Summer in Montana brings heat, with a chance of romance in the new Medicine River Romance from the award-winning author of Montana Actually…
Sexy and charming Australian doctor Will Bartlett will do anything to help out a friend, even if it means moving to Bear Paw for the summer. Some small-town hospitality, and the uncomplicated friendship of his co-worker, Millie, is just the ticket to shake off the restlessness that’s been gripping him lately.
Millie Switkowski, RN and medical student, is home for her clinical rotation and she’s determined to make this summer so much better than last. She’s got a year of medical school under her belt, her diabetes is under control, and she’s kicked her crazy crush for Will Bartlett, who only ever treated her as “one of the guys.”
But when Will turns out to be Millie’s supervising physician, without warning the summer just got a whole lot hotter than either of them anticipated.
A Medicine River Romance (Book 2)
For photos of Montana, sexy doctors and hunky cowboys--all who inspired the story-- click through to Pinterest.
Photos courtesy of Kari Lynn Dell, Montana For Real.
Truly Madly Montana
Book Two in the Medicine River series
Excerpt from Chapter One
As Millie Switkowski drove into Bear Paw for the first time in months, it seemed both ironic and fitting that her continuous glucose monitor, Dex, started beeping wildly. It was like a mocking welcome home message— you’re back where it all started, baby.
"Okay, Dex," she said to the machine with which she shared a love-hate relationship. "Simmer down. I’m pulling over."
She’d been late leaving Bozeman because last night instead of packing, she’d panicked and had done last minute cramming for her microbiology final. As it turned out, the extra study hadn’t been necessary and she would have been far better spending the time loading the car as per her original idea. For five years she’d worked at making her life a series of well thought-out plans and she knew she really needed to trust them more. If she’d had more faith in her study program, today’s road trip would have been divided up into ordered and necessary scheduled breaks rather than her rushing to get to Bear Paw by six and risking a sugar crash.
Parking next to the enormous twenty-seven feet high, ten thousand pound concrete penguin, which confidently declared that Bear Paw was the coldest spot in the nation, she smiled at the incongruity of it as she often did. She’d always wondered how the brains trust behind the black and white statue had both cheerfully disregarded Alaska and the fact that penguins weren’t found in the northern hemisphere. Geography was obviously not their strong suit. She pricked her finger and tested her blood sugar— predictably low— before rummaging through her enormous tote bag until she found a juice box and some fruit snacks.
The last thing she needed was to arrive at Dr. Josh Stanton’s bachelor party with a plummeting blood sugar. She didn’t need the drama of feeling like crap. She surely didn’t need the drama of people hovering or worse still, some well-meaning person telling her parents she’d arrived back in town looking pale and shaky. No, she was striding into Leroy’s and the party like any normal twenty-six year old woman just back from grad school.
Truth be told, most normal twenty-six year old women probably weren’t invited to their former boss’s bachelor party, but Josh, like everyone else in town, never seemed to notice she was a woman. She was just Millie. Practical, sensible, dependable Millie— one of the guys. Someone who could shoot pool and throw darts with the best of them.
She checked her appearance in the rear-view mirror. Pale face, crazy curls springing everywhere and some freckles on her cheeks left over from spring break in Mexico. Without the time or the inclination to spend an hour with a hair straightener, her hair was beyond help. At least in a few minutes the sugar would hit and pink up her cheeks.
She glanced down at her Montana State sweatshirt and gave thanks it didn’t have a ketchup stain on it from the hot dog she’d grabbed when she’d filled up on gas in Great Falls. She gave herself points for clean jeans, kinda clean boots and a clean, baggy T— the perfect attire for a boy’s night at Leroy’s.
Millie, honey, there’s nothing wrong with wearing a dress from time to time.
She quickly swiped on some lip-gloss as if that show of femininity was enough to silence the memory of her mom’s often sad and critical voice. Her mom had wanted a girlie-girl daughter to share her love of clothes. Instead, she’d got a son who loved fashion and football with equal fervor and a daughter who couldn’t tell the difference between a Gucci and a Gabbana. Millie was far more Old Navy, last season and on sale, and she felt way more at home in jeans, fleeces and T-shirts. Her brother, Evan, did his best to make up for Millie’s fashion shortcomings and took their mom shopping whenever she visited him in California. Of course, he also took their dad to the football game so really, he was the perfect adult child. Millie on the other hand, knew her overriding contribution to the family was a contestant source of parental worry.
She drained the juice box with a slurp and sent a text to her mom and dad who were out of town. Got home safely. Tell Uncle Ken happy birthday from me. Millie x
With the job of reassuring-the-parents done, she checked her blood sugar. Eighty-six and rising. Awesome. And real food was coming. As Josh’s best man, she’d ordered up big on the hors d’oeuvres— BBQ meatballs, layered Mexican dip, stuffed mushrooms, bacon wrapped Jalapeño poppers and buffalo wings. If they weren’t serving food when she arrived, she’d ask them to start.
The good and the bad thing about Bear Paw was that most of the older residents and anyone she’d gone to high school with knew she was diabetic. They didn’t comment if she ate at a different time from them although they often had an opinion about what she ate. As a result, in her life outside of Bear Paw as a medical student, she only shared her lack of a functioning pancreas with people on a strictly needs-to-know basis. She made sure that need didn’t arise very often at all because she had a PhD in horrified and pitying looks or worse yet— over-intrusive interest from people who saw her as a training specimen. All she wanted was to be known as Millie— although she wasn’t exactly certain who that was but tonight wasn’t the time to tackle that particular chestnut.
Throwing the car into drive, she shoulder-checked, pulled out onto the road and drove the last mile to Leroy’s. The parking lot was almost full and some smart-ass cowboy had fashioned a rope noose and hung it over the door next to a banner that said, Another good man all tied up. Ducking to miss it, she pushed open the door and a wall of noise and the malty scent of beer, wafted out to greet her.
A welcoming roar went up from the cowboys and assorted businessmen who were gathered around the bar. They turned and raised their drinks to her.
She grinned and tipped her imaginary hat. She knew all of them, having either treated them at the clinic when she’d worked there as a nurse or having bested them here at pool and darts. "Hey, guys. It’s good to be back."
"Millie, welcome home." Ethan Langworthy, the librarian, greeted her in his quiet and gentle way.
"Hey, Millie." Josh gave her a warm hug and a perfunctory kiss on the cheek. It was a sharp contrast to the buttoned-up city doctor who’d arrived in Bear Paw just over a year ago. "It’s great to see you."
She hugged him back. "And you. Getting nervous?"
"About the wedding?" He shook his head. "Not at all. About my parents spending a week in Bear Paw, yes. Katrina’s dad offered to host them out at Coulee Creek ranch, which probably means I owe him our first born child."
She punched him lightly on the arm. "They can’t be worse than when you first arrived in town with your fancy coffee and stinky French cheeses."
He gave a good-natured smile. "Your parents always greet me with open arms when I place my monthly gourmet food order."
"I can’t argue that then, especially as by default you’re likely contributing to my generous birthday and Christmas presents." She raised her hand toward the bar and gave the barman a wave. He’d started at Leroy’s not long before she’d left for medical school. "Sparkling water, please, Shane."
"It’s a bachelor party, Millie. Moose Drool is mandatory," he said, filling a glass with the amber liquid. "You can worry about your weight tomorrow."
And you’re home. Her gut tightened. Half of her was grateful Shane didn’t know about her diabetes while the other half of her hated that she’d just taken a hit about her weight. She wasn’t obese but then again, she was hardly willow-thin either. She knew this sort of banter was how guys talk to each other and she’d never expected them to treat her any differently before. Tonight wasn’t the night to go all girly on them.
"A beer and buffalo wings sounds good, Shane," she said brightly. As for the alcohol, she’d have to bolus insulin for the carbs and make that one beer last the entire night. Turning back to Josh, she asked, "How’s Katrina?"
"She says to say hi and told me to tell you that you’re not to party too hard tonight because she wants you in good shape at her girls’ night tomorrow."
"Is that code for me to stay sober so I can keep an eye on you?"
He grinned. "Maybe, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen you even a little bit buzzed."
And you won’t. She’d been there done that years before he’d come to town and it just wasn’t worth the health risk. She still carried the guilt and that weighed her down enough.
Pushing the past back where it belonged, she slapped him on the back in typical guy-style. "As the best man, it’s my job is to make sure you don’t get injured when you inevitably fall off the mechanical bull, that I make sure no cowboy takes you outside and sits you backward on a horse, and as the designated driver, I get you home in one piece by midnight."
He slung his arm around her shoulder, the touch easy and friendly. "And that’s why I chose you to be my best man."
"That and the fact you couldn’t ask Ty Garver no matter how much you want him standing next to you," she said, thinking about the cowboy who’d fallen in love with Katrina years ago.
"Well, yeah, there is that." Josh sighed, the sound tinged with sadness. "And Will Bartlett’s not available. He couldn’t get anyone to cover him at MontMedAir for the weekend."
And there is a God. Not that she didn’t like Will, she did. In fact last year, she’d liked the Aussie MontMedAir doctor just a little too much. Heat burned her cheeks at the embarrassing recollections. Having a crush at sixteen was normal; crushing on a work colleague at twenty-six probably got a listing in DSM-5. The memory of last spring and summer was still excruciatingly embarrassing given he’d barely noticed her other than one of many people he came into contact with through work.
Will was laid back, easy going, charming and he had a way of making people feel appreciated and part of a team. That had been her undoing— being appreciated was powerful stuff and Floyd Coulson, Bear Paw’s hospital administrator, could learn a thing or two from him. Given all that, she’d read way too much into Will’s generous praise, especially as he often said, "You’re the best, Millie," when she’d accompanied him on MontMedAir retrievals.
Following him on Twitter and pretending it was because of his #FOAMed tweets— free open access meducation— was borderline stalker behavior, although totally educational. What the guy didn’t know about emergency airway management wasn’t worth knowing. At least she’d come to her senses before clicking on add friend on his Facebook account and for that, she was both proud and grateful. Sadly, she’d undone that bit of clear thinking after a traumatic medical evacuation last August.
It was the fifth time she’d been the accompanying nurse out of Bear Paw and they were airlifting two badly injured tourists who’d been involved in motor vehicle accident. They’d flown out between two storm fronts and the pilot had given her the all clear to check the patients’ vitals. She was out of her seat when the plane hit an air pocket and she’d been thrown sideways landing face first in Will’s lap. She still got a hot and cold flash whenever she thought about it.
He’d gripped her arms, lifted her up and checked she was okay before hitting her with his devastatingly gorgeous smile— the one that radiated from his full lips, creased his tan cheeks and crinkled the edges of his unusual dark blue eyes. He’d quipped something about things moving fast for a first date, which had disarmed her all-consuming embarrassment and made her crush-filled brain totally misunderstand what he meant. When they landed and had handed over their patients to the Seattle hospital staff, she’d suggested they have a drink.
"Great idea, Mils," he’d said with his sexy Australian diphthong, sounding as if he truly believed the words. Her heart had soared, flipped and high-fived all at once only to plummet to her feet when he’d continued with, "but I’ll have to take a rain check."
Of course he did.
A rain check that never came. A rain check that made her puce with embarrassment whenever she thought about it.
With his surfer-dude good looks, he was likely very used to nurses— heck probably all women with a pulse— throwing themselves at him. Only she wasn’t usually one of those nurses or women because she knew he was so far out of her league it wasn’t worth playing the game. She still blamed the fog caused by low blood sugar along with the addition of a post-emergency adrenaline rush for her out-of-character invitation, because she’d stopped asking lesser guys out a long time ago.
As a woman of the twenty-first century, she knew she had the right to ask a guy out, but since giving up her party lifestyle and casual hook-ups, things had changed and dating had gotten difficult. After a series of flat out no’s, a few disastrous dates and two truly awful one-night stands, she’d learned from her mistakes. She didn’t ask guys out, period. As a result, her current dating average was zip.
"It’s too bad Will can’t make it," she said trying to sound more sincere than relieved. "But I’m pumped to be your best man and I promise to get you to the church on time."
"You’re a good friend," Josh said sincerely.
That’s me. Everyone’s good buddy. "Hey, it’s way too early to be getting all D & M on me," she said, climbing onto a chair as much to start the party as to run from her thoughts. Sticking her fingers in her mouth, she blew hard and the piercing whistle silenced the bar.
"Aw, Millie," a voice from down near the pool table, called out, "you’re not gonna make a speech are you?"
"Hey, doc, I told you not to choose a chick to be your best man," Trent Dattner said on a long-suffering sigh.
"Millie’s not a girl," Dane Aitken heckled before turning and giving Trent a high-five.
"Hah, Hah." Millie rolled her eyes surprised by the dull ache that spread through her. "And to think that Comedy Central hasn’t signed you up yet. For that smart ass comment, Dane, the bull gets set on high for you."
The cowboys in the room cheered knowing full well the sanitation worker wouldn’t last three seconds in the saddle.
She raised her glass. "We’ve got food, we’ve got beer and we’ve got a bull. Let’s give Josh a Bear Paw bachelor night to remember."
Dr. Will Bartlett was on a mission. He was used to missions— he’d flown a lot of miles doing emergency medical air retrieval in both Australia and Montana, but this particular mission was very different. It was also proving to be a hell of a lot harder than intubating a critical patient at twenty thousand feet.
"Brandon, mate, we’re talking twenty-four hours."
The physician tapped a medication order onto the tablet computer in his hand. "You know better than anyone that a lot can happen in twenty-four hours."
A lot could happen in twenty-four seconds— hell, his life had been irreversibly changed in less time than that. Convincing Brandon to swap shifts was his last hope as everyone else who could have possibly covered his schedule had ironclad commitments. The key though was making it look like he was doing Brandon McBain a favor, not the other way round, because if people sensed weakness, they zeroed in on it.
"Only last week you were whinging—" At Brandon's blank look, Will immediately translated the Australian— "whining to me that you were sick of treating patients with the flu and prescription drug addicts trying to get meds. You said you wanted more of a challenge and this is it." He tapped his own chest twice with his fist. "I’m offering you the chance of heart-pumping, adrenaline-racing trauma, the crack cocaine of all emergency physicians."
"…but I just got a date for tonight with that pretty brunette from Orthopedics."
Will knew the intern— he’d enjoyed flirting with her at a party but she had the look in her eyes of a woman seeking commitment. That was his red card so he hadn’t pursued it any farther. "Jenna will understand. That’s the whole point of dating inside the medical community because they get that work interferes. Promise her a rain check."
Brandon snorted and shot Will a scowl. "That’s your line not mine. I actually like her and I want to date her. Unlike you, with your weird accent that seems to make every woman in this hospital think you’re Jesse Spencer and Hugh Jackman rolled into one, I had to work damn hard to get her to say yes." He walked toward the nurses’ station. "Anyway, I thought you didn’t like weddings."
He easily matched the shorter man’s stride. "I haven’t got anything against them as long as I’m not the groom. Josh Stanton’s a good bloke and I’d like to be there. How about I work your next two weekends? That’s more than fair. Whad’ya say?"
"I dunno." Brandon stowed the tablet in the charger. "What if Jenna sees changing the date as a chance to cancel?"
He tried not to sigh. Brandon was a good doctor but he was hopeless with women and his dating strikeout rate in the hospital was legendary. Maybe Will could get his swap by sweetening the deal and helping the guy out. "You know, if you tell Jenna that you’re delaying your date to help me attend a wedding, you’ll automatically be more attractive to her."
Brandon finally gave Will his full attention. "How do you figure that?"
"All women love weddings so by helping me get there you’re doing your bit for love. Plus, I’ll pay for the flowers you’re going to send her as an apology for changing the date and I’ll get you a table at Annie's. I know the maître d."
"Oh, that’s good." Brandon’s eyes lit up with a calculating light. "If you throw in dating tips so I get a second date with Jenna, I’ll swap."
"Jeez, McBain. I’ve already given you more than you deserve."
Brandon casually opened a candy bar. "Exactly how much do you want to be the best man at this wedding?"
The thought of discussing dating’s do’s and don’ts with Brandon was up there with sitting in the dentist’s chair with the sound of the drill buzzing in his ears. Was getting to this wedding really worth it?
You know it is. Josh Stanton was a good mate— one of the few people he’d really connected with this last year in Montana. Even though Josh was a Yank, he totally related to Will’s feelings of discombobulation when he’d arrived from Australia to work in Montana. He’d told Will that for a guy from New York and Chicago, small town Montana was as strange and different for him as if he’d been the one to move countries. Plus, they shared a passion for emergency medicine and with Bear Paw’s proximity to Glacier National Park and accident-prone tourists, they’d worked together a lot. Being at the wedding was an act of friendship that he wanted to make.
Knowing he’d probably live to regret it, because McBain would likely continue to seek him out for dating advice long after the favor was done, he clapped his hand on the clueless doctor’s shoulder. "Brandon, the first rule of dating is making it all about her and leaving your neediness at the door."
"But I can tell her how grateful I am that she came on the date, right?"
"Yeah…no." He shook his head and swallowed a sigh, already tasting regret. "Your job is to ask questions and listen. Be attentive."
Brandon pulled out his phone. "What sort of questions?"
Spare me. The MontMedAir pager thankfully chose that moment to beep loudly and he pressed it into Brandon’s hands. "This is your call, McBain. If I leave now, I’ll just make it to Bear Paw for the wedding."
"You’re driving on no sleep?"
He knew it wasn’t ideal but he didn't have a choice. "I’ll drive with the windows down and the music blasting," he replied, walking to the door.
"Text me the questions," Brandon called after him.
"Later." As much as Will respected Josh as a friend, he hoped one of Katrina’s bridesmaids was going to make his weekend worth the frustrations of being McBain’s date doctor.
Millie took the short but familiar walk from what had once been her parent’s guesthouse at the bottom of the yard, up toward the main house and her childhood home. Over the last few years, the guesthouse had become her apartment whenever she was living in Bear Paw. She appreciated her parents' generosity especially now she was studying to become a doctor and was required by her scholarship to spend her summers working in Bear Paw.
Through the window, she could see her folks dressed and ready for the wedding and chatting in the kitchen. She’d spent more time than usual getting ready herself and she thought she looked pretty sharp. As she stepped through the door, she called out, "hi" before clicking her fingers and executing a soft-shoe shuffle across the kitchen floor. She finished with a twirl in front of them. "Ta-dah."
Her mother, dressed in a gray silk shift dress gathered in at the waist with a matching cummerbund and secured with a diamante broach, stared at her horrified. "Why are you wearing a tuxedo?"
"Because, Mom…" Millie smiled, already prepared for the question. "…I’m the best man."
"You’re the best person," Susie said in a long-suffering tone, "and in my experience the women who stand up with their guy friends always wear a dress."
Stay calm. "I’m sorry you’re upset, Mom, but I did tell you I was wearing a suit."
"And I assumed you meant something classic like a Chanel."
She laughed, hearing the tightness in the sound and wishing it wasn’t there. "A Chanel suit is way out of my price range and besides, it wouldn’t have all these awesome pockets for my stuff."
"That’s what a purse is for."
Millie looked at her mother’s tiny clutch purse— the one that perfectly matched her shoes and frock. It was barely big enough to hold a phone let alone her continuous glucose monitor handset and her test kit. "You know I need more room than that."
Conflicting emotions warred on her mother’s face and she let out a sigh. "Yes, honey, but if you’d let me take you shopping, I’m certain we could have found the perfect dress and purse."
I doubt it. "Mom—"
"You look terrific, Millsy," her father said, finally stepping into the conversation as he always did just as it was getting uncomfortable. "You’ll put all the other guys in the shade."
"Thanks, Dad." She kissed him gratefully on the cheek. "I better get going or Josh will beat me to the church. I’ll see you guys there."
"At least wear some color," Susie said, pressing a pretty wine-stained lipstick into her hand. "You look pale. Are you sure you’re feeling okay?"
As a redhead she was frequently pale but that wasn’t what her mother meant. "I’m fine, Mom. My blood sugar is my friend today. I promise you that I’ll put on the lipstick just before I go into the church, I’ll spritz on some perfume and I’ll pinch my cheeks, but seriously, all eyes will rightly be on Katrina and Josh, not me."
Thank goodness. As her fingers closed around the door handle, her father asked, "You’ve got everything you need, right?"
For the briefest moment, she rested her forehead on the doorjamb. She loved her parents dearly but their constant concern wore her down. Everyone’s constant concern wore her down. She patted her pockets. Dex, keys, test kit, snack. "Yep. Bye."
It wasn’t until ten minutes later when she was parking next to Josh’s positively gleaming sports car that she realized she’d left her phone back at the guesthouse sitting on the charger. Oh, well, she was at the church now and if Josh needed anything he could tell her in person. Feeling naked without her heavy tote bag on her shoulder, she hurried over to the steep-pitched, maroon-roofed building. Stepping out of the bright afternoon sunshine and into the dimness of the changing room, her eyes were slow to adjust and she fuzzily made out the shape of a guy with his back to her.
"Hey, Josh," she said moving in for a big hello hug. "Fifteen minutes ’til show time." As her arms went firmly around his shoulders, she caught the flash of dark blond hair, the sharp zip of citrus cologne and the glint of amused dark blue eyes.
Josh had brown hair, wore woodsy cologne and his eyes were silvery gray. And as tall as Josh was, her cheek was usually closer to his shoulder than this and she didn’t remember him feeling quite this broad. Who exactly was she body-hugging?
She was about to step back when she heard, "Hey, Millie," Josh’s voice filled with gentle amusement. "On my wedding day, you’re supposed to be making a fuss of me, not Will."
Her brain melted at the exact same moment as her body. No way! Not possible. He wasn’t even coming to the wedding. But as she glanced up into familiar dancing eyes— eyes she’d spent way too much time daydreaming about last year— she knew.
Dear Lord, she had her arms wrapped tightly around Will Bartlett.
Shock dried her mouth and embarrassment made her arms drop away fast from his wide shoulders. She stumbled backward, wishing desperately that she could teleport anywhere as long as it was far, far away from here and Will Bartlett.
Be cool. Be calm. Be disinterestedly detached. "H-Hi-ello, Will."
Oh, yeah, so smooth.
"G’day, Millie." A cheeky grin lit up his perfectly, symmetrical face and she saw the precise moment he recalled exactly their last meeting— the time she’d fallen into his lap. "We have to stop meeting like this."
From "Truly Madly Montana" by Fiona Lowe
ISBN 10: 0425276961
ISBN 13: 9780425276969
Copyright: © 2015 Fiona Lowe