A marriage worth fightin.., p.1

  A Marriage Worth Fighting For, p.1

A Marriage Worth Fighting For
 

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A Marriage Worth Fighting For


  I do...again?

  When Alicia McKinley agreed to a whirlwind Las Vegas wedding, she’d been swept away by the sheer romance of it all. How could she not say “I do” to Michael James McKinley, the gorgeous doctor who offered her everything she’d ever dreamed of? Still, after years of coming in second to MJ’s career, it was time to say “I don’t” to the workaholic husband who took her totally for granted.

  But MJ is not a man who gives up without a fight. He and Alicia might not have a perfect marriage, but now that he knows what is on the line, he is determined to risk everything—including his heart—for a second chance with his wife!

  “Do you love me now?”

  What answer could she possibly give? “I don’t know.”

  Incredibly, they were still touching. Hands joined, bodies brushing lightly together.

  Marriage did that, apparently. It made you so familiar with each other’s bodies that you could hold each other and talk about divorce and the nonexistence of love at the same time.

  “Let me prove it doesn’t have to take seven minutes,” he said softly.

  “No…”

  “Why not?” Before she could say anything, he added quickly, “No, don’t answer. I know what you’ll say. That if we make love, I’ll think it’s more proof that I’ve won. I don’t want to prove anything.”

  “Then what do you want?”

  A thick beat of silence, while he struggled to strip back the layers. “I just want you.”

  Dear Reader,

  Welcome to the final book in the McKinley Medics trilogy! If I had to pick a favorite out of the three, it would be this one. Alicia and MJ are in such a different situation to that of most romance heroes and heroines, and it was both a challenge and a huge satisfaction to write their story successfully. I really hope you enjoy it.

  It’s such a great time to be a reader. Even just a few years ago, if you’d loved this book and were looking for more of my work, it would have been a tedious process of searching the internet, clicking through an order system and then waiting for the books to arrive in the mail, or the hit-and-miss of browsing second-hand bookstores. Let’s not even talk about how we found books before the internet!

  Now, though, when you find an author you love, much of their backlist is just a couple of mouse-clicks away, whether on the Harlequin website or elsewhere. So if you did love this book, take a look at my website, www.liliandarcy.com, where you can find out more about my backlist, and join me in celebrating the feast of books we can now read, from all our favorite authors.

  Lilian

  Lilian Darcy

  A Marriage Worth Fighting For

  Books by Lilian Darcy

  Harlequin Special Edition

  The Mommy Miracle #2134

  **Daddy on Her Doorstep #2176

  **A Doctor in His House #2186

  **A Marriage Worth Fighting For #2200

  Silhouette Special Edition

  Balancing Act #1552

  Their Baby Miracle #1672

  †The Runaway and the Cattleman #1762

  †Princess in Disguise #1766

  †Outback Baby #1774

  The Couple Most Likely To #1801

  A Mother in the Making #1880

  The Millionaire’s Makeover #1899

  The Heiress’s Baby #2063

  Silhouette Romance

  The Baby Bond #1390

  Her Sister’s Child #1449

  Raising Baby Jane #1478

  *Cinderella After Midnight #1542

  *Saving Cinderella #1555

  *Finding Her Prince #1567

  Pregnant and Protected #1603

  For the Taking #1620

  The Boss’s Baby Surprise #1729

  The Millionaire’s Cinderella Wife #1772

  Sister Swap #1816

  Family Secrets

  Racing Hearts

  †Wanted: Outback Wives

  *The Cinderella Conspiracy

  **McKinley Medics

  Other titles by Lilian Darcy available in ebook.

  LILIAN DARCY

  has written nearly eighty books for Silhouette Romance, Special Edition and Harlequin Medical Romance. Happily married with four active children and a very patient cat, she enjoys keeping busy and could probably fill several more lifetimes with the things she likes to do—including cooking, gardening, quilting, drawing and traveling. She currently lives in Australia but travels to the United States as often as possible to visit family. Lilian loves to hear from readers. You can write to her at P.O. Box 532, Jamison P.O., Macquarie ACT 2614, Australia, or email her at [email protected]

  Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Excerpt

  Chapter One

  Dr. Michael James McKinley Junior’s life came crashing down around him at seven o’clock on a Wednesday evening in October.

  Ironically, he was home considerably earlier than usual. He was feeling content. Happy, even.

  Entering the lavishly lit and decorated lobby of his building, he anticipated the moment of homecoming at a level of detail that he would have been embarrassed about if anyone had known.

  It would unfold something like this:

  Alicia would hear his key in the door and come to meet him, giving a little cry of pleasure and surprise. He’d suggest a meal out, and she would hurry away to change and freshen her makeup and hair. The kids would still be awake. He could spend some time with them, while Alicia readied herself.

  The procedure always took a while, but the results were worth it. She was just about the most stunning woman he had ever seen. After nearly seven years of marriage he still thought so, and when he entered a social gathering with her on his arm, he felt the aura of success around both of them like a magnetic field.

  So, yes, he would have to wait for Alicia to work her beauty magic, and that would be fine. He could help Nanny Maura with…well, with whatever she did with the children at this time of the evening. Their bath. Their bedtime story.

  He felt he ought to know what they would be up to in their routine, but it seemed to change every few months, and it was hard to keep track of such things when he was so rarely home at an hour when they were still awake. Kids grew so fast. He had the idea Alicia had told him recently that Tyler was on the verge of giving up his daytime nap.

  Or maybe he already had. MJ couldn’t remember.

  He took the elevator, thinking that he had better be quiet when he entered, in case Tyler was already settling into sleep. While the thought of his two-year-old son bouncing excitedly out of bed to greet him was a pleasing one in his own head, he realized that Alicia and Maura might not think of it the same way. Tyler was an exhausting little dynamo, and if he became overtired or overstimulated he was even worse.

  No, he absolutely must not disrupt the sleep routine with Tyler purely for a father’s selfish reasons.

  At the apartment door, he registered that things were indeed pretty quiet in there. He slipped his key silently into the lock, turned the handle slowly so that it didn’t make a sound and tiptoed inside.

  There were no lights switched on against the gathering night, and no sounds. Still convinced that he was arriving at his children’s bedtim
e, he crept through to the sitting room, expecting to see the night-light glowing in its socket in the hallway, or to hear the soft voices of Alicia and Maura telling Abby and Tyler good-night.

  But the apartment was dark and silent. The sunset fading in the sky outside provided the only source of light, and the traffic in the canyons of the Manhattan streets below made the only sounds. No one was here. His pleasing fantasy of a warm greeting, twenty minutes of parental quality time and a relaxed evening out evaporated and left a feeling of fatigue and irritation.

  He’d been at the hospital at six this morning, in surgery at six-thirty. He’d eaten lunch on the move, hadn’t had a break all day, and then when he’d glimpsed the possibility of an early departure, he’d tied himself in knots to make it happen. As a reward, he could easily have accepted fellow surgeon Oliver Marks’s casual suggestion of a quick drink instead of hurrying home to his family. Would it really have been too hard for Alicia to text him with a warning that she and the children might not be home? His arrival at this hour wasn’t that rare, was it?

  He checked his phone to see if he’d missed something, but, no, she really hadn’t left a message. What the hell was she thinking? He didn’t ask much of her in that regard, for heck’s sake, and he gave her a truckload in return.

  Anger rising, he went into the kitchen and flicked on a light. His gut ached with hunger, he registered, and it probably wasn’t helping his mood. There’d be something in the refrigerator to hold the hunger at bay until he knew if his dinner plan with Alicia was going to come off.

  He actually had his hand on the refrigerator door handle when he saw the note on the gleaming black granite countertop, pinned down by his favorite coffee mug. He swung away from the prospect of food and picked it up. Okay, Alicia, so you did leave me an explanation, but why on earth didn’t you text, so I could—

  It’s not working, MJ. And you’re never here. There’s no point saying this in person, and I doubt you’ll care. I’ve taken the kids to Vermont for some time out. I’ll talk to a lawyer in the next few days about a divorce. A.

  He stood with the piece of paper in his hand. His empty stomach dropped like a stone and his temples throbbed in shock and disbelief.

  Alicia had left him.

  * * *

  “You see, there’s green fields and little towns in Ireland, just like this,” Nanny Maura explained to Alicia in the same tone she might have used to explain her preference for coffee over tea. Her Irish accent was strong. “I came to America for a taste of city life, like. I don’t want to be stuck in the country. You didn’t tell me you were gettin’ a divorce when we were packin’ to come up here. I thought ’twas just for a few days.”

  Alicia felt a weird and close-to-hysterical desire to laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing. Tell her nanny she wanted a divorce before she told her husband? Good plan! Add “Oh, by the way, I’m leaving my husband” to her daily list of instructions about activities and errands? No problem! Be fair to the nanny, while her life was in tatters and her children didn’t understand what was going on? Easy peasy!

  But she recognized that Maura had a point. There was a huge difference between New York City and rural Vermont.

  And maybe she didn’t even need a nanny now that she was here. It would be better, really. Maura was just another person she didn’t want seeing her cry. And she’d left her schedule of beauty treatments and shopping trips and charity lunches behind in Manhattan. She would have plenty of time for hands-on child care.

  “When would you like to leave?” Alicia asked, not sure of the answer she wanted to hear.

  This had already been a painful interview, conducted once the children were safely asleep upstairs. She’d broken the truth to Maura—that there was a reason for the larger-than-usual amount of luggage they’d brought, and for the lack of the text messages to MJ that she would normally have sent if she was going up to his brother Andy’s with the kids for a few days, as she’d done once or twice. Leaving now…on the thruway.

  Maura had hidden any shock—or possibly lack of shock—behind the well-schooled facade that low-level, expendable employees learned to wear when confronted by difficult or irrational behavior from their employers. Alicia remembered the expression well from the countless times it had appeared on her own face. Maura had asked how long they would be here in Vermont, and on learning that it might be months, she’d come out with her explanation for not wanting to stay.

  “When can you spare me?” Maura asked now, in response to Alicia’s question.

  “It doesn’t matter.” Because nothing much did. She’d left MJ. That was all that counted. “Whenever you want.”

  “Tonight?” Maura suggested hopefully. “If I check the schedule, could you drive me to the bus? A friend texted me about getting together tomorrow for—”

  “Tonight is fine. I’ll give you cab fare to get you to the bus station.” Why go through an awkward evening? This way, Maura wouldn’t even need to unpack.

  “I’m sure there’d be some lovely girls up here looking for child-care work,” Maura told her in an encouraging way.

  “I’m sure, yes.” No point in telling this girl that she didn’t intend to replace her.

  “You were going to give me those clothes that you didn’t want anymore… .” Maura offered next, referring back to a conversation from a week or two ago that Alicia had totally forgotten.

  “Give me a forwarding address, as soon as you have one, and I’ll mail them.”

  This apparently dealt with the last of Maura’s concerns. Cast-off designer outfits, yippee! Her eyes lit up, and she gushed her thanks in the Irish accent that Abby and Tyler were both starting to pick up. They spent far more time with Maura than they spent with Alicia.

  Well, that was about to change, big-time.

  She looked at the clock.

  Eight.

  MJ was probably still at the hospital, or maybe winding down with a drink on the way home, with a couple of fellow doctors. When you added it up, she only saw him a few hours each week, and even those weren’t spent the way she would have chosen.

  He was either dog-tired and silent, wanting only to sprawl on the couch eating the tired leftovers of a meal that had been fresh two or three hours ago, or else they went out to a charity event or a gallery opening or dinner at a smart restaurant. He always touched the small of her back as they moved through one of those public spaces together, as if to say to any other man who caught his eye, “Look what I’ve got. Pretty special, huh?” He rarely touched her when they were alone.

  It was her own fault. She hated herself for it. She’d done her best—busted her gut—to marry for money and status. She’d worked her looks and her fashion sense and her hard-won poise for all they were worth, and her strategy had succeeded.

  She’d snared MJ.

  She hadn’t put a foot wrong.

  She’d seized on that stupid, unforgettable night in Vegas when they’d gotten a little tipsy and stumbled into a garishly themed wedding chapel, and she’d gotten MJ over the line before he could sober up enough to rethink.

  Brass ring, Alicia.

  Married to a rich man with no prenup.

  Not bad for a waitress from the wrong side of the tracks.

  She’d been so goal-oriented about it that she hadn’t even stopped, before the ceremony, to think whether she loved him, or whether he loved her or whether they could possibly make each other happy.

  She’d done her best for almost seven years to fulfill her side of the bargain. She’d given him two children. She’d kept her looks and her figure with an almost obsessive number of gym visits and spa sessions. She’d spent his money in all the ways he wanted her to. Everything they owned, from the children’s clothes to the hand-crafted dining table and matching chairs, was the product of hours of research on quality and brand names.

  She’d said as little as possible about the foster homes she’d grown up in, from age ten to seventeen after Grammie died, and she’d never, ever, ever ev
en hinted at the desperate straits she’d been in when he’d walked into her restaurant that first morning and given her the eye.

  * * *

  It wasn’t going to happen. It just wasn’t.

  MJ’s first sizzling state of shock switched quickly to anger and an absolute refusal to accept his marriage was over. He found some chicken nuggets and oven fries in the freezer and nuked them in the microwave. While they were heating, he went into the bedroom and threw a couple of days’ worth of clothing into an overnight bag. The microwave pinged and he ate directly from the plastic dish, while he got on the phone and called his junior attending surgeon.

  “Raj, something’s come up, and I won’t be available tomorrow.”

  “I’m sorry, Dr. McKinley. I hope nothing’s wrong.” The deep and slightly accented voice at the other end of the line strove to find the midpoint between professional distance and courteous concern.

  “Everything’s fine. Family stuff. But let me catch you up on the schedule.” He switched quickly to the common language of their profession—the medical jargon and shorthand that safely took away any sense of the personal. In a couple of minutes, he covered from memory and electronic notes on his phone every patient going in for surgery tomorrow, as well as hitting the major points on several more cases that were either pre- or post-op. “Call me from the O.R. if you have any trouble with the Parker girl, because she’s going to be tricky,” he instructed. “You have the scans and the X-rays. But call me.”

  He hated delegating. He was a better surgeon than most of the orthopedic specialists he knew, and that wasn’t arrogance; it was simply a fact.

  Okay, correction: it was arrogance and fact.

  He shoved the phone in his pocket, debating making another call or two—his office manager first, and then Oliver Marks, because they had a lunch plan in the works—but he could call later, or text. He wasn’t texting Alicia. She’d given no warning. He’d do the same. It would be midnight or later by the time he arrived, but too bad. When your whole world turned upside down, time ceased to count.

 
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