Life After Perfect(6)

By: Nancy Naigle

“That doesn’t sound so awful. At least not compared to what I’d thought was going on,” Katherine said.

“Don’t give the guy a medal.” Shaleigh shook her head. “He was doing it on the sly. You can best believe Bertie will be hot when she finds out that much money was going anywhere other than the foundation her family had set up. She’s the last of that family tree, and she takes that pretty seriously. If you ask me, it’s not so much different from stealing if you’re doing it without someone’s consent.”

“Well, they were married, so he had a right to spend that money too,” Peggy said.

Shaleigh rolled her eyes and then settled her gaze on Katherine. “If you ask Bertie about continuing those payments, I bet you’ll see a side of Bertie O’Connor you’ve never seen before.”

Katherine’s stomach turned. If someone would keep something that minor a secret, what other secrets would he carry? “I don’t know, Peggy. We’re talking some significant money. Money that Bertie could use. She’s okay, but the money he siphoned off to feed his ego over fishing could have made her life a lot more comfortable long-term.”

Why did death always seem to prickle her moral compass? Make her want everything in a tidy line like pretty little maids in a row. But she knew most people didn’t have the kind of life she did. Call it luck, hard work, or clean living, whatever it was, she was thankful for it.

“What a day,” Peggy said. “Death is exhausting.”

“Probably not for Donald,” Shaleigh said.

“Shaleigh! You did not just say that.” But Katherine couldn’t hold back the laugh.

Shaleigh crossed one black platform heel across her other and folded her arms across her blazer. “Hey, he didn’t have to even pick out an outfit, and someone else made sure he was here on time. Plus, whatever he’d been doing, he’s gotten away with it now.”

Katherine had to admit, Shaleigh had a good point.

Chapter Two

The scent of antiseptic and adhesive hit Derek Hansen as he walked through the back door of the medical center. You’d think a doctor would get used to it, maybe not even notice the smell after a while. He wore boots, and his footsteps echoed through the empty space, like he were a cowboy walking off paces in a duel.

The nurses back at Duke University Hospital used to tease him that they didn’t have to look up to know when he was coming down the hall. Even when he had the paper booties over them, his boots had a distinct sound.

He missed the old gang, but his passion for his career at Duke changed when Laney got sick. So here he was, back in his hometown of Boot Creek, North Carolina, doing general practice. It was a far cry from the work he did at the cancer institute, but after losing Laney to the very disease he specialized in fighting, what good was it to treat a disease that fought you back on a personal level? It was like cancer had decided to even the score.

The change of location and focus hadn’t dulled the loss of Laney though. He missed her. Every single day. Still, after nearly two years, he’d sometimes wake up and turn to her side of the bed, thinking she might be there, her hair sprawled across the pillow. And every time, that reminder dug into him—the wound just as raw and pink as the day he laid her to rest.

Derek stopped in his office and snagged his white coat from the hook, pulling it on over his shirt and tie as he walked down the hall. In the small practice, the nurse, Wendy, ended up also playing receptionist most days.

“Good morning, Wendy. How was your evening?”

“Great. I went over to the annual open house night at Criss Cross Farm last night. I can’t believe how much they’ve done over there since last year. After bottle-feeding the calves, I might never eat a burger again.”

“Somehow I doubt that,” he said with a wink. She ate burgers nearly every single day of the week. Extra pickles. Not that she’d ever told him, but he could smell them when she ate at her desk.

“You’re right, but those big brown-eyed babies were so sweet.” Her mouth twisted up a little. “Although it was kind of like giving a bottle to a grizzly bear. Nothing gentle about it. They are really strong at just a few days old.”

The image of Wendy, barely five feet tall, wrangling a calf into submission with one of those giant bottles tickled him. “Glad you had a good time. I haven’t been over to the beefalo ranch since I’ve been back.” He tugged his ink pen out of the pocket out of habit. The same Montblanc that his dad had given him the day he graduated from medical school. “So what’s our morning look like?”

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