and Allie against the metal barriers. A bicycling medical first responder or mobile EMT circled in front of them then rode up the street. He looked familiar for some reason but then most of the medical help during the Carnival season were employed at the hospital where she worked. Dressed in red biking shorts and wearing a pack on his back, he turned again and paddled back their direction. Laura Jo squinted trying to make out his features but his helmet obscured her view.
Members of the medical community volunteered to work during Mardi Gras to help out with the crowds. Most of the nurses and doctors gave up their days off during the season to work the parades. It wasn’t required but many enjoyed being a part of the celebration. Laura Jo knew most of the employees at Mobile General, at least by face. Although she couldn’t place the rider, he looked just fine in his form fitting pants. He must bike regularly.
“Look Mommy,” Allie pointed to a group of people who had come through the barriers and were entertaining the crowd standing on both sides of the street. They were dressed in clown type outfits riding three-wheel bikes with bright colored fish attached to the side.
Laura Jo smiled down at her daughter. “That’s the Mystic Fish.”
They made a circle or two in the open parade area and then disappeared into the crowd across the street from her and Allie. Laura Jo knew from years of watching parades they would appear somewhere else along the parade route.
“What’s a mystic fish?” Allie asked.
“You know what a fish is. In this case it’s a club or group of people. It’s also called a krewe. Because they meet in secret they are mystic or mysterious. It’s all just fun.”
“Are you in a queue?’
“It’s krewe. Like a crew member. And no I’m not.” She placed a hand on her daughter’s head. “I have you to take care of, work at the shelter and at the hospital. No time.”
Laura Jo understood being a member of a krewe. Her family had been participants all her life. In fact they had been a part of the largest and most prestigious krewe in Mobile. She’d been one of the Mobile society that celebrated her coming of age at Carnival time. But no more.
The noise level increase as the first high school band approached. She positioned Allie between her and the barrier so Allie could see. As the first ostentatiously decorated float rolled by the spectators pressed closer to them. The float was designed in a dragon motif and painted green, purple and gold with piles of beads hanging off pegs. Members of the krewe were dressed in costumes and wore masks.
She and Allie joined those around them in yelling, “Throw me something, mister.”
Raising their hands along with everyone else, she and Allie tried to catch the beads, plastic cups with the krewe name printed on them or stuffed animals that were being thrown from the float. Bands playing and music blaring from large speakers mounted on the floats made it difficult to hear.
One krewe member made eye contact with Laura Jo and pointed at Allie. He threw a small stuffed gorilla to Laura Jo which she handed to Allie who hugged it to her and smiled up at the grinning man. The float moved on.
When a strand of brightly colored beads flew through the air in Allie’s direction from the next float, Laura Jo reached to catch them. She couldn’t so they were snatched by the man standing behind her. He handed them to Allie. She smiled brightly at him. That was one of the special things about Mardi Gras in Mobile. It was a family affair. Any age was welcome and everyone saw that the children had a good time. Twenty minutes later a fire truck that signaled the end of the parade rolled by.
The man standing next to them shifted the barrier creating an opening. A few people rushed through in an effort to snatch up any of the goodies that had fallen on the pavement.
“Mama, can I get those?” Allie pointed out into the now virtually empty street except for a few children.
Laura Jo searched for what Allie was asking about. On the road lay a couple of plastic doubloons. “Sure, honey. There won’t be another parade for an hour.”
Allie skirted through the opening and ran in the direction of the strand of gold and silver disks. In her exuberance to reach her target she stumbled and fell, stopping herself with her hands. Laura Jo gasped and rushed to her. Allie had already pushed herself up to a sitting position. Tears welled in her eyes but she’d not burst into sobs yet. There was an L-shaped hole in the thin material of her pants and a trickle of blood ran off the side of her knee.
“Oh honey,” Laura Jo said.
“My hands hurt.” Allie showed Laura Jo her palms. The meaty part looked much like her knee.
“Burns.” Laura Jo took one of Allie’s wrist and raised her hand blowing across it. Here she was a registered nurse with not a bandage to her name. Allie’s injuries were going to require far more than what Laura Jo was doing.
“Can I help here?” a deep male voice said from above them.
Laura Jo glanced up to see the bike medic she’d admired earlier. She’d been so adsorbed with Allie she’d not noticed him ride up.
“Do you have any 4x4s? Some antibiotic cream?” Laura Jo asked.
The man gave her a curious look then stepped off the bike. He sung the red pack off his back and crouched down on his haunches. “Let me see what I can do.”
Laura Jo looked at him through moisture in her eyes. She knew him. Or more accurately knew who he was. Mark Clayborn. She had no idea he was back in town. But then why would she. “If you’ll just share your supplies I can handle it. I’m her mother and a nurse.”
“I appreciate that but I need to treat your daughter since it happened at the parade. I’ll have to make a report anyway.”
She gave him room. Years ago she’d been so enamored with Mark Clayborn. Just young enough to hero worship him, she dreamed of ‘what if’ when he glanced her way. Which he never did unless it was to smile at the gaggle of young maids in his queen’s court. He had it all. Good looks, social status, education and a bright future. And to top it off he was Mardi Gras King that year. Very girl dreamed of being on his arm and she was no different. She had watched him so closely back then no wonder he seemed familiar.
Allie winced when he touched the angry skin of her knee.
Laura Jo’s hands shook. As an emergency room nurse she’d seen much worse but when it came to her own child it was difficult to remain emotionally detached. Still she should be the one caring for Allie. She’d been her sole caretaker and provider since her father had left Laura Jo when she was three months pregnant. Having been pushed aside before, she didn’t like it any better now than she had then. No matter how irrational the reaction.
“So what’s your name young lady?” the medic asked Allie.
She told him.
“So Allie, what have you liked best about Mardi Gras this year?”
Allie didn’t hesitate to answer. “King Cake.”
He nodded like a sage monk giving thought to the answer. “I like King Cake too. What’s your favorite? Cinnamon or cream cheese?”
“I’m a fan of cream cheese. So have you ever found the baby?”
“Yeah, once. I had to take a cake to school the next week.”
“So you baked one?”
“No, my mother did.” She pointed at Laura Jo.
Mark glanced at her with a look of respect but there was no sign of recognition as to who she was. Even though their families had known each other for years he didn’t remember her. The last she’d really heard was he’d been in a bad car accident and later left for medical school.
“You mom didn’t get it from a bakery?”
“No. She likes to make them.” Allie smiled up at Laura Jo. “She lets me put the baby inside.”
Allie continued, telling him how she liked to stand beside Laura Jo as she rolled the pastry out. She would wait patiently until it was time to put the miniature plastic baby into one of the rolls before Laura Jo braded them into a cake. When it came out of the oven Allie begged to be the one to shake the green, purple and gold sugar on top.
“Well, that sounds like fun. Are you ready to stand?”
Laura Jo couldn’t help but be impressed. Mark had cleaned up Allie with little more than a wince from her.
He placed a hand below Allie’s elbow and helped her to stand then said to Laura Jo, “Keep the area clean. If you see any infection call a doctor right away or take her to the ER.”
Laura Jo rolled her eyes. “I’m a nurse, remember?”
“I remember but sometimes when it’s someone we love our emotions get in the way.”
That was something close to what her father had said when she announced that she was marrying Phil. Her father had made it clear that Phil wasn’t good enough for her and not welcome in his house. “He’s only interested in your last name and money.” Her father went on to say that Phil certainly wasn’t worth giving up her education for. When she asked how her father knew so much about Phil he admitted to having someone check into his background. That Phil had already been married once and couldn’t seem to hold down a job. “He’s not good enough for you. Not welcome in our home,” had been her father’s parting words.
She’d chosen Phil. Even though she’d soon learned that her father had been right the situation it put a rift between her parents and her that was just as wide today as it had been nine years earlier. She had sworn then never to ask her parents for help. She had her pride.
Taking Allie’s hand, Laura Jo said, “Let’s go, honey. I’m sure we have taken enough of the medic’s time.”
“Bye,” Allie said.
Mark bent and picked up the doubloons off the pavement and placed them carefully in Allie’s hand. “I hope you find a baby in your next cake. Maybe it’ll bring you luck.”
Allie grinned back at him with obvious hero worship.
“Thank you.” She led Allie through the barrier. “Bye.”
That would be it for the reappearing Mark Clayborn. He had been a part of her life that was now long gone. She wouldn’t be seeing him again.
Susan Carlisle’s love affair with books began when she made a bad grade in math in the sixth grade. Not allowed to watch TV until she brought the grade up, Susan filled her time with books. She turned her love of reading into a passion for writing. With over ten books published through Harlequin Mills and Boon’s medical line, she writes hot romances with sexy docs and the strong women that captivate them.
She lives near Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband of over thirty years. Susan loves castles, traveling, sewing, afternoon tea, hats, James Bond and reads voraciously.