Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 220 pages
Heat Level: 1
eBook Price: $.99
Print Price: $9.99
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 220 pages
Heat Level: 1
eBook Price: $.99
Print Price: $9.99
What happens when a lonely dental hygienist falls in love with her patient? That's what Grace Hart discovers when she meets handsome Bruce Gardener. The problem? Grace's boss has a strict policy against relationships with patients and threatens to fire Grace if she doesn’t comply. Can Grace and Bruce find a way to be together without her employer finding out? Or will she have to choose between love and making a living?
Kids asked the most interesting, offbeat questions. Grace normally looked forward to doing their cleanings since their tiny mouths had less area to cover than most adults’ gunky ones, but sometimes the little people tended to tell her way too many intimate details about their parents she’d rather not know. Ever.
They all seemed intensely hyper today. The hooligans who weren’t bouncing like pogo sticks were playing trampoline on the waiting room chairs. Had their parents given them all ultra doses of soda before their appointments? That would be wrong on so many levels. She’d had enough of the little guys for today.
It was the fourth time she’d been bitten since lunch. She hoped they weren’t doing it on purpose, but sometimes she wondered. Maybe it was a pint-sized conspiracy. It was fall break for the elementary schools. All the elementary schools, which meant her dental hygiene schedule was crammed full of little people. There were kids yelling in the waiting room. Kids squirming in her patient chairs. She even heard a little girl loudly warbling her ABCs in the bathroom. She felt like Mr. Rogers. Where was her cardigan sweater? Won’t you be my neighbor?
Grace loved kids. She really did. They were funny and sweet, and loud and annoying. It was usually a nice reprieve from a day full of adults, but enough was enough. They had worn her down to a frazzled nubbin. Where was that cardigan sweater?
Since arriving at the dental office at 8:30 a.m., she’d done twelve patient cleanings, taken seven sets of tiny X-rays (that’s when the unfortunate biting incidents took place), given ten grape-flavored fluoride treatments, and instructed — or tried to — all of the little darlings how to remove the ick from their teeth with a toothbrush. Grace also dutifully handed out what seemed like 5,092 stickers. Whether the kids behaved like lambs or hyenas, they all got stickers. Unfortunately, several of the sticky handouts found their way to the recently painted waiting room wall. In between all of the patients, she cleaned her patient chair areas and helped with getting her instruments ready to be cleaned and sterilized. She was pooped.
Grace looked at her yellow cat-face clock on the wall. It was almost time. In forty-five blessed minutes, she’d be finished with her last patient of the day. Thank goodness! It couldn’t come soon enough. Whoever it was, he needed to be done and scooted out the door, toothbrush in hand, as soon as possible.
The only thing she knew about her next patient was that it was a man and that he was fairly new to town. Other than that, she had no clue what to expect. Grace desperately hoped he wasn’t one of those men who thought he was good-looking in his plaid pants, white belt, and bad toupee. It was always hard to hold back a snicker in those situations. After grabbing the last, lonely chart from the pink plastic holder on the wall, Grace wearily called out the name.
As Grace looked up to greet her new patient, the sight that entertained her eyes nearly knocked her on her size-twelve backside. Good grief, he was gorgeous and so tall. Never in her life had she been that close to someone that incredibly handsome. She instantly developed brain-fog. Her palms, which had suddenly developed a thin layer of perspiration, nearly lost hold of the patient chart. But she calmed herself down.
As attractive as he was, and boy, was he, there was no way ever, ever, ever that someone who looked like him would be attracted to her anyway. She was what some people termed big-boned or very curvy. But Grace had learned early on that they were being polite. What they really wanted to say was, chubby, chunky, or even pudgy. I just need to calm down, do my job and appreciate Gorgeous Man from afar. While I drool. Maybe she needed to don one of her disposable patient napkins.
“Hi,” he said, smiling down at her. “So am I your last victim for the day?”
With a glance up at him she said, “You could say that.” Grace tried to smile back but was so tired it probably looked more like a grimace. Why today of all days did this tall, handsome, sexy Adonis, have to pay her a visit? Was it too late to run away? How fast could she sprint to the door? Maybe he wouldn’t notice. But her inherent professionalism took over. With no choice but to see her new patient, she trudged to her room with Bruce Gardener, the magnificent, trailing behind her.
As her new patient followed her to the dental chair, Grace mentally took stock of her own appearance. The end of the day was always the worst. Her pink cotton scrubs were sweaty and wrinkled, her brown eyeliner looked like a raccoon had hastily applied it in an attempt at a self-portrait, and her hair… oh no… her hair. On her best day, her short brown layers were out of control. But by the end of the workday, having been splattered with spit, blood, and who knew what else, her too-long bangs were plastered to her forehead. The rest of her hair stuck out like uneven spikes. I look like a rabid porcupine.
Her patient, of course, looked fantastic. For starters, he wasn’t wearing a ring. That’s the most important non-accessory for interested women around the world. Bruce’s tan cowboy boots were scuffed and worn. His brown-and-rust plaid, button-down shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, stretched across broad strong shoulders, and those faded blue jeans… Ah! She had to stop thinking like that. She was a dental professional and needed to focus on his teeth… and kissable lips. Stop it, Grace. Get a hold of yourself!
“So, Bruce, what do you do for a living?” Grace asked him, as he sat down in the gray vinyl patient chair. She was determined to get her mind back where it should be. Away from the dangerous places it longed to go. Otherwise she’d never finish his cleaning and they’d be there all night. Hmmm… now there’s an interesting scenario. Grace mentally slapped herself. Cut it out. Get back to work!
“Computers.” His eyes were large, soft, and brown.
“Huh?” Grace was so mesmerized by those eyes her mush-mind couldn’t focus.
“Um… you know, computers?”
“Yes. Right. I’m sorry. It’s been a very long day.”
Grace put on her gloves and protective glasses. As she slipped on her blue facemask, she remembered the chilidog with onions she’d wolfed down at lunch. Great, I probably have buzzard breath even though I brushed my teeth. Hopefully the stench wouldn’t cause her patient to pass out in the chair. Although… Stop it this instant!
“No problem.” He grinned, which produced deep dimples.
His aftershave is nearly driving me crazy. Just great. How am I supposed to make it through this cleaning? I can hardly remember my own name. Gretchen? Greta? No, that’s not it.
She tried to focus on the job at hand but couldn’t stop stealing glances at her patient’s gorgeous eyes. Every time she did, he was staring right back. How awkward. Grace would die of embarrassment if either one of them mentioned it, so she just kept working. She’d better stop looking at his eyes and focus on his teeth, or else—
“Ouch!” A tiny spot of crimson blood formed on Bruce’s gums.
Grace gasped, and her eyes widened. “Oh, I’m so sorry! My instrument must have slipped.” What an idiot! This was going to be the longest forty-five minutes of her life. She needed to calm down. Use your imagination, Grace. He’s not that good-looking. He’s a troll. A hideous, scaly troll. Probably an axe murderer. Or even worse, he might be married. Don’t make eye contact. Breathe in, breathe out.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll live.” He flashed those dimples again.
Was it her imagination, or did the scent of his aftershave just get stronger? Now how was that fair?
After she finished scaling his teeth, Grace prepared to polish them with cinnamon paste. After making sure that flavor choice was okay with him, she applied it to his teeth with her polishing handpiece. Because of jangled nerves, she accidentally over sprayed his mouth with water. Bruce coughed and sputtered.
Grace stuck the saliva ejector in his mouth to suck up the excess water. “Sorry. Again. I’m usually not this clumsy.” Actually I am, on an hourly basis, but I’ll never tell you that. She wiped his face off with his patient napkin. Good grief, he even had water in his left ear. Poor man. He’d have some dental war stories to tell someone later. Then word would get back to her boss. That’s all she needed.
“That’s okay. I felt like I was swimming in the ocean. But hey, I’d love to take a cruise someday.” The corners of his lips turned up.
Why was he smiling at her? I impaled him and then tried to drown the poor guy. Most patients would have scowled or frowned at the very least. One high-strung lady even cried when Grace accidentally poked her. Now that was a banner day. Finally, Bruce’s cleaning was completed, although she wasn’t sure how. She barely remembered doing parts of the cleaning. Hopefully, Bruce wouldn’t have any discomfort where the instrument slipped. Thankfully, it had only bled a tiny bit. At least it hadn’t been the geyser she’d envisioned when it first happened. I feel like an inept imbecile fresh out of dental school.
“Okay, Bruce” Grace said, as she raised the patient chair back up and took off her gloves, mask, and safety glasses. “Since I see in your chart that you already had your exam with the doctor, you’re good to go.” She removed the napkin from around his neck. “Your brushing looked pretty good. Although, your gums were a little puffy, so you might want to floss a little more often around your molars. Remember to take the floss all the way under the gums and scrape up the side of the tooth.” Now there’s something every man longs to hear from a woman. Grace wrote her notes in his patient chart and then handed him a new toothbrush, a sample dispenser of floss, and some toothpaste. “I guess I’ll see you in six months then, okay?” She was ready to bolt. This good-smelling guy made her way too jumpy. Why do I feel like a rabbit on caffeine?
Bruce followed her to the waiting room and leaned an elbow on the tall front counter. He watched her a minute before speaking. “Well, actually, I’ll be back next week. I’m getting three crowns,” he said in his deep, heart-melting voice.
Grace frowned. “Really? I didn’t notice any problems with your teeth.” She flipped through his chart again, thinking maybe something had been missed. Had I been so preoccupied staring at his incredible eyes, I missed seeing a crater the size of Montana in one of his teeth? Talk about inept imbeciles.
“Some of my fillings are pretty shot. I thought it was time to get them replaced.”
He thought? Wasn’t that usually the dentist’s job? Ah. Self-diagnosis. Maybe he was one of those self-proclaimed ‘I didn’t have to go to dental school to know what’s wrong with my teeth’ people. “Oh, okay. You’ll be with Dr. Beeth for that, so I may not see you. But it was nice to meet you.” Grace turned to leave. What had just happened? Her insides felt like they were purring.
“Dr. Beeth, a dentist whose name rhymes with teeth. You don’t hear that every day.”
Yes I do. Grace didn’t even turn around. She’d only heard that comment about a zillion times. Ordinarily, it was good for a laugh with her patients. But this time, she couldn’t escape fast enough. Finally back in her room, she was surprised that the chair still smelled like Bruce’s wonderful aftershave. Maybe she could ask him what it was. Then she could buy a bottle for herself and spray it on her pillow at night. Because that’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to someone like him again. Bruce won’t want me to clean his teeth anymore after what he’s just been through. I can’t blame the poor, wet, impaled man.
Grace’s mind definitely wasn’t on the task of cleaning up the patient chair area. She couldn’t concentrate on anything but tall, dark, and scrumptious. What was going on? I don’t usually react this way to most men, especially not patients. Maybe she just needed a vacation. Somewhere with a sandy beach, gentle breeze, warm sun, and tropical palm trees. Hawaii would be nice. Maybe Bruce would like to go. He said he’d like to take a cruise someday.
Annie, the front desk receptionist, poked her head around the corner. “Need any help in here?”
Grace was startled out of her fabulous mental vacation. “What? Oh. No. Thanks, though.”
Annie watched her for a minute. “Are you sure? You’ve cleaned that air and water syringe three times already.”
“What?” Grace looked down at the shiny object still in her hands. “Oh.”
“Yeah. Just a really long day.” Grace placed the metal syringe back in its holder. I need to get out of the office. Now.
“Don’t I know it? One more screaming kidlet in the waiting room and I would’ve headed for the door. A couple of them needed to be tied to their chairs. I might have done it myself if I didn’t think I’d get in trouble. It’s probably a good thing I never had kids of my own, huh? I hate it when the schools are out. Those little banshees drive me nuts. I’ll be scraping stickers off the walls for weeks.”
Grace was able to escape the office shortly after Annie’s tirade. Once at home, she showered and changed into comfortable, old pink sweats, then fed her squalling furry babies. All six of them. She normally would have fed them as soon as she walked in the door but couldn’t wait to get the intoxicating aftershave scent off of her clothes and hair. I desperately needed to “de-Brucify” my entire person.
While her babies devoured their supper, she recalled coming to be a mom to each and every furry bundle. They’d all been strays. Two were wandering outside her back door one rainy night, one was sitting in the middle of her busy street, about to be roadkill and the other three were unceremoniously dumped on her front doorstep one Friday night. She loved her cats almost as much as people. Truth be told, some days they were a lot more fun to be around than most people, although she didn’t want to be known as the Lonely Old Cat Lady in a few years. It was her dream to meet someone special, but since she’d gained more weight in the last five years, it didn’t seem like it would happen any time soon. Her waistline might be bigger, but when it came to men, her self-esteem was the size of an ant’s eyelash.
As Bruce left the dental office that afternoon, his smile could have supplied Nova Scotia with a month’s worth of electricity. Grace was even better than he’d imagined. Now that he’d actually met her, he was more intrigued than before. Those crowns for his teeth weren’t needed, but he’d talked Dr. Beeth into doing them for him. Although, anything that would make Dr. Beeth money seemed okay with the blustery old dentist.
Six weeks earlier, Bruce had caught sight of the lovely hygienist for the first time. Grace was the most beautiful, voluptuous woman he’d ever seen. She’d been in the waiting area talking to another patient. Her laugh was so deep and throaty he felt the sensation to his toes. Then she’d turned around, but hadn’t seen him standing at the counter. Brown eyes that were the color of decadent milk chocolate watched the patient. Her short brown hair was just the right length to run his fingers through.
She put her hand on the shoulder of a young man who seemed to be mentally challenged. The man was jittery, almost hyperactive, but one touch and a few words from Grace, and his demeanor drastically changed. The look on his face could only be described as serene. Not only was this woman beautiful, she had heart, too. That’s what he’d been looking for. Maybe before he even realized it himself.
Bruce had gone to the dental office that first day with a cracked filling but came out with a new mission in life: To figure out a way to meet that incredible woman. It had taken him four weeks just to get an appointment on the hygiene schedule with her for a cleaning. But even before that, Bruce felt the need to be in that office, near that woman, as often as possible. Whatever it took. Hopefully the more he was around her, the better his chances were for getting to know her. He’d discreetly asked around the small town if Grace was seeing anyone. Nope. Lucky for me. Would she even be attracted to him? Women had often found him handsome, but when he looked in the mirror, it wasn’t obvious.
Plus, his sense of humor was so goofy and corny, more than a few women had turned down his offer of a second date. Could this woman see past his flaws? See the real man for who he was in his heart?
Bruce had even gone so far as to check his bank account for his balance. The insurance wouldn’t pay for crowns that weren’t deemed necessary, so he’d have to foot the bill but that was okay with him. Just the sight of Grace caused his heart to nearly combust. His previous experiences with women had been mediocre. The ones he met in college all appeared to be wading pool shallow. Since then, they all seemed to be on the rebound from a bad relationship or divorce. Most of them already had kids. That had been okay before, when he wasn’t even looking for what he now had identified as his life goal. Now he wanted, no, needed, a loving woman of substance. After just one meeting with Grace, he was convinced he’d found her. Now his mission was to convince her she needed him as badly.
Grace was relieved the weekend had finally arrived. It would be wonderful to curl up in bed with her cats and read a juicy romance. The cats purred when she read passages out loud to them. Lying around reading about another woman’s love affair wouldn’t help her stop thinking about Bruce Gardener. He was, undoubtedly, the most handsome man she’d ever met. He would be any woman’s dream. Especially hers.
There was no way he’d ever look at someone like her more than casually. Grace wasn’t perfect enough. She was convinced she’d been born severely imperfect and it certainly wasn’t improving. Enough pity talk, Grace. Get up and do something to take your mind off of Scrumptious Man.
It was about time she did something fun that she hadn’t done in a month of Thursdays. So she got out her acrylic paints and brushes. The cats’ bowls needed some touching up. They couldn’t read their names on the side of their eating dishes, but she got a kick out of giving each bowl some personality to go with each cat’s name. Grace had a mental image of them whispering behind their paws to each other, “Hey, look what Mom painted on my dish!”
Flossie, of course, had a white and red picture of a dispenser of floss on hers. Herman’s had two enormous green eyes with large dark pupils that resembled his. Reese’s bowl was covered with paintings of the brown and orange chocolate candy wrappers. On Jackie’s, she’d touched up her picture of an orange Jack-o-lantern with a crazy grin. Daisy’s had green vines and pink daisies all around the lip of the bowl and Charlie’s had stripes to match his gray and white ones.
She’d probably be the only person to see her finished products, but that didn’t make it any less fun for her. There were a few casual female friends who occasionally visited, but it was unusual for anyone else to stop by. She loved to be creative but didn’t usually have much time for it with her busy work schedule. Her weekends were taken up with the usual errands, cleaning, laundry, and life’s other boring pursuits for a single, live-alone woman.
When Grace was in high school, it was a difficult decision whether to pursue art or dental hygiene in college. Art was her passion, but dentistry and working with people captivated her. She’d spent two summers helping out at the dental office where her family were patients and loved the experience. Besides, her dad told her she’d starve if she chose art. He said he wouldn’t help her pay for college if she pursued something so frivolous. That sealed the deal.
She usually liked her profession and it did pay very well, but some days, when a kid gnawed on her finger or someone looked at her like it was her fault they were losing their teeth to periodontal disease, she wished for the alternate route. Would I have been happier?
The following Monday Grace was antsy. Bruce Gardener was coming in. Glancing over the schedule for the day, she happened to see his name in Dr. Beeth’s column. Would she see him, or would she be too busy with her own patients when he came in for his appointment? Either way, just knowing he was coming in gave her butterflies and ladybugs in her stomach. It felt like they were practicing the rumba. Calm down in there, will you?
Her morning, while busy, was nothing compared to the tidal wave that swept through the afternoon. As soon as she finished one patient and had Dr. Beeth do the exam, the room was turned over for the next patient. Not only did every single scheduled patient show up, early no less, but two who had missed their appointments the week before decided to come, too. Annie asked Grace what she wanted her to do.
Grace, knowing that particular family was famous for not keeping appointments, decided to see them while she had them. Especially since one of them, a seven-year-old little boy, had a high cavity rate and needed to be seen often for cleanings and fluoride treatments. “Pack them in somewhere, Annie. We may be looking at an all-nighter.” Grace took a deep breath. It would be a challenging afternoon to say the least. Was there a way to inject caffeine directly into her tired, throbbing hands?
At three-thirty, someone cleared his throat behind her. Probably someone just walking by. People were in and out of the office all day long. Usually it was easy to block the noises out as she concentrated on her patients’ needs. Then she felt eyes on the back of her neck. Whoever it was, they weren’t just passing through.
Grace turned her head slightly. She expected it to be Annie, one of their dental assistants, Bonnie or Lorrie, or Dr. Beeth, their obnoxious employer. Instead, Mr. Scrumptious himself was parked in her doorway, waving at her. She waved a gloved hand back. What does he want? He kept smiling. She smiled back and then realized he probably couldn’t see it because of her facemask. Stupid, inconsiderate facemask.
Her focus turned back to her patient who desperately needed the paste rinsed out of her mouth. The poor woman looked to be on the verge of spewing the paste right back at Grace’s face. Not that it hadn’t happened before, but she didn’t relish a sticky repeat. After she rescued the patient from nearly drowning in a swirl of cinnamon, Grace looked back toward the doorway. Bruce was gone. She felt strangely disappointed. They’d only met once, yet there was a sudden pang of loneliness after he walked away. How strange. Why would I feel that way?
When the monstrous felt-like-she’d-been-mashed-in-a-trash-compactor day was finally over, Grace grabbed her purse to leave. Exhaustion had set in and it was time to go home and relax with her babies. She’d missed them. Surely they had missed her, if for no other reason than they wanted her to feed them. She headed toward the door. Back to her empty house, well of beings of the furless variety, anyway.
That evening as Grace sat on the couch with three of her cats, her mind wouldn’t focus on the movie selection. Every time the hero spoke, it was with Bruce’s silky voice. The actor’s blue eyes magically transformed to brown as he lovingly looked into the heroine’s eyes and he somehow developed larger shoulders and became several inches taller. Oh! What am I doing? She needed to stop thinking about him. Nothing would ever, could ever, come of it.
The next day at work, Grace was disappointed not to see Bruce’s name on the schedule. Why should she care? It had nothing to do with her. Time to stop thinking about him. Never in a zillion decades would a gorgeous man like him be attracted to pudgy her. So she scaled, polished, flossed, and rinsed other peoples’ teeth feverishly all morning. She worked quickly, hoping there would actually be an entire hour for lunch. And for once, there was. What an unexpected luxury. It seemed a lifetime ago since she’d had a full lunch hour.
Ruth J. Hartman spends her days herding cats and her nights spinning sweet romantic tales that make you smile, giggle, or laugh out loud. She, her husband, and their three cats love to spend time curled up in their recliners watching old Cary Grant movies. Well, the cats, Maxwell, Roxy, and Remmie, sit in the people's recliners. Not that the cats couldn't get their own furniture. They just choose to shed on someone else's. You know how selfish those little furry creatures can be.
Ruth, a left-handed, cat-herding, Jeep driving, farmhouse-dwelling romance writer uses her goofy sense of humor as she writes tales of lovable, klutzy women and the men who adore them. Ruth's husband and best friend, Garry, reads her manuscripts, rolls his eyes at her weird story ideas, and loves her in spite of her penchant for insisting all of her books have at least one cat in them. Or twelve. But hey, who's counting?