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Excerpt for The Physician to the King, A Royal Sweethearts Romance Novel, Book 2, The Casteloria Royals by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Physician to the King

Book 2 in The Casteloria Royals Series

Originally published as A Cool Summer in Paradise


Kristy K. James




Copyright 2014 Kristy K. James


All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be copied or reprinted without express written permission from author.



From the author of the popular Coach’s Boys series comes Book 2 in The Casteloria Royals Trilogy

Running isn’t always the answer…

When a tragedy rocks Abigail Keane’s world, she only wants three things. To run as far from what happened as fast as she can. To reevaluate her life and the choices she’s made. To spend time with the nephew she hasn’t seen in over year. What she didn’t plan on was butting heads with a doctor who rubs her wrong from day one.

It’s going to be a long summer…

When a pretentious headmistress arrives in Casteloria, Nolan Campbell can’t help but hope she cuts her vacation plans short. In fact, nothing would make him happier than to see her on the next plane leaving the island. But when a dark, heartbreaking secret comes to light, he begins to see the real woman hiding beneath the icy facade. Can he help her heal without risking his heart in the process?

Filled with romance, intrigue, secrets, and danger, The Casteloria Royals is a series you can't help but fall in love with. Each story is complete with no cliffhanger endings.

Connect with Kristy…

http://kristykjames.net/

https://www.facebook.com/kristykjames


Be sure to follow Kristy on Bookbub to get notifications for her new releases!

https://www.bookbub.com/authors/kristy-k-james


Other Works by Kristy K. James


Coach's Boys Series

The Daddy Pact, Book 1

A Hero for Holly, Book 2

A Harry Situation, Book 3

Her Best Friend Jon, Book 4

Code Red Christmas, Book 5

Darby's Dilemma, Book 6

The Detective's Second Chance, Book 7

Back to the Beginning, Book 8

Holding Out For Love, Coach's Boys Companion Story (should be read between books 6 & 7)

Cooking With the Coach's Boys


A Royal Sweethearts Romance Novel Series

The Casteloria Royals

A Prince on the Run, Book 1

The Physician to the King, Book 2

The Princess and the Bodyguard, Book 3


Hemisphere/Paranormal Romance

The Ripple

Haunted Depot: The Ghost Curse Series

The Secret, Book 1

The Depot, Book 2

A Merry Depot Christmas, Book 3


Special Wishes Time Travel Romance

His Only Love

Her Long Road Home


Other Fiction:

Enza

Josh

The Secret Admirer

Erin's Christmas Wish

A Fine Mess

Reluctant Guardian







Once again, I have to say a huge thank you to Kathie, Shelley, and Shineka for your help in making this story the best it can be. I sincerely appreciate you ladies.




Chapter 1


Hospitals smelled like sickness. It didn’t matter which ward it was - from obstetrics to cardiac care, the stench was like a thick, suffocating cloud that hit her like a wall the second she’d stepped through the front door. Maybe not as bad as when Grandma Aggie had been dying, but it was still there, and no matter how hard she tried to fight it, Abigail Keane wanted to throw up.

Leaning back against the wall outside the room, she closed her eyes and took several slow, deep breaths, willing herself to relax, to get a grip on herself. She couldn’t walk in there like a frightened little girl because headmistresses didn’t get to show weakness. They had to be strong, to set an example, to not fall apart when they were visiting a student.

Feeling a gentle touch on her arm, she opened her eyes to see a tall nurse in bright green scrubs standing beside her.

“Are you all right?” she asked, her voice gentle as she reached out to touch her arm. Abby swallowed a sigh. Busted…

“I’m fine,” she lied, straightening up, squaring her shoulders, and stepping into her no-nonsense Ms. Keane persona like a professional actor about to walk out on stage. “Thank you for asking.”

“She’s doing better today. And we’ll make sure she gets the help she needs before we discharge her.”

“I know. It’s just—” She couldn’t bring herself to voice the fears that had been tormenting her since the housemother’s call two days ago.

“I know, but I promise, we will do our best for her. With the proper intervention, the odds are in favor of her being fine.”

Abby nodded, hoping it would be true. Paula Whitcomb deserved so much more than the hard life she’d been born into. That’s why she’d been offered one of the few scholarships the Lockwood Galloway School for Girls gave to deserving students every year. To nurture the near genius potential that had been wasting away in the underfunded public educational system. To open the door to a future with limitless possibilities, not to—

When the nurse disappeared around the corner, Abby started pacing the quiet hallway. When she’d chosen her major, she wished someone had pointed out just how hard it would be. But when the subject of problem students had come up, the focus had tended to be on how to handle trouble-makers, that and looking for signs of abuse. Very little had been mentioned about emotional issues and things like eating disorders, or worse. Maybe if she’d known what to look for…

Taking another deep breath, she made a concentrated effort to push the thoughts aside. She needed to get this visit over because she had a plane to catch.


~~~~~


The sounds of sneakers squeaking against the polished wood floor and the ball hitting the walls echoed loudly in the small enclosed room as Cam kicked his butt in the sadly mismatched racquetball game. Nolan Campbell might have called cheating if he could catch his breath, but this match — more than most — had turned into the most competitive one they’d ever played.

“Nice,” Cameron panted, nodding in approval when he saved the rally with a well-timed backhand stroke.

“Thanks.”

He needed to take up running again. While he might live in the palace as physician to the royal family, he still maintained a small practice in the heart of Casteloria, and between Laura’s high-risk pregnancy and late-in-the-season recurrence of the flu, he hadn’t had much time for any physical activity that didn’t include flopping down on his sofa to catch a nap.

But today called for a little extra effort on his part. After more than a year of appeals, Angus Farlane had breathed his last breath that morning. On the fence about the death penalty, he hadn’t administered the lethal injection, but he couldn’t be sorry over his death. Not even a little bit. It seemed Cameron wasn’t sure how he felt about it either.

Angus had been the driving force behind the death of Cam’s first wife, Shannen, and had later attempted to murder both him and his son, Brendan. He was, in fact, the sole reason Brendan had been forced to don a prosthetic leg. Cameron should have been thrilled to see an end to the greedy monster’s life.

But he wasn’t. Because the Crown Prince to the Castelorian throne had a heart, and he knew Arliss, his cousin Colin’s wife and Angus’s daughter, was in mourning today. Like her husband, she was ashamed of her father, horrified that he’d caused so much harm, and that he’d done it in order to force Colin into a position he’d never wanted in the first place — that of future king. But even so, she still loved the man who had raised her, and no one blamed her for that.

“You’re off your game,” Cameron complained, breathless, walking behind him to get the ball Nolan had missed — again. “This is like taking candy from a baby. Put a little effort into it so I don’t regret not asking Fin instead.”

“You didn’t ask Fin because the only way you could beat him is if you hit him over the head with a club before the first serve.”

“Right. Like that would work. He’d wipe the floor with me anyway. But at least he’d make me work for it.”

When it came to any physical activity, they both knew Finley Hughes would win. Running, volleyball, racquetball, archery... The man was so good at everything that if Nolan didn’t like him so much, he might just hate him.

Except few people could hate Finley Hughes. He might seem like a hard-nosed, all business, face-might-crack-if-he-tried-to-smile kind of guy, but he had a heart of gold. He would also give his life to save those he cared about. Nolan was honored to count himself among that select group. Unless they were competing in a game, and then he sometimes wished for the club he’d just mentioned.

“You really are out of it today, aren’t you, Doc?”

Cameron flopped down on the floor where he’d been standing when he made the shot that won the match. Two games in a row. They almost always played three because most days, they were fairly evenly matched. Not today though. Nolan ignored him as he sat there, leaning back with his hands planted on the floor behind him, just looking at him.

“So what’s going on?”

“You know me,” he said with a sigh, lowering himself to the floor, his back against the wall, feet stretched out in front of him. “Angus deserved to die. Part of me is really happy that he paid for what he did to you, Shannen, and Brendan.”

“But the other part…”

“The other part of me is a doctor, Cam. I do my best to save lives. It’s hard for me to see anyone killed on purpose, be it murder, suicide, or the death penalty.”

“I tend to agree with you on that.”

“I know you do.” He looked at his water bottle sitting across the court and wished it weren’t so far away. “How’s Brendan taking it?”

“He’s a fourteen year old boy who plays too many video games and watches too many movies where the bad guy dies.”

“Pretty excited over it then?”

“That’s one way to put it. He’ll probably always have some anger issues over his mother being murdered, so that doesn’t help. And then there’s the prosthesis he’ll have to see every day for the rest of his life.” A constant reminder of the man who tried to kill him…

“Want me to talk to him? See where his head’s at, set him up with some counseling maybe?”

“Let’s just keep an eye on him for now. Except for this, he’s doing really well. He’s happy again.”

He didn’t need to add that the change in Brendan had only been since meeting — and marrying — Laura Keane, and all but legally adopting her thirteen year old son, Sam. They were a happy, close-knit family now. That wasn’t the case a year ago.

“If you change your mind, I’ll help in any way I can.”

“I know you will. And I appreciate it.” Cameron grunted as he got to his feet. “I suppose I should get showered and check on my wife.”

“Let her know I’ll be stopping by after I get cleaned up, will you, old man?” Nolan vaulted to his feet, too, muscles he’d forgotten he had protesting loudly.

“I’m only four years older than you, boy, so you’re not that far behind me.” He reached down for the towel laying on top of his gym bag, slung it around his neck and grinned. “Same time tomorrow?”

“I have the clinic from one to four, so we’ll either have to make it early, or wait until after supper.”

“After supper. I have meetings scheduled all morning.”

“All right. If I don’t see you before,” and the odds were better than good that he would, “I’ll see you then.”


~~~~~


Nolan scrubbed the towel across his chest and down his arm, before switching hands to do the other side. As he dried off, he tried to focus on happier thoughts, like the welcome party planned for Laura’s sister-in-law tomorrow evening. Sam was almost beside himself waiting for her plane to land. Lucky for him, it was a special occasion and Laura was setting aside the nine o’clock curfew so they could all go to the airport to meet her.

Nolan had been roped into going along, too. Rather Cameron had pretty much insisted he come along. He seemed to feel that a larger greeting party would make Abigail Keane feel more welcome. The more welcome she felt, the more comfortable she’d be.

Stepping into a pair of worn, faded jeans, he thought she must already feel comfortable since the plan was for her to stay until just before school started in September. Whatever. He could suck it up and go along for the ride.

Putting the soon-to-arrive visitor out of his mind, he slipped into a pair of backless sandals and a tee-shirt that had seen better days, grabbed his bag and headed for the south wing.

He greeted several guards stationed throughout the palace by their first names as he walked at a swift pace to Cameron’s apartment. He didn’t have a set appointment, but usually tried to stop by during the early afternoon, and then again last thing at night. With the upcoming excitement, it was even more important to get it out of the way as soon as possible. Besides, if he started earlier at the clinic, he might finish earlier. Doubtful, but anything was possible.

Rapping lightly on the door, he let himself in, glanced around the living area, and then loped up one side of the curved double stairway. If she wasn’t down here, she was probably lying down, which he fully approved of.

“Come in,” Cameron called at his knock. He was standing in front of a full-length mirror knotting a tie.

“She isn’t napping,” he noted, watching as Laura pulled first one outfit out of her closet, then shake her head, put it back, and pull something else out.

“Abby will be here in a few hours,” she said, as if that explained everything.

“And?”

“And I want to look normal. Nothing really fancy.” She turned to face Cameron, her expression one of dismay, maybe with a little panic thrown in. “But all of my clothes are expensive now. When did that happen? Don’t I have any regular ones left?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart. But whatever you decide to wear, you’ll look beautiful.”

Nolan watched as Cameron crossed the room, took his wife into his arms and kissed her softly.

“You are so sweet,” Laura whispered, laying her head against his shoulder.

“I hate to break up this love-fest, but I have to get to the clinic so… Laura, you know the drill. Sit down and relax for a few minutes.”

“You are such a tyrant,” she told him, but she was smiling as she kissed Cameron’s cheek and eased down into the arm chair by the fireplace.

“Didn’t anyone ever tell you my secret nickname? Dr. Tyrant, at your service.” As he pulled the blood pressure cuff and stethoscope from his bag he asked, “Did your husband tell you how bad he beat me at racquetball?”

“He beat you? Seriously?” It was clear by her tone, and the corners of Cameron’s lips twitching, that he had, but he decided to play along to help Laura relax a little more.

“Not by much, but yeah he did. For a change.”

“For a change,” Cameron muttered, snickering as he pulled on a pair of gleaming black shoes. “All right. It’s time for me to head to the office. I’ve got a call coming in from the head of tourism in— I forget which country. Anyway, I’ll be back as soon as I’m finished.” He walked over to where Laura sat, leaned down and kissed her.

“Oh good job there, Einstein. I’m getting ready to take her blood pressure and there you go, sending it skyrocketing.”

“What can I say? I have that effect on my wife.”

“Well save it until after I get this afternoon’s reading please.”

“What a fishwife you’ve turned into,” he complained, but mouthed, ‘text me,’ on his way to the door. Nolan nodded his head just enough to show he’d gotten the message. They were both worried that Laura might be getting too worked up over the visit from her former sister-in-law.

“It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.” Once they were alone, Nolan shoved the footstool a little closer to the chair with his foot, sat down, and hooked the stethoscope around his neck. “Now let’s see how the little princess is doing today.”

While Laura had been a virtual Madonna since discovering she was pregnant, she’d simply glowed since an ultrasound at the halfway point showed their child would be a girl. Now, at twenty-nine weeks, he was doing everything he could to buy her another month. And they just might get there — if they could keep her blood pressure under control.

He handed her a pink stethoscope that he kept in his bag just for her. Laura knew the drill. As soon as he located the heartbeat, he would place the bell of hers next to his. While she listened to her baby, he wrapped the blood pressure cuff around her upper arm and took the reading.

“It’s a little higher than I’d like it to be, but I was actually expecting this what with a guest arriving in a few hours.”

“She’s all right though?” Good thing the cuff was off because he could just imagine the numbers inching up a few notches.

“Calm down. She’s fine. But with all of the excitement, I think I’d like to see you spend most of the evening resting. We’ll open the balcony doors so you can lie here and listen to the surf…”

“Hypothermia a new treatment for high blood pressure, is it?” Laura asked, raising her brows.

“That was a joke, my dear. Just wanted to show you that an afternoon and evening of rest could be worse. I’ll make sure someone is here to keep you company after I leave.”

“Not Maeve, please.”

“Not Maeve. The goal is to keep your pressure under control, not send it shooting through the roof.”

Queen Maeve was actually a very sweet woman, but with the birth of her third grandchild in the not too distant future, she tended to hover. And to worry, especially now that Laura’s pregnancy had been categorized as high risk.

“Maybe Mary?” Laura suggested hesitantly. Mary was a fairly meek and quiet housemaid, but she was capable enough. And if that’s who Laura needed to help her relax, that’s who she would get.

“Sounds good to me. Let me just send a message to Cameron so he can take care of it.” His fingers flew over the tiny keys like he’d been born to text.

“You mean so you can let him know my blood pressure is a little high for your liking?”

“That, too.”

“Whatever happened to doctor-patient confidentiality?”

“That went out the window when you signed the release form giving me and your O.B. permission to discuss your health and the pregnancy with your husband.”

“Oh, that’s right,” she said, pretending that she’d forgotten. He’d come to know Laura well enough to know that she rarely forgot anything, much less something that important.

“Unless you want to revoke the permission…” Nolan grinned when she scowled at him.

“No. He just worries too much. And he didn’t need this, today of all days.”

“I know. But Angus paid the price for his crimes. The high court made the ruling. Now it’s over, and time to move on with life. It’s also time to get you to bed, young lady.”

“Ha! I’m older than you are,” she scoffed, taking hold of the hands he held out to pull her to her feet.

“Only by a year. Come on. Get moving. I’ve still got a clinic full of patients to tend to this afternoon.

“You work too hard, Nolan.”

“Glad someone finally noticed.”


~~~~~


Abby considered herself fortunate to get a straight-through flight to Nuuk, Greenland, where she would then catch a small plane for the short trip to Casteloria. She knew a jet was kept at the airport in Lansing for anyone wishing to visit the island, but she’d have felt uncomfortable using it. The only relative she had there now that Laura had remarried was Sam, and she wasn’t sure how much an aunt and former sister-in-law counted as family where royalty was concerned.

Halfway through the first leg of the journey, she hoped she wasn’t making a mistake in planning to spend the entire summer at a palace in a country she’d never heard of, but Sam had kept asking, almost begging at times, so she’d finally given in. She needed to make sure her brother’s son was, if not happy, then at least not miserable.

She knew from sad experience that a huge difference in classes could have devastating results, and much as she tried to block the memories, they wouldn’t be stopped.

It had been bad enough to learn that Paula Whitcomb had cut her wrists in a suicide attempt. When it came to light that it was the result of relentless bullying by girls from some of their more well-to-do families, Abby had been ready to expel the tormentors, except the board sent Melissa Stuart, one of the student advisers, to have a chat with her.

“I don’t like it any more than you do, Abby,” she said, not quite meeting her eyes. “But they want to keep this quiet.”

“You mean they want to sweep it under the rug.”

“That’s not what they said at all. They just don’t want it to hit the newsstands.”

“Yes, I can see why they wouldn’t. One of our poorest students, here on a scholarship, tries to kill herself because our wealthy students made her life a living hell. Because the staff wouldn’t step up and put a stop to it. That would certainly tarnish the stellar reputation we have as compassionate, caring substitute parents, wouldn’t it?”

“Abby, come on now.” Melissa had lowered her voice so it was soft, placating. “This has never happened before and you know it.”

“The suicide attempt or the bullying? Would anyone have told me about the bullying if Paula hadn’t tried to kill herself?” She hadn’t intended to get so loud, but by the time she reached the end of the question, she’d been shouting. Not only that, but she’d risen to her feet, planted her hands on the top of her desk and was bent over the top so far she was almost nose-to-nose with Melissa.

“We thought we had it under control.”

Under control? What a joke! What had happened, she was sure, was that most of the faculty looked at the girls who received scholarships in the same way the students did … as second class citizens who had no business mingling with their betters. They resented the fact that Lockwood Galloway gave opportunities to these brilliant but poverty-stricken students every year. While that was good publicity, and the board of directors loved for news of their oh-so-generous gifts to be leaked to the press, having to deal with those they considered inferior was a different story.

After nine years of only taking a few holidays and a couple of weeks off each year, Abby had accumulated a ridiculous number of vacation days. That being the case, she’d decided in that moment when the last class let out for the summer, she was going to run away. To put some distance between her and her job. To take some time to think. School should be about teaching, about guiding the pupils under your care, but it seemed that most of the staff wanted to kowtow to the rich kids.

That wasn’t to say that all of the teachers were bad, nor were all of the students. Most of them, in fact, were probably decent, if not downright kindhearted. But she also knew that cliques tended to rule any school they attended. She’d always done her best, when made aware of problems, to put a stop to them, but obviously her best hadn’t been good enough. Not when a seventeen year-old girl was lying in a private room in the psychiatric ward at the local hospital.

Just seeing Paula again had almost reduced her to tears. She’d looked so pale her skin almost camouflaged the bandages around her wrists. And though Abby didn’t know her well, the girl seemed too quiet, too depressed. She’d taken the card with her private email address, but it seemed unlikely she’d ever use it.

When had her dream of making a difference become an ugly nightmare, a rainbow of grays instead of black and white, right and wrong? If this was what the job was going to be for the rest of her working life, she wasn’t sure she wanted it anymore, wasn’t sure she could do it.

Obviously, she had little control over the students, and even less over the teachers. They condoned bullying, and had decided she — the headmistress — hadn’t needed to know about it. But if she had known, would anything she might have done changed the outcome? Would Paula still be lying in that hospital bed if she’d been able to intervene?

Trying to push the thoughts and memories away, she looked out the window. Through the almost transparent clouds, she could see an endless expanse of water below. It made her feel very alone, isolated, much like she’d been at the school. While she’d never doubted it was where she belonged, where she was needed, she’d never really fit in. She had no friends there, just employees who didn’t think twice about keeping dirty little secrets.


~~~~~


Anywhere else in the world, or at least many places in the world, it would be close to dark at this time of night, but not in Casteloria. While the sun was sinking closer to the horizon, it would still be fairly light when Abigail Keane’s plane landed in about twenty minutes.

Why they’d needed to arrive a full half an hour early, Nolan didn’t know. It was only a ten minute drive from the palace to the air field, but Laura had worried the plane might be early, though if it was, it would be the first time he’d ever heard of such a thing happening. And so she, Cameron, and both boys had climbed into the limousine at eight-fifteen. Nolan had followed on his bike. It might only be thirty-nine degrees, but he wouldn’t be out in it long enough for it to matter. Not much anyway.

Now they were all cooling their heels in the small waiting area inside the equally small terminal. Well, Sam and Brendan were bouncing off the walls, chasing each other around playing keep away, or tag, or some combination of the two. Since they were the only ones here, outside of the guards who kept a close eye on everyone, it didn’t matter. As long as they didn’t stress Laura out.

She sat next to Cameron, her head against his shoulder. He held her hand, murmuring soft words against her hair from time to time. Sometimes she smiled, but mostly she just kept her eyes closed, looking like she might doze off at any moment.

“As one of your doctors,” he finally said, his voice loud in the relative silence, “I’m ordering you to bed as soon as we get back to the palace.”

“I’ll need to help Abby settle in,” Laura murmured, not bothering to look at him.

“We have two ladies maids standing by to help her unpack, and even provide her with a meal if she’s hungry,” Cameron reminded her. “You need your rest.”

Nolan knew since the pregnancy had become precarious, his friend struggled with balancing his role as husband with the authority that came with being the next in line to the throne. That even though he trusted his wife to not put her life, or the life of their child, in danger, he wanted to control everything. To make sure they were both safe. But Laura wasn’t the type to be coddled and he knew it.

“There’s the plane,” Sam shouted, running to the wall of windows.

Sure enough, there it was, just a little speck in the distance, but getting larger with each passing second. Less than five minutes and it would be on the ground. Twenty minutes after that, they’d be home and his patient would be on her way to dreamland.




Chapter 2


Abby lay in the king size bed staring out a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, broken only by two sets of French doors, which were closed to keep the cold out. In the distance, she could see the blue of the ocean through the decorative concrete balusters on the balcony. She could also see a very light snow blowing. Not enough that it would accumulate, but still— it was the beginning of the last week of May.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, she’d known it would still be chilly in Casteloria, but her thoughts had been in such turmoil, it hadn’t registered. Exiting the plane in Nuuk in lightweight slacks and a sleeveless blouse, windchills in the upper teens had been a harsh reminder, and she wished she’d thought to pack a jacket … or a snowmobile suit.

Cameron, Laura’s new prince of a husband, had slipped his warm coat around her shoulders immediately upon her arrival at the Castelorian airport, but by then she’d been shivering so hard she’d feared she might never warm up.

Not accustomed to pampering, Abby thought she could get used to it when he’d phoned ahead to have a bath drawn so it was ready when they reached the palace. And when the scruffy, Keith Urban wannabe claiming to be Laura’s doctor said it was past her bedtime, Abby wasn’t even offended.

Grateful was more like it. The only thing she wanted at that point was to sink into the hot water and stay forever. In fact, if one of the maids who’d promised to unpack her suitcases hadn’t checked on her, she might have fallen asleep in the huge, sunken marble bathtub.

And the mollycoddling hadn’t stopped there. A fire had been burning in the white stone hearth when she’d stepped back into the living area, part of a suite that had to be three times the size of her apartment at Lockwood Galloway.

A steaming bowl of chicken stew — one of Laura’s favorites, she remembered — sat on the gleaming wood table, along with a small plate of warm biscuits and butter, and small silver pots of decaf coffee and hot cocoa.

Until that moment, Abby hadn’t realized she was hungry. Not just hungry, but starving. After thanking Gretchen, one of the maids apparently assigned to her, she sat down and ate as though she hadn’t had a meal in days.

Finally, her hunger assuaged, she climbed into the bed — to find several hot water bottles warming the sheets.

Yeah, she could get used to this, she’d thought, snuggling under the blankets.

That was the last thing she remembered. She must have fallen asleep within seconds of her head hitting the pillow and not woken once during the night.

Now, the clock on the bedside table said it was nine-twenty-seven. She hadn’t slept that late since her college days and should be ashamed of herself, but she wasn’t. That had been the best night’s sleep she’d had in nearly three weeks. Since before Paula…

She’d spent that time seeing to the end of the regular school year activities, graduation for the seniors, dances for all of the upperclassmen — or ladies, and seeing to it that everything would run without a hitch for the year-round students.

The girls whose parents couldn’t be bothered with their daughters for more than the occasional brief vacation pretty much called the dormitories home. Fortunately, there weren’t many of them, but several numbered among the bullies. Probably acting out on their feelings of abandonment, but it still didn’t excuse their actions.

A soft tap on the white and gold double doors brought her out of her thoughts and she called for whoever it was to come in. She grinned when the door opened and Sam peeked inside.

“Did I wake you?” he asked, smiling back. “Mom said if you’re tired, I should let you sleep as long as you like.”

“No. I was up, just being a lazy slug this morning.”

“Can I come in?”

Abby scooted over and patted the thick comforter beside her. Sam didn’t need a second invitation, bounding into the room, closing the door behind him a little louder than was necessary and planting himself on the bed.

“Look at you,” she murmured, reaching out to brush the hair back from his forehead. “You must have grown a foot since I last saw you! Come here.” She sat up and hugged him close, wishing she never had to let him go. He looked so much like Jake had at that age it made her heart ache. “I’ve missed you, sweetie.”

“I missed you, too. And I haven’t grown a foot, just a few inches. Mom said I’m keeping the jeans factories in business though.”

“I’ll just bet you are,” she said, chuckling. After a few more moments, she let him sit back up so she could get a better look at him. Her eyes stung with unshed tears as she studied her brother’s son. “You look so much like your dad...”

“Mom says that all the time. Good thing he wasn’t homely, right?”

Abby laughed again and said,

“Good thing? I’m glad to see you don’t have any self-esteem issues.”

“Are you hungry? We’re having French toast, bacon, and sausage in about half an hour.”

“You always eat breakfast this late?”

“No, but since you were so tired, we’re having brunch instead.”

“So you’ve been starving because of me?”

“Yes. I’m weak with hunger, and it’s all your fault.” He flopped back against the mattress, flinging an arm across his forehead as he tried to assume a pitiful expression, but blew it when he burst out laughing. “No. Me ‘n Brendan had cereal a couple of hours ago.”

“That’s a relief. I’d hate to be responsible for you fainting from hunger.”

“Ha. Guys don’t faint.”

“A lot you know. We’ll have to check out YouTube later. For now though, why don’t you let me get dressed so we can see about getting you something more substantial to eat?”


~~~~~


Shivering as he climbed off his bike, Nolan found he missed the warm temperatures on Bois Blanc Island the previous summer. If they were lucky, they might see a few days in the sixties in August, and once in a while — a very great while — they’d see a day or two in the low seventies. Mostly though, it was forties and fifties for the entire season. But it was more tolerable than the teens — and below — of winter, and that meant breaking his motorcycle out of mothballs.

Hanging his black helmet from the hand grip, he headed off at a fast clip toward the back door of the clinic. It was almost eight. Magdalen would already be at the front desk, which meant a pot of hot coffee was waiting, ready to warm him. He’d never admit it, but the reason he made a beeline for it wasn’t because he needed the caffeine. No, Coke would always be his beverage of choice for that. The coffee was because these rides chilled him almost to the bone.

He’d never admit this either, but sometimes he wondered if he might not be getting too old for some of the shenanigans he pulled. At least when it came to freezing his butt off. Seemed like it was bothering him a little more every year.

“Morning, Nolan,” Magdalen said, distracted. Her brows were drawn together in consternation as she looked at the computer screen.

“Good morning. Problems already?” He leaned over her shoulder to see if he could figure out what she was worried about, but he doubted anyone could figure out her scheduling system.

“There’s an email from Molly Beckett. You’re going to have to make a house call — as soon as possible. I’m just trying to decide which of your patients can get away with seeing Nora.”

Nora was the clinic’s more than capable nurse practitioner. She often saw more patients in the office than any of the staff doctors did, himself included. It was because of her that he and a couple of the others could check on the patients who weren’t able to get in.

House calls were quickly becoming a thing of the past in other areas of the world, and even parts of Casteloria, but he and his associates did their best to keep the practice alive in Birmore.

Take Keegan Scully, for instance. After living a good long life, he’d been stricken with an aggressive form of cancer about six months ago. He didn’t have long left on this earth, and there was no way Nolan would expect him to come in for regular office calls.

“Have you figured out when I’ll have time?” he asked, taking a cautious sip of his coffee. It still burned his tongue.

“Yes…” she said, checking the appointment list one more time before looking up at him, a hint of a smile on her lips. “If you can go now, I think we’ll be good until ten-thirty. Do you think two hours is enough time?”

“I expect it will be,” he said with a sigh, turning to sit his mug in the microwave. It would have to wait.

“Stay warm,” Magdalen called, as he headed back out the way he’d come. He could hear the amused tone in her voice. She wasn’t the only one who thought he was stubborn, and probably a little insane, for insisting on riding the bike, and she — and everyone like her — were what kept him from setting the tradition aside.

“Ha-ha,” Nolan muttered under his breath, but he didn’t really mind. Keegan wasn’t too far out of town, and the trees and rocks along the primitive dirt road would shelter him from much of the breeze blowing in from the Atlantic.

Yeah, he definitely missed the seventies and eighties they’d enjoyed in Michigan, but he wouldn’t trade his life for the world. He lived on a beautiful island with good friends, spectacular views, and an endless list of patients he wouldn’t trade for all the nice weather in the world. Although come February, when the windchills plummeted to well below zero, he’d be looking forward to his month-long trip to St. Croix.

The Scully cottage was in a state of disrepair, and Nolan felt sad as he approached it. The stone structure itself was sound, but the shingles on the roof were faded, and patched with tar in numerous places. Paint had long ago faded from the wood around the doors and windows, leaving a weathered gray behind. And the yard…

The property surrounding the house was so overgrown it was a wonder a body could walk around without getting lost. It looked as though someone had made an effort to start clearing it — and had quickly given up. He didn’t blame them because by this time, it would take someone who either cared enough to put in the hard work required, or the funds needed to hire a professional.

Nolan not only had the finances and wherewithal to put the place to rights, he also loved the cottage, the location, everything about it — nearly as much as Keegan. He just didn’t know if he could live here and not see the old man he thought of as a bonus uncle everywhere he looked.

Doctors weren’t supposed to get attached to their patients, but no matter how often he reminded himself of that fact, his heart had yet to obey.

With a sigh, he climbed off the bike, pushed the creaky, faded gate open, and walked down the cobblestone path.

Keegan’s only daughter, Molly, had married an Irishman and moved to Galway more than fifty years ago. She and her teenage great grandson, Emmet, were staying with him during his final weeks because he refused to be uprooted from the home he’d lived in for most of his ninety-six years.

She answered his knock almost immediately, making him wonder if she’d been standing at the window watching for his arrival. But then she was in surprisingly good health for a woman who was seventy if she was a day and he wouldn’t be surprised if she’d been bustling about the rooms tidying here and there.

“Thanks for coming so quickly,” she said, closing the door behind him. The shadows beneath her still bright blue eyes spoke of too little sleep and too much stress. “Da was in a lot of pain during the night. I don’t think the medicine is working anymore.”

“Then I’ll give him something that does,” Nolan promised, squeezing her shoulder. “Is he awake?” She nodded.

“I don’t think he’s slept more than a wink since yesterday.”

“I’ll go sit with him for a while.”

“He’ll enjoy that. Thank you, Dr. Campbell. Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“That would be wonderful, thanks.” He smiled, then headed into the study that had been converted to a sickroom.

After losing it all during chemotherapy treatments, little tufts of snow white hair had finally begun to grow back on Keegan’s still mostly bald pate. This morning, little clumps were sticking up like he was trying to imitate a punk rocker and Nolan figured, knowing the old man as well as he did, that he’d be proud of it.

“So I hear you were out painting the town last night,” he teased, pulling a straight-backed chair up beside the bed and sitting down.

“You know me,” Keegan said, his voice weaker than it had been just a few days ago. Nolan laid a gentle hand on his wrist, trying to be discreet as he checked his pulse, but there was no pulling the wool over his patient’s eyes.

“Not long now, is it?” His honesty and acceptance of the situation never ceased to surprise Nolan.

“I wouldn’t think so, no.” He didn’t want to say the words, but they left his mouth anyway.

“It’s all right, Doc. I’m not afraid.”

“I know you’re not. You’re one of the bravest souls I’ve ever known.”

And he was. Born during the Spanish influenza pandemic in 1918, Keegan was a decorated soldier from his service in World War II. And until a hunter from the Soviet Union bagged a bigger one eleven years ago, he’d held the record for the largest, meanest grizzly ever killed on Castelorian soil. Apparently, death didn’t make him quake with fear any more than bullets, bombs, or the bear had.

“There are some things I regret,” he said after several long moments of silence, He was staring out the window across from his bed and Nolan wondered if he was seeing the overgrown foliage, or something else.

“I expect most everyone will have at least a few when they reach the end.”

“I’m a stubborn man, Nolan Campbell. My Gael has been gone since Molly was but a wee lass, and I wouldn’t move to be closer to her. I didn’t see my grandchildren grow up because of it, or their children — and now their children’s children. I missed it all because I chose to stay bound to a house and the grave in the garden.”

“But you were happy here,” Nolan reminded him. “This was your home. And there were visits. I know you went to them for holidays, and they came here fairly often.”

“It’s not the same as being there.”

“No, but the way I see it, you had the best of both worlds.”

Keegan seemed to consider that for a moment, then nodded his head slowly.

“Maybe I did. But now, when there’s so little time left, I wish I’d spent more of it with them. That is my only regret. When you’re preparing yourself to meet your Maker, you realize it’s the people in your life that matter. The living ones. Not the ones who are dead and buried.” He looked at Nolan again and reached out his hand. Nolan took it and held it gently. “Don’t ever forget that, Doc. It’s those who are alive and who care about you that matter. They’re all that ever will.”

“I’ll remember that,” he said, swallowing the lump that formed in his throat. “Maybe I’ll take a weekend off someday soon.”

“You should, yes. You work too hard, Doc.”

Today, Nolan agreed with that assessment. It had been months since he’d flown home to visit his family on Coghlan, the smallest of the Castelorian islands. He would have to schedule a trip. Soon.


~~~~~


She was going to throw up, that’s all there was to it. Right on the tabletop. In front of a king, queen, princess, a couple of princes, and whoever else they’d invited to this welcome supper they’d planned — without asking whether she actually wanted to be welcomed by anyone, much less a royal family.

Abby had only brought two suitcases with her. She didn’t have anything appropriate to wear for something like this. A couple of outfits that might be considered fancy, if she were eating at a restaurant in Michigan, and then jeans and tops, and a bathing suit and shorts that would never see the light of day in this climate.

Eventually, she settled on a knee length black skirt and a lightweight light gray sweater. With her single strand of pearls — which were real, but probably bargain variety compared to what these people wore — she might not embarrass herself too badly.

First, she had to fix her hair, currently wound up in the thick towel wrapped around her head.

A glance at the ornate clock hanging over the fireplace told her she had about ninety minutes before she had to join Laura and her family. Before she had to meet the royal part of that family. Her stomach started roiling even more than it had already been. She so wasn’t ready for this. Dealing with the outrageously wealthy parents of her students was one thing, but a king and queen? No one associated with people like that in the real world.

She sat at the dressing table just inside the walk-in closet/dressing room, which was bigger than her living room at home, and freed her thick chestnut hair. If she let it dry on its own, the soft curls would fall to the middle of her back. Since she didn’t really have time for that, she’d have to use a dryer and a brush. It would straighten so it would be a little longer, smoother, and shinier.

Maybe she should just pin it into the chignon she wore at work. Except she wasn’t working, and she liked leaving it loose on her own time. It would be so much easier to decide if Laura hadn’t married a prince. Casual or formal?

Casual won out because it was still her vacation, and she spent the forty minutes it took to dry it concentrating on her breathing, and thinking about benign things like how beautiful the rocky Castelorian coastline was. She’d gotten her first real look at it at the end of the whirlwind tour her nephew invited her on after brunch.

Sam had insisted she let him and his step-brother, Brendan Gallagher-Hughes, show her around the palace grounds. She’d been immediately enchanted with the beautiful courtyard gardens, all filled with a wide variety of early spring and fall flowers because, of course, it never got warm enough here to have summer varieties. Except in greenhouses, and they had a few of those, too, as well as a couple of huge atriums she’d fallen in love with. The larger one had an indoor waterfall and was so peaceful and lovely, she could imagine spending far too much time there.

But what the boys really wanted to show her were the rocks. Abby had been scared half to death for both of them, but especially for Brendan, whom she knew wore a prosthetic leg. She’d expected him to tumble into the frigid sea time and again, but relaxed after a bit. For one thing, they both seemed surefooted and confident. And for another, the three guards that followed them wherever they went, though keeping vigilant eyes on them, were relaxed. If there had been a problem, she knew they’d have been on it in an instant.

Too soon, the pleasant memories had to be filed away. She was ready, and it was time to head down to the dining room. At least, according to the boys, they were holding the supper here — in the apartment — instead of in the main dining room near the center of the palace. The dining room that seated thirty.

“Stop it, Abby,” she scolded herself, taking a deep, not-so-fortifying breath. “They’re just people.”

People who wore crowns and ruled a small island country, but people nonetheless. It wasn’t like she was unused to dealing with the rich and famous. Several of the girls at Lockwood Galloway were the daughters of celebrities, and she’d never been uncomfortable around any of them.

Another shaky breath and she let herself out of her suite, almost running into Cameron, who was hurrying down the hall — in faded blue jeans, a white tee shirt, and a brown sport coat. Her jaw almost dropped. The Crown Prince of Casteloria was dressed like a normal guy.

“Well don’t you look lovely this evening,” he said, seeming sincere as he offered his arm. Tucking her hand in the crook of his elbow, Abby walked with him to the main floor — where she got another surprise.

“Aw, Grandpa! You just creamed me!” Sam said, throwing himself back on the plush cream colored sofa, but he was grinning at the king, who was wearing clothes very similar to his son — and playing a video game with the boys.

In the dining room, she could see the queen and her daughter, both in jeans and sweaters, helping Laura arrange place settings on the table.

Swallowing hard, Abby realized she was the only one who had dressed up for this dinner party.


~~~~~


“Don’t forget,” Nolan reminded Finley as they approached the double doors leading to Cameron and Laura’s living quarters. “We’re supposed to be relaxed so Ms. Keane doesn’t feel uncomfortable. You’re off duty tonight.”

“I’m never off duty,” Finley scoffed, and Nolan supposed he was right. It was a common sentiment among the entire guard, but especially so with Fin, who was in charge of palace security. As long as he was on the property, which was pretty much twenty-four/seven, he was on duty.

“Fine. Just chill, okay? This is important to Laura. It’s the first time any of Jake’s family has come to visit, and she wants it to go well for Sam’s sake.”

“You think I don’t know that?” he asked, only a hint of sarcasm in his tone. “I’m not going to go all Rambo or anything.”

Per Cameron’s suggestion, they both dressed casually, but while his jeans were torn and well-worn, and his tee shirt bore the faded faces of one of his favorite bands, Fin looked like he’d just stepped out of a clothing store. His still creased, dark blue jeans appeared to be brand new, and the pristine, probably freshly pressed dress shirt he wore only had two buttons unfastened. Still too formal, but the man who would probably put Rambo to shame had tried, and he supposed that was the best anyone could hope for.

“Ready?” he asked, raising his hand to knock. Finley nodded, and after two sharp raps, he opened the door, muttering under his breath to smile.

Nolan almost felt sorry for Ms. Keane. It was clear she hadn’t gotten the message that this was to be a casual affair. It looked as though she’d like to make a mad dash for her room and change, but she sat on the edge of an overstuffed chair, trying to smile as the king and the boys played a complicated strategy game. Liam was winning, but he wasn’t sure whether it was because he was skilled enough to do so, or if Sam and Brendan were taking it easy on him.

“Hey, you two,” Cameron said, walking in from the dining room. “Nolan, you met Abby last night at the airport. Finley Hughes, this is Laura’s sister-in-law, Abby Keane.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Fin said, shaking her hand when she rose to greet him.

“Same here,” she murmured, what she probably hoped would pass as a smile curving her lips … barely. “I understand my family owes you a debt of gratitude for saving the lives of Laura and my nephew.”

“It was a combined effort,” Finley told her, his cheeks flushing at the praise.

“Well, thank you anyway. We all appreciate it.” After that, an uncomfortable silence fell over the room, except for the sound effects from the game.

“I see you’ve recovered from your chilly introduction to our Castelorian summer,” Nolan said abruptly. Someone had to introduce a new subject or it might turn into a long, uncomfortable evening. “I trust you have no ill effects?”

“None at all, thank you for asking.”

But no thanks for saving Sam’s life when he’d cut his leg on the beach. Not that he expected any, but still… Maybe she only considered lifesaving efforts worthy of praise if they involved guns and bullets. That doctors were just run of the mill and since they didn’t risk their lives for patients, they didn’t count.

The hour that followed passed in a blur so dull Nolan had to force himself to stay awake. While everyone at the table tried to include Ms. Keane in the conversation, she seemed to go out of her way to participate as little as possible. She only spoke when questions were asked directly of her, and then answered in as few words as possible.

Thus far, he had to admit that he was thoroughly unimpressed with Sam’s aunt. If this was her normal demeanor, the next three months were going to be unbearably long. If that was the case, it would be a shame. She looked like she would be a personable young woman. From all the raving Sam had done, that’s exactly what he’d expected, but so far he’d seen no evidence of it. Maybe if she knew how to smile, it would help, but every one he’d witnessed so far seemed forced, faked, and as far from genuine as any he’d ever seen.

She must have seen every private school movie with dour, overbearing headmasters and headmistresses made — and was doing her best to emulate them. If so, she was succeeding beyond any expectations she might ever have had.


~~~~~


Abby couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt like a tongue-tied teenager. Probably back when she’d been waiting her turn to get Jon Bon Jovi’s autograph after a concert. When he’d smiled his heart-melting smile and asked for her name, she hadn’t been able to open her mouth. Fortunately, her date saved the moment and she still had the tee shirt he’d signed. The tee shirt she’d been wearing when he signed it.

That experience had nothing on this one. A few seconds out of her life compared to an endlessly long evening trying to remember that she was a professional, reminding herself that she was used to dealing with a class of people who were considered royalty in some circles. People who were a lot less personable and friendly than the Gallagher-Hughes family. Maybe that was the problem. Most of her student’s parents’ were all business, never bothering to try and find a common ground with her. She never had to worry about sounding upbeat or interesting, unlike tonight, when the cat not only had her tongue, but seemed bent on keeping it forever.

And so she just sat there acting like she was too good to associate with them. After a while, though they still made efforts to include her in the conversation, mostly they talked amongst themselves, laughing and genuinely enjoying the meal.

But as disgusted as she was with herself, what really grated was how well the doctor seemed to get along with everyone. Sitting directly across from her, she was able to observe him without seeming too obvious. Words came easy to him as he joked with the boys and offered what appeared to be surprisingly intelligent opinions and advice when conversing with the adults.

She’d begun to wonder if she might have misjudged Nolan Campbell when he pulled a cell phone out of his jeans’ pocket and started texting. After a couple of minutes ignoring everyone except whomever he was chatting with, he pushed away from the table and stood up saying,

“Well, this has been fun, but I’m going to take off now. Looks like I have a hot date I wasn’t expecting.” Glancing down at her, he added, “Welcome to Casteloria, Ms. Keane. I hope you enjoy your stay.” And may it be a short one, she added silently, because given the tone of his voice, that’s exactly what he’d have said if he’d thought he could get away with it.

“Don’t have too much fun,” Cameron called out as he headed for the front door.

“Yeah, right,” Nolan said over his shoulder. “Don’t wait up for me.”

A hot date? Don’t wait up for me?


~~~~~


He could hear the exhausted sobs the moment the emergency room doors slid open, and Nolan picked up his pace, entering the exam room beyond the reception area to see a pair of harried parents — and a nurse who looked as though she might have reached the end of a rope she was ready to use on her patient.

On the table sat a fragile little girl, her blonde curls matted with some of the blood that was trickling down her cheek. She’d probably rubbed most of it into her hair with the red stained fist she held to her mouth. The shoulder of the white sweater she wore was covered with it, too. When she spotted him, the volume of her cries increased dramatically, and she held her arms out to him.


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