Instant Gratification

Chapter 1

Hot and bothered, and not in the good way, Dr. Emma Sinclair switched the sign on her father’s medical clinic from Closed to Open. It was eight a.m. sharp, and out of habit, she braced herself to be bombarded.

Not that that was going to happen, not here in Mayberry, USA.

Excuse her– Wishful, California. Nothing so simple as Mayberry. Not with the coyotes and bears she knew roamed around the property on a daily basis. She heard the coyotes in the early mornings, their eerie howls making the hair on the back of her neck to stand straight up. Even more disconcerting, she’d caught sight of them watching her from the woods lining the property, their hungry eyes making her miss the streets of New York, where the worst predators were grumpy, demanding homeless people.

She hadn’t actually seen a bear yet, but everyone who came through her door had a bear story, so she figured with her karma, it was only a matter of time. Not in a hurry for that, she booted up the computer behind the front desk, remembering with a fond sigh the hustling bustling rush of her
Manhattan ER, where she literally ran her entire shift; bagging and defibbing, resuscitating, whatever came her way, with sometimes little more than caffeine in her system.

Yeah, she’d had it all in New York, a promising career with a great 401K, a fantastic sublet near Central Park, a great shift in one of the best ERs in the country . . . it didn’t get better than that.

But it certainly got worse.

A world away from her world, Emma was now on the other side of the country, deep in the California Sierras, pining for Starbucks and Thai take-out. Pining for crowds, traffic, and late trains, that’s how homesick she was. She missed having a myriad of take-out menus taped to her empty
refrigerator, her next meal a simple phone call away.

No one delivered in Wishful. Worse, there was no fast food period, no drive-thrus, nothing unless she wanted to drive the thirty plus miles to South Shore, Lake Tahoe — which meant that she, a professional water burner, was in danger of starving to death.

Or at least getting to within five pounds of her pre-med school weight.

Yeah, she missed so much, but what she missed most was her mom, who after being invincible and raising Emma on her own while working her fingers to the bone as an RN, had done the unthinkable.

She’d died of one of the few things that Emma hadn’t been able to fix
— cancer.

Throat tightening, Emma moved through the front room of the old Victorian-turned-clinic, a place that had been decorated in the eighties with country chic and hadn’t changed much except for the equipment, and some of that was questionable. She opened the country blue, duck-lined curtains, letting in the mid-June sun. She wondered what the day would bring. The usual bee string? Or maybe for kicks and giggles, a stomach flu.

The problem was people in Wishful saw her as Doc’s little girl, not a real doctor. They acted as if she was just the key keeper, someone to drop some gossip with, or maybe to talk about her father ­ her least favorite thing to talk about.

God, what she wouldn’t give for a cardiac infarction or an MI, something she could really sink her teeth into, but the more serious cases weren’t coming her way because people here didn’t seem to trust that a real doctor could be so young, or have a vagina.

When the front door opened, the silly ceramic cow chime above it jangled, and in came a man, supporting another. Wishful wasn’t that big, and after being here for two months, Emma had met quite a few of the locals, including the Wilder brothers. TJ Wilder, tall and big and broad, assisted
his equally tall and big and broad brother Stone, who was covered in equal parts mud and blood, dripping both all over her floor.

He was limping and grimacing in pain ­ at least until he saw her, at which point he swiped his face of all expression, going testosterone stoic. “Hey,” he murmured. “What’s up, Doc?”

Ah, finally. Finally something more than a nosy neighbor bringing a casserole and gossip while the real cases went all the way to South Shore. Finally something more than poison oak, something right up her ally, and she moved in to help support Stone, pulling his arm over her shoulder, grabbing
his hand to steady him. He had big hands, tough and scarred, much like the man himself even before whatever had happened to him today. “First room,” she directed TJ, bypassing the front desk, turning toward the hallway which held two examination rooms. “What happened?”

TJ opened his mouth, but Stone beat him to it. “Nothing. I just need a few Band-Aids.”

“Really.” Without her and TJ’s support, the guy would have slid to the floor. But she was well used to stubborn patients, the majority of which were always of the male persuasion. She figured it had something to do with carrying a penis around all the time. “So you can walk on your own then?”

Stone managed to arch a brow in her direction, though only one because the other was slashed through, and bleeding down his lean jaw. “Why would I do that, when having you hold me is much more fun?” He gave her more of his weight, which she estimated at approximately one hundred and ninety pounds of solid muscle. “You’re softer than old Doc Sinclair,” he murmured.