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Expecting A Scandal

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Five months pregnant and on her own – but she can’t resist the rugged rancher!Pregnant Abigail Stewart is desperate for the art commission at Royal Memorial Hospital. The sexy Texan on the board surprises Abigail with his response, and a sizzling connection! But even if he can accept her baby, will Vaughn’s dark past tear them apart?
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Five months pregnant and on her own. Even so, she can’t resist this rugged rancher...

Solely responsible for her unborn child, Abigail Stewart is desperate for the art commission at Royal Memorial Hospital. Winning over the sexy Texan on the board seems impossible, but Vaughn surprises her with his response. And his attention. And a sizzling connection that defies all logic. But even if he can accept her baby, will Vaughn’s dark past tear them apart?

Four-time RITA® Award nominee JOANNE ROCK has penned over seventy stories for Mills & Boon. An optimist by nature and a perpetual seeker of silver linings, Joanne finds romance fits her life outlook perfectly—love is worth fighting for. A former Golden Heart® Award recipient, she has won numerous awards for her stories. Learn more about Joanne’s imaginative Muse by visiting her website, www.joannerock.com, or following @joannerock6 on Twitter.

His Secretary’s Surprise Fiancé

Secret Baby Scandal

The Magnate’s Mail-Order Bride

The Magnate’s Marriage Merger

His Accidental Heir

Little Secrets: His Pregnant Secretary

Claiming His Secret Heir

For the Sake of His Heir

Expecting a Scandal

Discover more at millsandboon.co.uk.

Expecting a Scandal

Joanne Rock



www.millsandboon.co.uk

ISBN: 978-1-474-07634-0

EXPECTING A SCANDAL

© 2018 Harlequin Books S.A.

Published in Great Britain 2018

by Mills & Boon, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 1 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9GF

All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This edition is published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, locations and incidents are purely fictional and bear no relationship to any real life individuals, living or dead, or to any actual places, business establishments, locations, events or incidents. Any resemblance is entirely coincidental.

By payment of the required fees, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right and licence to download and install this e-book on your personal computer, tablet computer, smart phone or other electronic reading device only (each a “Licensed Device”) and to access, display and read the text of this e-book on-screen on your Licensed Device. Except to the extent any of these acts shall be permitted pursuant to any mandatory provision of applicable law but no further, no part of this e-book or its text or images may be reproduced, transmitted, distributed, translated, converted or adapted for use on another file format, communicated to the public, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of publisher.

® and ™ are trademarks owned and used by the trademark owner and/or its licensee. Trademarks marked with ® are registered with the United Kingdom Patent Office and/or the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market and in other countries.

www.millsandboon.co.uk

To the A Team nurses at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg for your commitment and caring, for making a difference every day and for taking time out to share your stories with me.

Contents

html#ua12c3213-7615-5fbd-9f81-d578f9d00fd1" id="back_ua12c3213-7615-5fbd-9f81-d578f9d00fd1">Cover

Back Cover Text

About the Author

Booklist

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Extract

One

Adjusting her glasses on her nose, Abigail Stewart hoped the funky red-and-black zebra frames distracted from the sheer desperation that must surely be visible in her eyes.

She didn’t want the assembled Royal Memorial Hospital committee to see how badly she needed the commission for the sculpture she’d just proposed for the children’s ward. Or how much it upset her to be back inside a hospital for the first time since her sister’s death. Standing at the head of the hospital’s boardroom after her presentation, she smoothed the hem of a fitted skirt that pinched her pregnant hips under the gauzy red top she’d chosen to hide her baby bump. At five months along, she wouldn’t be fooling anyone for much longer. But considering the scandal attached to her baby’s conception with a lying jerk posing as Will Sanders, the powerful head of Spark Energy Solutions, Abigail wasn’t in a hurry to field questions about it. She was only just beginning to wrap her head around being a single mom in the wake of a hellish year that had cost her a beloved younger sibling.

A year that promised to go downhill even more, since Abigail would definitely not make the next mortgage payment on her house if she didn’t nab this commission. She’d taken too much time off in the past year to help her mother cope with losing Alannah in a kayaking accident, depleting her emergency savings.

“Does anyone have questions about the art installation I’m proposing?” Abigail forced a smile despite the nervous churn in her belly.

At least, she hoped that rumble was nerves and not belated morning sickness. For the last two months, morning had been a relative term.

“I have a question.” The deep, masculine voice at the back of the spacious room caught her off guard.

She’d thought all of the committee members were seated at the large table with a good view of the projection screen. Yet, at second glance, she saw an absurdly handsome man in green scrubs sprawled in a chair by the door in the back. From the leather shoes he sported to the expensive-looking haircut, he had an air of wealth about him that the scrubs and slightly scruffy facial hair couldn’t hide. Even the phone resting on the table beside him cost more than her monthly house payment. She’d been so focused on getting her video up and running that she had somehow missed his arrival.

With a crop of thick brown hair and deep green eyes, he had a body that a professional athlete would envy—his broad chest and strong arms were supremely appealing. And for a woman five months pregnant and battling morning sickness along with a case of nerves to notice—that was saying something.

The hospital administrator who had invited Abigail to present to the committee gestured the newcomer toward a vacant chair at that table, where one presentation packet lay untouched. “Thank you for coming, Dr. Chambers, please join us.”

“Sorry I’m late. My last surgery ran long.” He rose and tugged the plush rolling chair out from the gleaming maple table, joining eleven other members of the committee in judging her. “And, Ms.

Stewart, I’m sure you’re very talented, and your gallery of works is certainly impressive, but I’m afraid I don’t see the point of a statue in the children’s ward when we are in need of more staffing and more on-site equipment.”

Her stomach dropped.

The rumbling of reaction around the table gave Abigail a welcome moment to collect her thoughts before responding. She’d thought the commission was a foregone conclusion, whether she won it or another artist did, so she wasn’t entirely prepared for the question. But since no one else jumped in to answer, she needed to field it fast.

“I believe the funds for artwork are designated strictly for that purpose by the benefactor who provided the grant.” She glanced at the hospital administrator in charge of the committee, Belinda McDowell, who served as Royal Memorial’s development officer. When the older woman didn’t correct her, Abigail plowed ahead. “So the funding isn’t something that can be reallocated.”

Dr. Chambers stared back at her, his jaw flexing with thinly veiled impatience. Did he think art was so inferior to his field? Her spine steeled with some impatience of her own.

“Assuming that’s the case...” He glanced at Mrs. McDowell for confirmation. At a nod of the woman’s steel-gray bob, he continued, “Why a statue? Will children really appreciate art at that level, or would we be better served giving them something more age-appropriate that stands a chance of engaging them?”

Resisting the temptation to open his presentation packet for him and point out where she’d addressed this very question, she told herself she was being touchy because she needed this job so much. The visibility, the credibility and the portfolio development were all critical, even without the benefit of the income. Making a living as an artist in Royal hadn’t been easy, even before Alannah’s death.

“The statue would be a starting point since the hospital board would like to unveil the first element of a larger installation in the children’s ward at a party later this month.” She lifted her own presentation packet and flipped it open to the page with her proposed timeline. “There are some further details on page six.”

Okay. So she hadn’t been able to resist temptation.

But Dr. Green Eyes was single-handedly turning her presentation on its ear. He scrubbed a hand over his short beard, looking skeptical.

“Are there any other questions?” she blurted too quickly, realizing belatedly she was probably being rude.

Damn. It. How had she let him rattle her? Probably had something to do with the hospital bringing up bad memories. Or her too-tight skirt and her surprising reaction to the doctor. She’d thought, after the colossal mistake she’d made in sleeping with her former boss at her temp job, she’d effectively sworn off men for a while.

It bothered her to feel very feminine flutters of response to superficial things like an attractive face. Or a beautifully made male form.

That rich male voice rolled through the boardroom again. “Can good art be crafted in such a short time?” Dr. Chambers asked, now scanning through the pages of her presentation folder. “Do you really think you can meet that kind of deadline?”

Could she? It wouldn’t be easy, of course. She had ten days. And she sure didn’t appreciate the implication that “good” art was measured by how long it took to create it. Brilliant works had been crafted over the course of years, and others in the span of hours.

“Of course,” she returned coolly. “Although, obviously, the sooner the committee reaches a decision, the easier it will be for the chosen artist to meet the deadline.”

The committee leader, Belinda McDowell, rose. “And we hope to give you a response as soon as possible, Ms. Stewart. Thank you so much for coming in today.” With a curt nod, she dismissed Abigail before turning her attention to the rest of the group. “I have one more artist I’d like you to meet if you can all remain for just ten more minutes.”

Dismayed that she was already done with her portion of the meeting, Abigail hurried to gather her things before she headed toward the door. Had she blown the most important presentation of her career?

Passing Dr. Chambers on her way out, she felt her gaze drawn to him in spite of herself. Maybe because she wanted to give his chair a swift kick for finding fault in her presentation.

More likely, her artist’s eye wanted to roam all over those intriguing angles of his face, the sculpted muscles of his body. At least, she hoped it was her inner artist that was having those ridiculous urges. Because if it was some kind of womanly desire for her surgeon heckler, who’d been about as charming as a Texas diamondback, then she had bigger worries than a depleted bank account and a baby on the way.

She needed a doctor all right. But only because she ought to have her head examined.

* * *

Vaughn Chambers flipped through the two artists’ presentations side by side at a table in the hospital’s doctor lounge later that afternoon. The lounge was busy at this hour during shift change, with colleagues darting in and out to grab coffee or a bite to eat. But Vaughn had positioned himself with his back to the room, earbuds in place, a coping mechanism he’d started using more often since his return from a military medical deployment with the United States Army Reserves.

Despite being the heir to an oil empire, Vaughn had never been willing to simply follow the path chosen for him. Instead of taking the easy route and accepting a CEO seat in the family company, he’d pursued a medical career. Inspired by his grandfather’s military service, he’d been compelled to make a contribution of his own, signing on after he’d already secured his medical degree. He didn’t regret those choices, but he was still paying for them.

He refused to let his service rob him of the career that meant everything to him, but coping with the aftereffects of his time as a brigade surgeon in Afghanistan had all but consumed him for months after he got home. Now, he understood the strategies for dealing with the post-traumatic stress. But since trauma was his surgical specialty, he could never fully insulate himself from the situations that triggered bad days.

Like today.

Vaughn stilled his restless knee under the table with effort, forcing a quietness in his body that he wasn’t feeling, while a groggy resident struggled to make a fresh pot of coffee at the snack table beside him. Vaughn’s patient this morning had been a stabbing victim, helicoptered in from a nearby ranch where a couple of cowboys had gotten into an argument over a card game. The surgery went well, though slowly, considering all the areas that needed repairing. But then, Vaughn had always been a rock during surgery, shutting down everything else in order to focus on the work he’d dedicated his whole life to perform.

The aftermath was what killed him, when he could no longer compartmentalize by focusing solely on the surgery at hand. And today, of all days, he’d had to sit in on a committee meeting about a new art installation right after he’d emerged from the operating room. He should have just blown it off. Except his colleague, Dr. Parker Reese, had asked him to attend as a personal favor. Or maybe Reese had been trying to do Vaughn a favor, nudging him back into the world outside a war zone, since Parker was one of the few guys who knew what Vaughn was going through. Either way, he’d promised. So Vaughn had dragged himself into that boardroom, adrenaline level crashing, knowing he wasn’t at his best.

Now, drumming his fingers on the lounge table as he stared at the two artists’ presentation packets, his eye landed on a photo of Abigail Stewart. Her long, espresso-colored curls fell over her shoulder as she smiled in a candid shot that captured a far more lighthearted woman than he’d met today. Sunlight behind her—like dawn breaking—made her glow. Her dark eyes glanced at something just off to the side of the camera, and whatever it was made her laugh. The photo wasn’t your standard head shot, but made sense for an artist. She practically vibrated with warmth and vitality in the image.

Something he’d stomped during their brief meeting. He’d known, even as he questioned her after her presentation, that he’d been abrupt. Tactless. But that was because he’d been battling to keep himself together. Normally when he got out of a more difficult surgery, he either escaped under the headphones, or he booked it back home to decompress with his service dog, Ruby. Today, neither option had been available. So he’d launched his reservations about the art project at Ms. Stewart with zero filter.

A clap on Vaughn’s back startled him. He whipped around too fast, too fierce. He could see it in Belinda McDowell’s wide-eyed expression, her tiny step back.

“I—” The seasoned hospital administrator was an endlessly competent woman, a tireless advocate for Royal Memorial and a consummate professional.

And Vaughn had just spooked her because he was having a bad day.

Damn it.

“Sorry about that.” Yanking off his earbuds, he turned on what little charm he could scavenge, smiling broadly. “I must have been falling asleep.” He gave a rueful head shake. “Good thing my residency days are behind me. I’d never cut it.”

The administrator thrust an envelope toward him. “No apology necessary. I’m very grateful to you for agreeing to pay a visit to Ms. Stewart so she can begin work on the art installation.”

After the presentations, the committee had voted unanimously to select Abigail Stewart to begin work on the statue for the children’s ward as phase one of a larger art installment. And because Vaughn had regretted the way he’d approached her, he had volunteered to deliver the news personally.

Ah, hell. Who was he kidding?

He couldn’t deny that he had volunteered because she fascinated him. In spite of the rocky start to their meeting. In spite of the day he was having that reminded him he might never be normal again. Something about Abigail Stewart called to him.

“It’s no problem to drop by her studio. I have to pass through downtown on my way home anyway.” Accepting the envelope from Mrs. McDowell, he glanced down at Abigail’s name typed on the front. “What’s this?”

“Half of her commission payment, which were the terms we discussed in the meeting,” she said crisply, nodding to a couple of the older cardiologists who’d been on staff at Royal Memorial for decades. “Please remind her she is welcome to work on site as often as she requires. There is a security badge and parking pass for her in there, as well.”

So he’d be seeing more of Abigail. Possibly a lot more. With only ten days until the Royal Memorial summer gala, the artist would have her work cut out for her. Vaughn would have a ready-made excuse to see her again—often—at the hospital. If he chose. He wasn’t sure how he felt about spending more time with a woman who cut through his usual defenses on the job, and elicited an elemental response in him in spite of how much he normally shut down at work.

“Of course.” He laid the envelope on the table near his phone. “I know we want to give her as much time as possible, so I’ll head over there as soon as I check on one last patient.”

He wanted to see his stabbing victim before he left the hospital. There were too many emotions dog piling on this day, making him antsy and ready to leave.

“Thank you.” Mrs. McDowell checked her vibrating phone before silencing it. “And do be sure to get some rest, Dr. Chambers. You’re an important part of our staff.”

She turned efficiently on her gray heel and strode off, leaving Vaughn to stack up his papers. He paused before he could slide the presentation packets into the file folder, Abigail’s photo catching his eye once more.

The noise of the lounge—residents laughing, an older doc dictating his notes in a monotone—all faded as Vaughn focused on the woman’s image. He leaned closer to her photo, studying the lines of her face. She was undeniably attractive. Sultry, even, with those dark eyes, endless curls and kissable lips. But there was more to it than that. Vaughn had been approached by plenty of women since he’d returned from Afghanistan. And not one of them had tempted him out of his self-imposed isolation.

He’d almost been worried about the lack of interest, except that he knew PTSD was a long haul in the recovery process and he’d made definite progress since he’d started working with his golden retriever. Ruby had helped him sleep more soundly, waking him before his nightmares got out of control, preventing people from crowding him when he went out. Hell, Ruby had given him a reason to get out of the house in the first place, and that had been good for him. He’d figured the rest would follow in time.

Today, despite the adrenaline letdown and the cold sweat on his back throughout that interminable meeting, Vaughn had felt a definite spark of interest as he’d watched Abigail Stewart in that boardroom.

A welcome sign of some normalcy.

No matter that he wasn’t in any shape for a relationship, he planned to at least see what happened when he saw her again.

.

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