Available in Print:
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Cedar Grove Medical Book Three

Country singer Leena is doing a charity concert to raise money for the Cedar Grove Children’s Hospital and to honor her sister, who died of cancer when they were children. Deeply involved in her career, she’s starting to realize there’s more to life than signings, concerts, and studio recordings. She’s just not sure if she can give up her music career to get what she truly wants. Is finding a compromise asking for too much?

After a long day in the law office, there’s only one thing Turner Hightower looks forward to, and that’s going to visit the children in the hospital. He’s devoted to Hope’s Toy Chest and the patients who don’t have anyone else. Years ago it was him in one of those hospital beds, alone and afraid, with no one to visit him. He’s determined no one else should have to go through what he went through alone. While he can’t take the pain away, he’s doing his part to help ease their fears.

Two people, both missing something in their lives, are drawn together. Can they put their prejudices and attitudes aside to help the children, families, and staff at Cedar Grove Children’s Hospital?

Turner Hightower stepped off the elevator and found himself face to face with a woman he had thought about countless times over the years. He placed his hand on her arm to steady her from their collision, and his heart rose into his throat. He knew she would be at the hospital but he hadn’t expected this. Maybe he didn’t want it, either. She had been part of his past. A past he had tried to forget.

“Turner…” His name came out as a whisper as she licked her lips and stared up at him. “It can’t be…you’re…”

“Dead?” he supplied.

“Uhh…” She stumbled, tongue-tied, which was so unlike her.

“Well, as you can see, I’m alive and breathing.”

“Miss, do you know this man?” Kendrick came to her side, his back straight, as if ready for a confrontation.

“Yes.” She stepped back so they were no longer touching and took a deep breath. “It’s fine, Kendrick.”

“Guards?” He raised an eyebrow. “There was a time I only had to deal with preoccupied parents.”

“They’re a long story. What are you doing here?”

“Work.” He adjusted his shoulder briefcase. “Actually, I was just leaving. Would you like to grab a cup of coffee and catch up?” The moment those words left his mouth he was both hopeful and kicking himself. When he heard the news she was headlining the charity concert, he promised himself he’d stay away from her. Their time together had passed, and the superstar country singer didn’t need to be reminded of the dying boy she had known years before. So what the hell was he doing?

“Yeah, that would be great.” She glanced over to see that some of the nursing staff had gathered, watching them. “Umm, maybe somewhere private?”

“I can do one better.” He tipped his head to the elevator.

“Where are we going?”

He pressed the button and waited for the doors to shut. “My office. Your guys can wait outside without worrying about you and we can catch up.”

“Miss, I’d advise against this.” Kendrick didn’t even look back at her from where he stood near the door, ready to check the hall before she exited.

“It’s your job to, so I’m sure Turner won’t hold it against you.” She glanced toward Turner, eyeing him. “I’m sure he’ll have no objection to your checking the room first.”

“No objection.” He glanced at the man she called Kendrick and the other unknown man, both of them all business. He didn’t know much about musicians but it struck him as odd for her to have two bodyguards following her around everywhere she went. Was she in some kind of danger? If Nora had known and brought this threat to the hospital premises, it could be a legal nightmare for him if something happened.

After her guards checked the hallway, they stepped off the elevator and he nodded to the left. “Third door on the right. This floor is all offices and most of the others have gone for the day.”

“Working late, or hoping to run into me?”

He unlocked his office, pushed the door open for Kendrick, and debated his answer. He had planned to dodge her, even shoved his work into his bag before he left so that he could avoid the hospital over the weekend. But he had planned on being out of here hours ago. Had he unknowingly stuck around to see if he’d catch a glimpse of her? “Maybe a bit of both.”

The tour bus crept through downtown while Leena sat there gazing out the window. It was such a sleepy little town to have such a big children’s hospital, but what it lacked in size it made up for in heart. Cedar Grove Children’s Hospital was one of the best in the country, which was why she was here—a charity auction to raise money for the children and families who needed it most. But she also wanted to bring a little joy to the children stuck within the hospital, so she had scheduled extra days here once the concert was over so she could spend some time with them.

Her assistant, Trina Winston, didn’t understand. But in order for her to truly understand, Leena would have to open herself up and tell her story. That was something she never did. Long ago she learned that she couldn’t trust anyone in this business and that she could never rely on someone completely. Me against the world. Even her own mother didn’t understand Leena’s life, not that she tried to.

The extra days she’d scheduled here were just as much about her as they were about the children. She needed to recharge, and a few days doing something good might be the way to get her energy back. The last six months on tour, doing a show every night in a different town, had taken a lot out of her. A lot more than it had ten years ago, when she started in this business.

She loved singing, preforming, and even writing her own songs, but she needed more out of life. She wanted someone to come home to at the end of the day. Though, for her, the end of the day might be weeks later. She didn’t have the average life, and maybe she never would but she wanted someone who could accept her crazy life and be a part of it with her. Her mother wanted her to consider one of the guys in the band, especially her guitar player, but they had been with her so long that they were like family. Even if any of them spoke to what she needed, she couldn’t see herself being intimate with any of them.

She felt lost on this crazy roller coaster ride of fame, everyone pulling her this way or that way, always forgetting that she had other needs and wants of her own. Did they not matter because she was a country music star? Almost every woman wanted to settle down, marry, and have a family of her own. Did people think that because she was in the starlight that she didn’t want that for herself? Or maybe it didn’t matter to her?

Years ago when she was trying to get a record deal, her mother told her to chase her dreams with everything inside of her because no one else could do it for her. Was this new dream that much different? Would she be able to balance the two things she wanted more than anything?

“Leena?” Trina stood in front of her. “Are you planning on getting off the bus or are you just going to sit there?” She tipped her head to the side of the bus where the window faced a large brick building.

Cedar Grove Children’s Hospital. It looked the same as the last time she’d been there. The last visit had brought heartbreaking news to her family. She thought the place only appeared imposing and scary because she had been a child, but even now there was something to the dark reddish brown brick exterior of the building that stole her breath and sent fear rushing through her.

“I’m coming.” She shoved those memories aside and vowed that she wouldn’t think about them until she was alone. In a few hours she’d be tucked up in her hotel suite for the night and then if she must take the trip down memory lane she could do it in the privacy of her own room, not in front of Trina or her tour bus driver, Larry.

“Good.” Trina slung her bag over her shoulder. “I want to get this over with and check into the hotel room. A hot shower and a good night’s rest is what we both need.”

Her assistant was good at her job but she had never been a fan of spending too much time on the tour bus. For Leena, it was the complete opposite. Since she spent so much time on the bus, she had made the upgrades she needed to make it feel like home. It was only lacking someone to share it with. Give up on this idea of a husband, because it’s not going to happen. No one wants to put up with this life for the long haul.

Following her assistant off the bus, she shot Larry a quick smile. “We won’t be long.”

“Take your time. You know where I’ll be when you’re ready.” Larry leaned back and pulled a book from the pocket on the side of his chair. He was used to waiting for her, so he always had a mystery novel stashed away just waiting for him. It was his way of passing the time.

“I don’t know why you continue to read them. You always figure out who did it before you get to the end.”

His lips curled into a smile as he flipped the book open to the bookmark. “That’s why I do it. It helps this old man keep his brain strong.”

She shook her head, sending a loose strand of hair into her face. “You’re not old.” While he might be old enough to be her father, he never acted that way. Larry was a good man, went above the duties of his job, and made sure she was safe and that she got everywhere on time. In return, she took good care of him. While she preferred the privacy of the tour bus, she always put her crew up in the best hotels. She gave them time off whenever she could, and made sure they received a good wage for doing their job. Her business manager might not agree with all of her financial decisions, but she was able to do what she loved because of them. They deserved everything she gave them and more.

“Leena?” Trina’s annoyed tone cut through her thoughts. “Nora’s waiting on you.”

She stepped out of the tour bus and painted a bright smile on her face as the reporters moved in from the distance. Reporters were always there, sniffing out something to report on her and this concert was top notch. A chart topping country musician doing a charity event… The newspapers were cashing in on this event and their papers were flying off the shelves faster than they could be printed. She only hoped they wouldn’t dig deep enough to find out about her sister. Somehow, over the years of the media digging into her life, her baby sister and her tragic ending had never come up. Don’t hold your breath.

She paused at the bottom of the bus steps, letting the photographers get their pictures, and continued to ignore the reporters’ questions. Her gaze skimmed the crowd until she found Trina standing with a woman who must be Nora.

She made her way to the women as her security team moved in around her to keep the reporters at bay. Questions continued to be shouted in her direction. What inspired you to do this concert? Why this children’s hospital? Why not the bigger hospital in L.A.?

“Leena, it’s so good to see you again.” Nora had to raise her voice over the shouts of the reporters. “Why don’t we go inside?” Without waiting for an answer, Nora moved toward the doors where one of the hospital security officers waited.

Swallowing the lump that formed in her throat, she followed closely behind. This place brought back too many memories. Painful ones that crushed her heart and spirit. But what they did here was truly amazing. Every year since she had begun her career she had made a substantial donation in honor of her sister. Meredith, I miss you so much. She twirled the ring on her finger.

“Leena!” A little girl ran toward them, her hospital gown flapping around her. “I’m so glad you came. I know you’re going to be amazing.”

“Destiny.” Nora spoke her name with sternness, and her cheeks heated with embarrassment. “I told you to wait upstairs.”

Leena moved farther away from the door, knowing that her men would be blocking the way and the views of the camera lenses. She crouched down. “It’s obvious I have a fan who couldn’t wait to meet me.”

“Destiny’s been counting down the days. She’s been so excited,” Nora explained.

“Destiny…” Carly came jogging down the hall but stopped short as she recognized those who were gathered there. “I’m sorry. Nora, I really am. She asked if we could watch out the window to see when Leena arrived and I made her promise that would be all, but as you can see she double crossed me.”

“It’s fine, Carly.”

A moment later a man strolled down the hall toward them as well. “What’s going on? I saw Destiny run past my office.”

Nora held open the door she stood in front of. “Let’s move this into the conference room for some privacy.”

“Come on, little one.” Leena lifted Destiny in her arms and carried her forward. The young girl was so tiny that she felt light as a feather. Another child fighting to live. She swallowed the lump beginning to form, held the child closer, and glanced back to her security team. “Guys, if you’d just wait here.”

“Yes, Miss.” One of the men stayed on the inside of the door they had just come through, even though there was another guard just outside. The other two took their places on either side of the door to the conference room.

Inside, she took a seat at the table and held Destiny in her lap while Trina sat beside her, Nora, and Carly, while the gentleman who had joined them stood across from them. The room had the same white walls as the rest of the place but the carpet and furniture gave it a warmer feel. Too bad this was only for meetings and not a place for the children.

“Let me take Destiny upstairs so you can—” Carly started until Destiny cut her off.

“I want to stay!” She wrapped her arms around Leena’s neck.

“Destiny,” Nora scolded.

“It’s fine.” Leena smoothed a hand over the little girl’s back. “Sweetie, won’t your parents be worried about you? Maybe you should go back upstairs with Carly.” Light chuckles escaped the three people across the table and Leena looked up at them.

“You’re looking at her parents.” Nora shook her head. “And this is my husband, Doctor Brian West.”

“A doctor?” She raised an eyebrow at Nora. “I wondered why you ended up settling down here after you left your job.”

“I was given no choice but to leave my position with the marketing firm. Destiny needed to come here and…well, it turns out I needed to be here too. Not only did I find Brian but I can give something back to this hospital and Hope’s Toy Chest.”

“What type of doctor are you?” Leena turned her attention back to the man before her.

“I’m a pediatric cardiologist.”

Leena glanced back at Nora. “I can see we have a lot of catching up to do.” Nora might have been a casual acquaintance to others, but for Leena she had been a lifeline. Someone outside of the business she could talk to. They had begun to develop a friendship, and Leena didn’t have to worry that what she said would make the gossip magazines. Then Nora’s job had been eliminated. At least that’s what the marketing company told her. The truth was that after years with the company they weren’t going to stand behind her when she needed it the most. She couldn’t make an out of town gig because of Destiny’s cancer and their employment contract had ceased. One gig and the career was over…too close to home.