Romance Novel Giveaways - Freebies and Giveaways of All Things Romance Romance Novel Giveaways: The Maryland Shores series by Lauren Monroe ♥ Spotlight & GIVEAWAY ♥ (Contemporary Romance)

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Maryland Shores series by Lauren Monroe ♥ Spotlight & GIVEAWAY ♥ (Contemporary Romance)

What must you let go to find true love?

When Maren Mitchell lost her husband Mark, she felt adrift in choppy waters. She adjusts course as she's not one to ever act quickly.

The handsome, decisive surgeon Steve Kramer devoted decades to advancing his medical career, but his personal life sailed past him...until Maren cornered his curiosity. He encourages her to become a co-worker, but will she become more?

The intensity that fills Steve's days drives Maren to anxious uncertainty. He's nothing like she's used to, making her quiver all right, as his impassioned first mate on his boat and as a skeptical observer off of it.

Will a left-brained, logical man and a creative, cautious woman get tangled in their differences and past hurts...or surrender what they must to live fuller lives and forge a future together, especially through regional terror and personal panic?
Setting/Timeframe: Western Shore, Maryland, Washington, DC metro area, Chesapeake Bay in 2002, plus other fun surprises

Maren's favorites: Her son Dylan, graphic design, coffee, boating

Steve's passions: His new boat, Steelers football, and Maren!

Steelers football in Maryland...really? Read the novel to find out who cheers for the Baltimore
Ravens or Washington Redskins... and who waves the Terrible Towel.

To see Steve's boat: Check out the Facebook page for occasional pics of what inspired the scenes in Letting Go: Book One. Don't forget to LIKE the page so that you don't miss out on future, fun posts and the debut of Book Two.

Readers said they wanted Book Two, and now the story continues...

Paul Romano once spent most waking hours fantasizing about Liz. More than 15 years later, he needs her again, only as a lifeline back from his broken world.

Liz Kramer would forever remember Paul as the Italian Stallion, off limits as her brother Steve's best med school buddy. He was—and maybe still is—four things: fussy about food, smug about his nationality, razor sharp with wit, and wild about women...well, he might have gotten tamed along the way. Oh, and a troubling fifth thing: He's a diehard Steelers football fan, and well...Liz could bleed purple, cheering her Baltimore Ravens. How's that for clashing loyalties?

When Liz's idyllic Chesapeake life takes a plunge, she needs Paul's friendship more than any fantasy. Liz must manage two children and one conniving, estranged husband. It’s hard to keep a smile on her face when two exacting bosses, one who eyes Paul, present daily challenges.

What’s more, Paul's Pittsburgh mother shares her name with a brewing hurricane. Fitting, as both head straight at Liz while someone heaps more hurt onto Steve, jeopardizing his future with Maren. Will Liz ever relax again when she knows she's being fleeced, but can't prove it? And why would Paul want her tales of woe with his newly found pleasure literally chasing tail? Make that plural! See who gets another shot at happiness—and possibly love—with this intertwining story of Second Chances: The Maryland Shores novel series.
Timeframe/Setting: Story picks up in February 2003 and spans more than one year. It takes place on both the Western Shore, south of Annapolis, as well as Maryland's Eastern Shore. Paul visits his hometown of Pittsburgh and gets in touch with his heritage elsewhere, too.

A Steelers fan and Ravens fan...really? You betcha! Diehard Baltimore fans and ones waving Terrible Towels will enjoy the banter these characters share. Check, Pinterest page novelistlaurenm, and follow @LaurnMonroe on Twitter, especially in season!

From Letting Go


Graphic Artist: F/T mktg dept position. Team player. Generous salary/benefits. 4-yr degree and 5+ yrs experience, plus:

• Desktop publishing and writing skill.
• Proficiency with QuarkXPress and/or Adobe software.
• Physician/staff interaction daily to produce collateral material.

Maren tucked the email attachment into her 2002 Job Search folder. Disguised by a blind box, it came straight from Alicia Lewis, Director of Marketing, at West Riverside Hospital Center. She spotted it also in The Washington Post.
Her Mac G4 model housed the graphics programs. Her design degree hung on her wall. Maren knew she probably should apply.
“Maren Mitchell.” Startled, she grabbed the call before it woke her son. “I’m well Alicia. Yourself?”
“OK except our COO wants interviews for that position completed—someone here within two weeks,” Lewis replied. “I dragged my feet, Maren, hoping you’d reconsider. I’m arm-twisting because we love your work.”
Maren leaned back in her desk chair. Following 9/11, with magazine circulation down, page counts shrinking, advertising and PR budgets sliced in half—sometimes halved again—she felt like a fool for not giving Alicia Lewis a yes, like yesterday. The two of them had studied graphic design together.
“Well, thanks. I enjoyed the Buckle Up promotion and that patient education series.” Maren didn’t add how her stomach pitched and turned as a result. “How much interaction with staff are we talking?”
“Interviewing key people,” Alicia elaborated. “For their expertise, you know how that goes?”
“Listen, learn and act astonished?” Maren chuckled, used to dealing with different professionals from many walks of life. This walk, however, might seem like a mountain hike.
“Telecommuting? Dylan’s only in first grade.”
“Better if you could work from home two out of five days—more perhaps?”
“Potentially. He’s got the flu today. I don’t have a ton of back-up.”
“Poor Dylan…and you.” Alicia knew first-hand balancing a sick child plus keeping some semblance of a work life.
“Stomachache, vomiting. Was about to check on him.” Maren breathed in, her shoulders heavy. She’d been at her keyboard three hours already. “I promise a decision Friday. I’ve been so slammed with deadlines, and it’s only Wednesday.”
“We all have those weeks,” Alicia told her hand-chosen candidate. “I can stall two days. No one else’s resumé comes close.”
“I appreciate that.” Folders and screen icons stole Maren’s eyes. Her Mac model provided a handy tax deduction to the graphic design business she began three years ago. “Friday. I promise.”
“Friday it is, then. I hope Dylan feels better.”
“Thanks. Bye, Alicia.” Maren audibly emptied her lungs. Normal 32-year-olds didn’t work themselves into knots dealing with doctors. They had ordinary squeamishness, not gut-wrenching, hold-your-breath reactions.
Medical subject matter hijacked her amygdala—that brain area responsible for fight or flight that drives people crazy if worry exceeds their capacity to squelch it. It hadn’t until 16 months ago. The photograph one board member chose on the road safety campaign depicted an ambulance, red lights on alert, next to twisted, blood-singed metal meant to scare people straight. It had sent Maren straight to the restroom heaving. If she took this job, it might take pharmaceuticals just to get through a meeting, let alone an entire workday.
Return to Beginning
Chapter 1

“Mrs. Mitchell, sign here please.”
Maren took the clipboard, hastily scribbling her signature on the consents. The pen color reminded her of body fluids. At least the ink flowed out blue.
“Thank you, ma’am. Can I get you anything?” the nurse asked.
“No, thank you,” Maren replied as the woman went behind a desk. Finger combing her auburn hair, Maren remembered the mantra she cultivated from the support group she joined last year and ended over the summer. Be still inside.
She tried, as the group leader had prompted, to check out fearful thoughts and make sure she wasn’t lobbing last year’s stress into this moment’s problems. Did people ever have to repeat a grief group like a college course?
From where she sat it all seemed frighteningly familiar. Bright lights, shrill pages, people starting and ending their shifts at 11 p.m. Every time someone slapped the wall with the coaster-sized square that opened the heavy double doors, Maren jolted. Her spine could have been that wall they hit. It rattled just the same.
The bent insurance card rested on her lap. This wasn’t like her. Maren Mitchell kept everything neat and orderly. She rested her head against the wall, the chair just as uncomfortable as last year. God, please, don’t let him...
Maren shook her head to lose that thought. Her son lay in surgery. No stitch in the forehead and little time for questions. When Dylan had ear tubes inserted, Mark helped. The last time Mark was here, he never left. Not alive, anyway.
These antiseptic walls closed in as the chilled air rushed out of the vents and the fear ran through her. Sniffing latex and disinfectant reminded Maren how good PR could gloss over despair, sometimes death.
She carried her little boy into triage around nine o’clock, outlining Dylan’s symptoms in a curtained-off space. An ER doctor quickly ordered the necessary lab work and scans. With no back up in CT, they soon knew it was appendicitis and called in a surgeon.
The hours faded as fast as the light left these September evenings. Maren’s disheveled sweater and the crinkled insurance card—familiar displays of her stress—reminded her of how little control she had for the past 16 months. She stared out the window sorry she had reacted with a stony glare to the registration clerk.
No guarantees now. Bad things could happen. She picked out a staff member by the designer scrub top worn against solid green pajama-like pants.
“Excuse me, where can I get an update on my son’s surgery?”
The nurse, on her way home, didn’t slap the elevator button, sparing Maren’s nerves. “Your son’s in good hands, Mrs. Mitchell. Do you have a friend or relative?” The nurse held the elevator door before it could ding. “Call someone.”
Maren’s appreciative nod convinced the nurse to go the rest of her way. As she stooped to retrieve the mangled card from the floor, Maren tucked the insurance information into her handbag. The rare pay phone, relegated to a corner, told how times had changed. Maren didn’t have a cellular phone before 2001. Now she stored important contacts into her Nokia flip model.
To call her parents: Again? Last week, the electrician came the day a client rescheduled an all-important project. Her father delayed going into work to be at her house. Recently her mom forfeited lunch with a friend when the school nurse called about Dylan’s nosebleed.
He freaked out because I freak out. Maren vowed not to bother her parents, nor friends from church nor her neighborhood. Instead, she put on her sweater pulling it closely across her chest. Maren felt she used her support system as thoroughly as one could. Any more and she might end up friendless.
People were a real lifeline after she lost Mark, consoling her and pinch-hitting with Dylan. But she was in no mood for platitudes tonight like the at-least-he-didn’t-linger ones that assaulted her ears then. If it was God’s will to take Mark at the prime of their lives, then God truly could miscalculate. Maren got up to pace. I’m sorry, Lord...that’s me, tonight. Please don’t take Dylan, too.
No one delayed a diagnosis tonight as Mark’s parents suspected a year ago, costing their son his life. Maren had prayed as Mark got wheeled into surgery. I’ll do anything...give up anything...not Mark, not yet...please let him live.
Two hours later, Mark was gone.
Hearing that he had “sustained multiple injuries” and “lost a lot of blood despite all of our efforts” stole the color from her skin. Those words flashed at her then, haunted her now.
Sometimes Maren felt bitter when she lay alone at night hearing stirrings that made her believe Mark was home, bursting through the door and back into her life. Now, Dylan was the only force bursting through the house. He kept Maren moving forward. Be still inside.
Repeated at midnight, Larry King Live scrolled names of those lost a year ago. “A very sad day,” King termed it speaking with a 9/11 widow. Maren knew she wasn’t the only woman suddenly plunged into single parenthood. This one-year anniversary of crashing jetliners rendered many into a second round of despair. The 12 months had taught Maren—and the world—that life was indeed unpredictable. Precious.
“Mrs. Mitchell.” Maren’s muscles tightened as her eyes focused on the man, scrub cap the color of a robin’s egg in one hand, motioning her to take his lead toward the sofa. “Dylan’s fine. His surgery went really well.”
She felt her stomach loosen as she took in air. Dr. Kramer, the surgeon she met only briefly in the ER, stood in ordinary, pale scrubs several, inches taller than her 5’6” frame, his hands resting on his hips, elbows at attention. It rattled her, and she wondered if he thought her son’s illness was ordinary.
“You can see him in recovery.” This doctor slowed his speech since Maren struggled to comprehend. “I’m admitting him for tonight. Most kids have some pain with the air we use in the belly. It’ll go away.”
“You’re admitting him where?” Maren’s brown eyes, edged in red, focused.
“Sorry, to the children’s wing. Often, this might be same-day surgery but…that’s pushing it…for a six-year-old. He certainly can’t leave tonight.”
“He’ll be OK though? There’s something else?” Voice quivering, Maren was afraid the doctor could see fresh tears well in her eyes.
He had, taking a seat next to her. His words became tender seeing her distress. “Nothing else. We’ll monitor him awhile longer.”
“What does that mean?” She retrieved an already sodden tissue from her sweater pocket.
“He’s on IV antibiotics. We watch for complications, but I don’t expect any.” Dr. Kramer explained that with laparoscopic surgery comes reduced post-op pain.
“Thank you,” Maren said, shoulders sinking as her eyes sent appreciation. “I really am grateful. It’s late. He was so sick when I brought him in.” When diarrhea started after vomiting, Dylan definitely had taken a turn for the worse.
She reached both her hands to her ponytail and felt oddly disoriented for not remembering how she’d styled her own hair.
“He ought to recover beautifully. I’m here, or my resident, if you have questions.” Dr. Kramer looked around. They talked several minutes. “Anyone else with you tonight?”
Maren Mitchell raised herself off the sofa. The crumpled tissues she held showed her torment. Maren’s eyes darted to the carpet before returning to Dr. Kramer straight on. “Dylan’s father passed away last spring, in 2001. A terrible car accident.”
“I’m so sorry,” he said. Those tissues represented more profound stress. “You know, I can ask them for a sofa in Dylan’s room, if you’d like. Do you need to go home first? I mean…if you have other children to make arrangements for.”
“No, it’s just us. I’d really appreciate that. I’d like to stay.” Maren heard a doctor snapping orders in the distance. The doctor who pronounced Mark’s death? It stole the color from her face.
“I’ll make the arrangements. Dylan will be groggy.” Kramer studied her. “Will you be all right?” he asked. “Recovery is this way.” His arm pointed. Did her presence here—or maybe his—frighten her?
“I’ll be fine.” Maren felt self-conscious as she retrieved her jacket and shouldered her handbag. “I’m sorry…quite the night. Thank you, Dr. umm…”
“Kramer,” he offered her memory lapse. His shoulder tap spoke to her anxiety.
“Goodnight Dr. Kramer.”

Working in this environment would be God awful, Maren decided as she grasped the blanket the nurse had given her and propped two pillows on the sofa next to Dylan’s hospital bed. Dylan’s IV ran out again and monitors beeped, yet he rested. His sleep, not hers, mattered most. In his hospital gown, a shock of his true brown hair spilled over his eyebrows. Somewhere around six a.m., she left her parents a message on their answering machine, fearing if she didn’t she would certainly hear that she should have. Dylan was their only grandchild.
An intern, followed by a surgical resident, checked on her son within the past two hours, jostling her subtle slumber. Maren picked up the Post, yet quickly saddened. Last year’s tragic recap proved too heavy a read, especially today.
“How’s he doing?” Kramer whispered. He peeked inside the door and spared Maren any more 9/11 tributes. The clock read 8:15 when she glanced at the wall.
“He’s hardly stirred.” She rose and secured loose strands with both hands into the ponytail she’d slept on overnight. Maren moved closer to the doctor, his stethoscope to Dylan’s chest under the sheet. Her heart felt as if it might jump.
“He doesn’t look in much pain,” Maren said. At least Dylan’s sleep wasn’t disturbed. The resident and intern had seen to that earlier.
“It’s Dr. Kramer…how ya feeling,” he whispered to his young patient.
“OK,” Dylan hushed.
Kramer smiled, tousled the child’s hair. “Great, snooze away.” He let the sheet drop into place and stepped away from the bed. “The anesthesia will start to wear off. I can prescribe something if he’s uncomfortable.” Kramer took note of the monitors and scribbled on the boy’s chart before turning to Maren. “Sorry, that sofa close up doesn’t look that comfortable.”
“Don’t worry about me,” she answered, though honestly, his concern seemed genuine. “I just need a cup of coffee. Anything new I should know?”
“Looks good. Discharged maybe by evening, but I’ll make that call later this afternoon. All systems have to return to normal, if you know what I mean.”
“Discharge already?” She delivered this abruptly. Dr. Kramer—she remembered his name fully now—seemed like a man who wrapped his mind around many complicated details of his patients, patching them up and out before moving to other cases.
“If it was up to me, Mrs. Mitchell…”
“Call me Maren, please,” she told him, realizing her reaction. “I didn’t mean how that came out. I am rather tired.” She paused. “He has to go to the bathroom successfully, is that it?”
“Exactly,” Kramer grinned. “If my choice, Maren, I’d keep him longer. It’s insurance, but let me see. Tomorrow is probably the longest he’ll be here. I’m almost finished with rounds. If you really need coffee, I’ll walk with you to the cafeteria.” Dr. Kramer spotted her attempts to fake a smile.
Maren Mitchell looked far from relaxed, her eyes searching every inch of Dylan for confirmation he was healing on schedule.
“Thanks.” The invitation brought a slight curve to her lips, for the first time since Dylan had been admitted to West Riverside Hospital Center. “The idea of shipping him home though…” Anyone listening could absorb some of the torture in her voice.
She tucked the covers in tighter and kissed Dylan softly on the forehead. Usually, he’d smile. Maren loved seeing his toothy grin, with near perfectly shaped teeth. There would be no orthodontist in his future. Not now anyway.
“We’ll talk about the timing if you want. Give me a minute to return this.” Dr. Kramer stopped short of the door. “I’ll meet you at the desk. Take your time.”
Maren planted another peck on Dylan’s warm skin. It looked like a long day ahead.

“You look stressed, Mrs. Mitchell,” Dr. Kramer observed, sugaring his coffee. Looking up, he realized Dylan was his patient, not her.
“Maren…please,” she reminded him as she bit her lip. “I don’t like hospitals. The whole scene, I guess.” Her eyes would have said ‘I just miss Mark, terribly’ if only eyes could communicate. “I have to say though, you’ve been kind, taking time with us. Appreciate the coffee.” She’d been prepared with her wallet when he showed his ID and told the cashier it was on him.
“Sounds as if you’ve had a rough year.”
“It shows, I realize. I don’t mean to over-react.”
“Well, places like this can be intimidating if you’re not used to them.” He watched her eyes dart, evade slightly.
“I worry. Maybe I’ve also had my share of bad luck or made poor choices in health …” She stopped. She’d look rude if she continued where she was headed.
“What?” His curious tone urged her to finish.
“It’s nothing really.” She felt timid.
“No…go ahead.”
“Well, my pediatric group wasn’t the best choice. I like the woman we usually see, just not her abrupt colleagues. Or else my tolerance is really way off. So being here…” Maren closed her eyes momentarily. “I’m sorry.”
Dr. Kramer raised the hot coffee to hide a cringe. “No need to apologize.”
“That didn’t come out right. Again,” she admitted. “The doctor who brought him into this world, in Annapolis…loved her, too. I’m not totally anti-doctor.”
“Just half way,” Kramer said, with coffee cup shielding an erupting grin. “No really, social skills are a commodity.” He laughed. “I have a friend. We trained together. He has a theory that some of us physicians either get that social deficit or we’ve crossed over to being human.”
Maren Mitchell smiled. “Which are you?”
“You be the judge.” He laughed again. “Sorry you had the difficult kind.”
“Is difficult your friend’s clinical diagnosis?”
“No, but…” Dr. Kramer leaned closer. “Jerk isn’t an ICD-9 diagnostic code.”
Maren Mitchell felt the tension escape with her laugh. Her son’s doctor clearly could be as disparaging as she could be at times. She stared out the window trying not to say something amiss again or he’d think she lacked social graces.
“Café au lait at a hospital cafeteria…a French touch.”
“Our marketing gurus. Next they’ll open a sushi bar.”
“Yeah, they’re getting extremely active in that department.”
“Oh no.” Dr. Kramer eyed Maren quizzically as if he’d misspoken. “You say that with inside knowledge?”
“I’ve done consulting work in the office wing. In fact, I am contemplating a job offer.”
“R-e-a-l-l-y?” Kramer pressed his back against the chair. “Interesting. Step up or lateral move?” The doctor paused to sip his steamy brew. “We need a few fresh faces around here, but you seem undecided.”
“I am. I work from home now.” She struggled with just how to put ‘I’m an anxious mess with anything to do with medicine’ into words and decided simply, she just wouldn’t go there. “Clock ticks on my answering her, too.”
“When do you have to do that?”
“Today is? Thursday? I think.” Embarrassed, she shook her head but she had been a little preoccupied in the preceding 24 hours. “Tomorrow.”
“Well, if my opinion counts, I’d say go for it. Then you can have all the French coffee you want. French coffee, not cappuccino?”
“Some days I need every kind. I went to France a college semester when I thought I might major in fine arts. My morning habit along with croissants, but my fine arts fascination fizzled by semester’s end. Settled on marketing and graphic design, taking classes in art school—more career options with that path. Anyway, I’d love to go back. In another life.”
“Speaking of getting back, I’ll stop by later.” Dr. Kramer pushed his chair, eyeing the clock. Swigged his last gulp. “Hope it’s a little quieter for you.”
“Thanks again.” She waved him off, feeling a little calmer as she collected her handbag. On a scale of 1–10, her son’s doctor had moved her from a fear-injected nine to a less apprehensive six. Coffee and kindness provided prescriptions she needed to contain painful memories, still raw.
Be still inside. Get through this day.

Maren stopped to get a stuffed animal from the gift shop. The nurses had already lined Dylan up with a pediatric patient bag filled with a coloring book, crayons, small play dough, and a book about staying in the hospital. Shortly after she got to his room, Dylan woke in the discomfort Dr. Kramer predicted, but the medication he left orders for helped that fade quickly.
Lunch delivered on a tray and Maren’s quick errand home helped them pass a few hours. She sat coloring with Dylan on his bed as they heard a familiar voice.
“Maren, hi.” The soft tone of a male voice emerged through the wide-open door.
“Luke. How’d you know we were here?”
“I checked the register. When I saw a Mitchell listed, I thought I’d better come up.” She knew from her hospital projects and privacy rules that Dylan’s name wouldn’t be available to just anyone.
“You know me well, don’t you?” Maren uttered with a yawn. “It’s sweet of you to stop by. Appendicitis.”
“How are you young man?” Luke eagerly extended his hand.
Pretending to be shy, Dylan only smiled. “Better,” he replied.
“On the mend I hope?” Luke fixed on Maren, who last year had endured months of her own personal agony that then imploded into a fall season filled with hell for everyone else Luke worked with. September 11th knew no bounds.
“He’s getting better. At least that’s the latest report.”
“How are you holding up?” Luke’s caring eyes conveyed this couldn’t be easy.
“Working on being positive. It’s so good to see you.” Unlike her son, seeing Luke’s outstretched hand, Maren took it with a firm squeeze.
“You know I’m here if you need anything. Just call,” he said.
“I really do appreciate it.” The comforting touch helped. She hadn’t let it go, until two more people stepped through the door.
“Mom…Dad.” Maren moved to hug them. “Dylan, look who came.”
“Hello Luke,” Jack Cole said, extending his hand. His wife Audrey touched Luke on the back acknowledging him. She bee-lined it to Dylan, depositing a hug and kiss on her grandson.
“Grammy, see this stuff.” Dylan held up the crayons and play dough, some crumbled out of its container, while the rest had been formed into a blue whale staring out of the bag. Suddenly with his grandparents, whom he knew and felt comfortable around, Dylan propped up in his bed. “This one’s for you.” He offered Audrey one of his hand-colored pictures of a child attached to an IV.
“I love it. Look how well you stayed in the lines.”
“I did another one.” Dylan showed Jack a picture of a bear with a stethoscope. Unsteady inch-high letters spelled “Grampy” across the top.
“Thanks, buddy. How ya feeling?” Jack tousled his grandson’s hair while they all made him the center of their collective attention.
“It hurts,” Dylan said. “Yesterday I threw up all over the carpet.” That stain might have cured into the fibers by now.
“Bet that was awful.” Jack knew from Maren’s message how it landed them in the emergency department. Carpet was the least of his daughter’s concerns.
“Maren, I’m going to head out. Good seeing you.” Luke shifted focus to the Coles. Visitors were restricted to ideally no more than two people, and three was already a stretch of hospital policy. “I’ll give you a call.”
“We appreciate your stopping, Luke. That was sweet of you,” Audrey said.
“Thanks Luke. I’ll be in touch.” Maren walked with him to the door as they parted company. Luke squeezed her hand again. She gave him a hug with outstretched arms as he left. Since the nursing station—the hub of activity with doctors leaning over the counter and nurses in and out—was practically right across the hall, Maren left the door ajar only briefly.
She stepped back to Dylan’s bed. Audrey and Jack Cole doted on Dylan as if he was the son they never had. Though they had hoped to fill their Annapolis home with more children, Maren was their only child. Their bond showed it.
Audrey had given up full-time teaching at the end of the last school year to substitute. At 57, she wanted to travel, do community service, and help their daughter who was suddenly a single, working mom.
Three years his wife’s senior, Jack worked in finance for the State government. He had shifted meetings to make this visit happen. His career provided them a comfortable lifestyle, centered upon Maren, in younger years taking dance lessons, playing soccer briefly and landing as a varsity cheerleader in high school. When she wasn’t studying or laying out the next yearbook, Maren often hoisted the mainsail and jib with her father on his 18-ft. daysailer.
“This has to be hard on you, honey. I wish you would’ve called us last night.” Maren’s father rubbed his daughter’s back. She rested her head on his shoulder.
“I’m OK, Dad. I dealt with it.” Maren shifted and looked at her father admiringly. “You always told me when I was little that no one would face my fears for me.”
“I did. When you learned to ride your bike and the first time you trimmed the sail and managed the tiller on your own. I’ll never forget that wide-eyed look of yours,” Jack said, looking as if the memory suddenly flooded him. “Time flies. We’ve got to get Dylan out there, especially with the bigger boat nowadays.”
She grinned and put her head back on him. “Well, maybe your lessons stuck. This place has taken the wind out of my sails, but everyone’s been super nice.”
“That’s good. You know we can cancel tonight,” Audrey offered.
“No Mom, you’ve had these tickets. I’ll be fine,” Maren insisted. “There’s talk maybe he’ll go home before morning.”
“I know hospitals aren’t your favorite, but if he has a chance to stay, that’s probably best,” Audrey said with a slightly tutorial tone.
Maren appreciated her mom on so many levels, but occasionally felt as if she would forever be her student throughout life. Her parents had a very different tolerance for medical matters, making Maren wish she had it, too. Especially today.
“Any update?” her dad asked.
“Just that he’s progressing. I thought his doctor might stop by, but I haven’t seen him since early morning.”
“Hospitals are busy, Maren.” Jack detected a cord of frustration. “When you leaned on me, I could feel it…you’re tense. Relax, honey.”
“I know, I know. I’m impatient.”
Maren’s mother asked if she got much rest, to which Maren replied, “a minimal amount.” Her father offered to hunt down coffee but she kindly refused.
“You’d know where to find it, Dad. Still volunteering for church hospital visits?”
“Once a month or so. And yes, they do have decent coffee downstairs.”
“You noticed that, too.” Maren said. They smiled in unison. Like father, like daughter.
A brisk knock drew their eyes to the door, and white coat alone told them that Dylan’s path might be decided very soon.
“Mom, Dad, this is Dr. Kramer,” Maren said, pulling away from her father, to introduce them. “These are Dylan’s grandparents, Audrey and Jack Cole.”
“Pleased to meet you,” the doctor extended his hand to each of them before he moved to Dylan’s bedside. “The reports I got say Dylan’s still in some discomfort. Sorry I haven’t been in since rounds. He’s more awake.”
Maren thought he should be sorry for keeping them guessing the next steps. Her spine stiffened to prepare her nerves if she got unsettling news.
Dr. Kramer listened with his stethoscope and offered for Dylan to try it. He took the instrument in one hand, making faces at the unfamiliar sound and turning Maren’s frown upward. Kramer’s fingers ran over Dylan checking for soreness.
“Ouch,” he yelped. One word said what five might have solicited. With Wong-Baker FACES pain scales plastered in pediatric rooms, Kramer took the smiles and frowns chart from its hook and asked Dylan to point out his pain.
Frowning forcibly, Dylan indicated the hurts-even-more six on the scale.
“Sorry bud, all done,” Dr. Kramer said. “He has more energy this afternoon, but he’s feeling rough. Still, he needs to get out of bed some. Move around. That will help some other things move.”
“What things?” Dylan asked innocently.
His doctor leaned over and whispered two words that Maren thought she heard correctly as “bowel movement.”
“I have to poop for everybody?”
Kramer laughed. “Yes, even passing gas becomes a big deal around here.” Dylan’s frowning mom stood ready to correct her son’s word choice. “No harm…I can write for something that will help with that.”
“Dylan’s not shy about some things,” Jack added. “Most boys aren’t.”
Kramer grinned agreement.
“Grammy you can use this button and people get you whatever you want,” Dylan said, pointing to the call button on his bed.
Audrey Cole laughed. Having taught elementary school, a child’s discoveries never ceased to amaze her. “Don’t wear it out, Dylan.” Turning to her daughter, Audrey whispered, “You’ll have a lot to live up to once you do get him home.”
Maren smiled.
“Dylan’s won over the nurses,” Dr. Kramer said. “And my chief resident and the interns. There are more notes in his chart than on my other cases.” He cast a look at the grandparents. “So here I am adding more.” That hadn’t escaped them, and they all shared a laugh.
“They’ve dubbed him adorable. That might change if he keeps calling them when I step out,” Maren replied. “They’ll want to tie his hands. So where do we go from here?”
“I put orders on for him to stay until tomorrow after what my resident wrote here. I’ll stick with that plan.”
“Hopefully we can sleep with fewer problems than last evening.” Maren breathed more freely now. It gave her, Audrey and Jack their answer. “My parents were just heading to the Kennedy Center.” She looked at her watch. “It’s really OK if you need to leave. I don’t want you to risk being late.”
“Well, we wanted to stop by, but we’ll see Dylan tomorrow,” Audrey said, picking up her handbag she had deposited on the sofa. “Thank you Dr. Kramer. It was good meeting you.”
“Yes, thanks for helping our little guy here.” Maren’s father extended his hand.
Kramer shook it and met Jack Cole’s eyes. “He’s a great kid. We’ll get him out of here soon.” Kramer looked at Audrey also. “Have a good evening.”
“Thank you, we will.” Kramer stood silent as the grandparents headed to the door.
“I’ll walk you out.” Maren took two strides. “Be right back. Say goodbye, Dylan.”
“Bye Grammy and Grampy. Hey what’s this?” he asked, pointing to the pager on Kramer’s waist. Maren saw Dylan’s doctor do a 180 and hand over his pager, figuring Dylan would soon master it just as he had the call button. For being only six, Dylan had a way of winning people over, and an even better way of commandeering their gadgets.
“Hang in there,” Jack said awaiting the elevator. “Seems like a good report. Home tomorrow.”
“Thanks Dad.” Maren hugged them each a last time.
“You call us tomorrow, OK?” her mom reminded. “Get some rest.”
Maren held onto that thought as the silver elevator partitions separated them and she walked back yawning as mid-afternoon settled in. Coffee would have been a good idea after all.
“Did you get out at all today?” Kramer asked her, securing the pager back to his belt. The September sun would have beckoned anyone outdoors.
“Yes, I went home to pick up some things before lunch,” Maren said. “My parents had these tickets for the longest time and were hoping to have dinner in Georgetown. Always best to account for traffic.”
“Especially on the Beltway,” Kramer replied. He quickly wrist-checked his watch. “No guarantees at this hour.” Three o’clock started the afternoon rush. West Riverside Hospital Center was located south of Annapolis, far enough out of its boundaries to be a major hospital for communities along the Chesapeake Bay. “He’ll be out before 11 tomorrow, if all goes well. How’s that sound?”
“I can live with that.” She smiled. Springing him would have been easier, she knew. This meant more documentation and for someone on this hospital’s staff, a little haggling with utilization review at the insurance company.
Kramer set Dylan’s chart down and motioned for him to use the TV remote on the bed table. Kramer mulled something. Maren looked his way. “Anything more I should know?”
“No worries,” he replied. “More thoughts on the job you told me about?” Kramer nudged Dylan with his elbow and pointed to a channel Dylan might like.
“Oh no. I completely forgot.” Maren’s eyes widened. She plopped onto the sofa that had become hers for the past day. “Alicia expects an answer.” Maren dragged both hands through her long hair, that when not held back, lay just below her shoulders, loose strands framing her face, this afternoon.
“I guess it’s not really my business, but…”
Extroverted curiosity, she thought. “Why I’m not jumping at this in a post-9/11 economy that’s rocked advertising and marketing to its feet?”
“Well, economic headlines aside, I wasn’t sure if you had another job.” Kramer transferred from Dylan’s bed and sat down next to Maren.
“You must not have children, Dr. Kramer?” No wedding band evident. No tan line to suggest one either.
“No. Someday. I do like kids.”
“I can tell.” Thankful for a concerned doctor, she gave him the benefit of the doubt and shifted to a whisper. “What did the Queen call 1992—her castle burning, kids’ marriages crumbling?” She shrugged. “Annus horribilis. Like my 2001… I guess not stellar for anyone.”
“I’m sorry,” Kramer said, voice softening. “Some years I vaguely remember who was president. Last year impossible to miss.”
“Goes with a hectic job I’ll bet.”
“Side effect. ’92-’93 was a blur. My fifth year of residency, never a free moment.” He stopped his ramble, lowering an octave. “I can’t imagine losing your husband so unexpectedly. Were you or Dylan involved in the accident?”
“No, that’s partly why I cling to him so…if I lost him, after losing his father...with losing a big chunk of my work. All the changes, and worrying what this world has come to.” She shook her head. “2003. Ring…it…in!”
Kramer brushed his hand on Maren’s to punctuate what he had to say. “You won’t lose him…not over this. His counts are good, no fever. Nurses told me he ate well. I had them take out his IV. Doubt he will back slide. He just has to…”
“Yes, I know.” Maren took in Kramer’s unwavering words. How many doctors were this kind? But then Kramer seemed a little suave and either tremendously confident that others thought as he did or would do as he directed.
With his dark hair and boldly handsome face, Dr. Kramer seemed to have the right phrases stashed in his white-coat pocket. The minute she’d asked two nurses when he might stop by, they all aligned to defend him much like the nurse had done when questioned last night.
Kramer reached onto his belt to silence his pager. “Gotta run. May the force be with you for a better night.” He patted the firm surface beneath them. “If not, I guess you’ll get to think about working here.”
“Thanks. I brought a book if I’m up half the night.” She feigned curving her lips as he strode away. If he was this persistent with everyone, Maren quickly wondered about taking—or not taking—the job. She rather liked keeping a safe distance. Dr. Kramer seemed personable, but he could confine his directives to the operating room. Was she being too harsh, too sensitive?
Working here would be a constant reminder of pain, accidents, blood, and death. The last year had been filled with such images—from survivors pulled from skyscraper debris to the burning embers of a plane in a rural field, and smoke billowing out of the Pentagon. In this very hospital, Maren would never forget the sick pit in her stomach when asked about donating Mark’s organs that weren’t destroyed by the accident’s trauma. At first angered, she remembered how her minister had woven the gift of new life into Mark’s funeral service, with the large framed photo of him beside his casket. It had helped.
As she contemplated her next career move, did she really need to create more impressions that she would have to manage day in, day out? If facing her fears had been a familiar childhood lesson, Maren felt she’d capitalized on that education multiple times.
Someone ought to grant her a graduate degree, she thought, because it had been such hard work managing her shakiness today and last night—unsteadiness she hadn’t known since making funeral arrangements. Managing more might be pushing things.
Return to Beginning

Chapter 2

Despite her unease, Maren tolerated her second night on the sofa slightly better, feeling more positive by sunrise. She considered herself a people person and found chatting with nurses eased the edges of her frayed nerves, both literally after such a stiff sleep and figuratively with her unwanted discomfort.
Today, however, was Friday. Maren had to make up her mind. Would she become one of them here at West Riverside? Rest helped, but she still teetered on the yes/no fence. People easily spend more than one third of a day in the workplace. How many set out to make themselves miserable?
West Riverside Hospital Center wasn’t as advanced as Baltimore’s Shock Trauma or large city medical centers. It was a smaller teaching hospital that on any given day saw its share of boating accidents, ordinary maladies, or small traumas unless the patient required life-flight transport elsewhere.
She got her own coffee and brought it to Dylan’s room, fingering the paper cup and feeling a trace silly for avoiding the medical community. If the job here didn’t work, she could resume projects in her established business. Yet, if she took it, she’d let go of what she built. Pride was at stake.
With the business, if she paid her State fee, her LLC remained intact. Yet she wished to actively create a future, beyond the one already shaped by Mark. The plan-driven saver, he left them with ample life insurance, in addition to the settlement Maren received from his accident. She promptly tucked that into a trust as soon as the check had arrived. On a salary, she could stash away extra income, hoping she never needed it. But what if she did?
Dylan grew antsy confined to his hospital bed or the pediatric playroom. The staff brought toys—a boat and some small people figures. Maren retrieved an Arthur episode and another DVD when she journeyed home yesterday. Nurses encouraged her to take an hour for herself—another sign that maybe she judged this place prematurely.
“Ready to go home?” Dr. Kramer inquired as he burst through the door, his white coat sailing in like a jib in front of him.
“Hi neighbor,” Dylan greeted with a six-year-old howdy-partner cadence. Dylan looked at the TV set attached from the wall. He had put the DVDs to quick and unending use, at the moment watching the land of make believe.
Kramer did a double take. “Mister Rogers? My brother watched him.”
“Either your brother is awfully young, Dr. Kramer or you’re showing your… oops, never mind,” Maren said, stopping abruptly.
“Mister Rogers is an institution.” He redirected her age guesstimate. “My brother is 14 years younger, and I’m not that old.” He wasn’t so sure why he rescued her since the blush of her cheeks matched her pink sweater atop crisp blue jeans. Maren Mitchell looked more refreshed than she had the day before.
She rolled with his humor. “Everything has…moved along, shall we say.”
Dylan’s bathroom success charted, he knew what she meant. “Yes, I’m releasing him.” Kramer brushed Dylan’s brown hair aside as he felt under his bangs and jostled his attention.
“This is the water, and these people fell off the boat,” Dylan told him. Dylan maneuvered the small craft across his blue hospital bed blanket. “Watch out! Splash!” The child diverted attention from his animated play to the DVD he had obviously watched more than once since being confined.
“They have lifejackets. What’d you do, Dylan? Catamarans are stable. When you come for your appointment, I’ll show you pictures of my boat.”
“You have a boat? Like this?” Dylan’s eyes widened.
“Nah, a power boat. I used to have a sailboat. You remind me, OK.”
“You lost your sailboat?” Dylan asked.
“No, my brother uses it now.” Kramer sensed confusion in his young patient’s mind. If they hadn’t had this conversation, Dylan’s pupils would have indicated something other than awestruck.
“My father owns a sailboat,” Maren added. “I think Dylan feels your brother is a little kid with his own big boat.”
Kramer laughed. “Either you’re all kid or all adult. My brother’s a grown up now. I could probably take it for a sail, if I wanted to.”
He paused. “He certainly inherited your brown eyes.” Looking straight into hers, Kramer continued: “Most important: He plays quietly the rest of this week. No sky dives off the sofa. No rough and tumble. Don’t want to see him back here.” He handed Maren a prescription pad note to be excused from school. “Use this if you need it. Otherwise, he’s good to go during the day.”
“No more shots or needles…and no school!”
Kramer winked at Maren. “Yes, yes and…maybe.” Putting aside Dylan’s chart, he spotted brochures lying near Maren’s overnight bag, packed to leave. Without asking, he picked up two of the colorful pamphlets. Maren Mitchell certainly had talent. And her hands full, too, by the looks of this child’s activity suddenly sparked to full throttle.
“I have these in my waiting room. Have you decided about the job? This is creative.” Kramer glanced at Dylan’s mom. “It takes the edginess out of difficult topics. The colors…picked on purpose, I bet.”
“Thank you. Yes, they were.” Maren had refined the color palette her predecessors had used. No more blood-red bold or omen-evoking black headlines. For much of this series, she had chosen calming pastels—pink if she needed it—that gave serious subject matter and disease prevention a lighter air.
Maren regarded Dr. Kramer somberly, her eyes urging him to listen. “I really appreciate all you’ve done. You’ve been very kind, making me reconsider my—avoidance.” She hated to admit, but the last two days had brought some awareness. “I can’t let this stuff get to me.”
“It’s understandable.” Kramer appreciated Maren’s brown eyes looking incredulously into his. “So, your verdict?”
“I’m calling the director as soon as we get settled back home. You all win, I guess.” Maren threw both hands up into the air and let them fall without protest. “I never would have predicted this, but how bad can it be?”
A broad grin spread across Kramer’s face with the feeling he’d helped to influence her decision. “You really make it seem as if you’ll be working between the devil and the deep blue sea.” Stepping back, Kramer showed off a gray dress shirt and aqua tie with fine black diagonal lines. The accent melded perfectly into dark black slacks, creating a stark contrast with his lab coat. She wasn’t the only one who pondered a color palette.
“I wasn’t always like this. I used to watch ER episodes.” Mark had gotten her hooked when the popular TV series was a pilot. “It’ll be a change in routine.”
“Whatever you call it, it’s good to have you on board.” Kramer’s eyes glinted with intrigue. For a brief moment, he lifted his chin and raised his heels as he emphasized, “Congratulations and welcome!”
“Say thank you to Dr. Kramer, Dylan. He’s got to get going.” It didn’t look that way but surely he had other patients.
“Thanks dude.” Dylan scooted his little behind off the bed, hand ready for a high-five. Kramer crouched a few inches to meet palms.
“And since you’ll be staff,” Kramer added, standing tall and extending his hand to Maren. “It’s Steve, unless your boss insists on formality.” They shook as if re-introducing themselves, his hands sturdy and sure. Given what he did for a living, Maren knew that mattered, but considered them differently as they enveloped hers, reluctantly letting go.
“Thanks for the welcome.” She licked her lips with cautious anticipation. Something else had flashed between them, like a charge—something new and hopeful. Maren would take hope. She needed plenty of it, in fact.
“A nurse usually calls to follow up. Have a good weekend.” He backed himself several paces out the door.
“You, too,” she shouted before she lost sight of his coat cast in the fast-paced, self-assured breeze his movement created.
A week ago Maren might have perceived such as bordering on arrogance, but the scent of his after-shave lingered and if her fears had let her watch those TV medical dramas, Maren was certain that at least one of the male characters could have been Dr. Steve Kramer. Yet, with her hefty dose of skepticism, she wasn’t sure she believed in fictionalized medicine either. Fiction or non-fiction had the capacity to inject apprehension.
Seeing his shoulders strain against his white lab coat would certainly be one perk if that were the only reality of the job ahead. The one she was about to accept, and that brought her to this amazing cross roads of decision-making.
Priding herself on practicality, Maren knew that perk would only last about five minutes on any given work day. How she got through the rest would be her next substantial challenge.

Maren sat at her desk Friday afternoon in the home office created during Dylan’s toddler years. Framed inspiration occupied the wall above her Mac computer. When Maren turned 32 last March, her mom gave her a beautiful blouse, skirt and scarf. Typically her father would defer to Audrey who would put his name on the gift also. This year was different.
Jack Cole had seen his daughter struggle the preceding months since the unexpected death of her husband Mark. Reflecting on their sailing days together when Maren was a child, he had chosen a poster prominently displaying heeling hull, beam, and mainsail that had caught the wind atop an equally powerful dose of encouragement.
“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”
Maren loved that quote by Bertha Calloway, an activist and historian. It said everything her father had wanted to impart to his daughter. So it hung proudly in the place where she sat for long hours toiling over text and images.
As she silently drew in the message, Maren made good on her promise to phone Alicia Lewis, who was thrilled and scheduled her interview for Tuesday. A formality since Maren was 98% assured the job.
Lewis wasn’t kidding when she said hospital administration wanted someone quickly. Same day as her interview, Maren got the offer, signed it, and spent the rest of the week wrapping up client projects and scrambling together after-school arrangements. Until then, she’d made her work hours coincide with school, which Dylan went to thankfully, without needing the excuse Steve Kramer had written.
The last week in September, Maren started a weeklong orientation putting her at the hospital each day. Staff from various departments presented material regarding healthcare regulations, benefits and parking policy, privacy, HIPAA, as well as what constituted conflict of interest. She ended Thursday relieved she could continue some freelance work if it was out of the healthcare realm, and Lord knew she welcomed that prospect. She had stayed later that day to get her required TB test read two days after it had been administered along with the flu vaccine, and a blood draw to check titers for other required immunity.
“Maren, wait up.” She heard the shout from several parking spaces away. Crisp air, the kind that makes one welcome fall’s arrival, rustled the palette of leaves just starting to turn a few delicate shades of rust and orange on the trees.
“How’s Dylan feeling?” Steve moved his Ray-Ban sunglasses to his head and pocketed his keys having caught up to her. His assigned spot was close to the building, but she read in the orientation packet that he’d just been named chief of surgery effective September 2002.
“He’s doing well. Me: Major mother guilt. First week I haven’t had as much contact with him.” Maren looked across the lot. Her car farther from where they stood, she took strides toward it as he walked with her.
“They initiated you,” Kramer remarked of the bandage and cotton ball below her short-sleeved shirt. Her light blue blouse was tautly held beneath the waistband of her navy slacks, belted in black, the same color as low-heeled pumps. Open-toed shoes weren’t allowed she learned this week.
“I’ll live. Congratulations on your promotion,” she said smiling. “I didn’t realize.” But she recognized she knew little about the doctor who healed her son two weeks ago. “Change happens!”
“Yes it does. My new office is a mess. Fortunately, I have a secretary to help put it together. I refuse to give up weekends to empty boxes when I could be outdoors.”
“Well good for you. Since it’s Thursday, the weekend’s almost here.”
“And you…you’ve started I see.”
“Last day of orientation tomorrow. I plan to work here Monday, Wednesday and Thursday with Tuesday/Friday working from home. Eight to four this week; shifts Monday to nine to five.”
“Sounds very doable.” He paused. “How ’bout we celebrate? You have a new job. Me too. I know of this French place. Not the kind you go to alone…unless of course, I’m intruding, in which case we can confine it to coffee.” There was a sudden sheepishness about him. “I...I didn’t know if...”
“If what?” Maren recognized reluctance, a trace of strain etched on him.
“If you were seeing anyone. I wasn’t sure.” His voice noticeably deeper, Maren studied to understand.
“What would give you the impression I’m seeing someone?” Paperwork she had to sign asked—brazenly she thought—for marital status. It had nearly killed her to check ‘widowed.’
“During your stay a man asked directions to Dylan’s room. I was at the desk. In fact, now I remember. I got called between patients, walked past his room at one point, and you were holding hands, hugging. Same day I met your parents.”
“Ah, he took my hand. Sshh, I’ll let you in on a secret.” Maren leaned a little closer commandeering Kramer’s left ear. The newly crowned chief of surgery looked a little flustered.
“He’s married, too.” She loved the shock settling into his blue eyes. “Steve, he’s my minister…Luke. Has a wife, three kids, and a fabulous bedside manner. We love him. Absolutely love him!”
A sense of relief washed over Kramer. Jangling keys in his pant’s pocket, he looked to the pavement, then back at Maren. “You’re enjoying this aren’t you? I should be better at this.” He tried unsuccessfully to hide his meek grin.
Wondering how it could be that he wasn’t better here, Maren decided she’d in fact had enough fun and glanced at her watch. A man this handsome had to have much experience hitting on a woman.
“It’s a really tempting invitation,” Maren replied. “I’ve just had so many things on my mind. Can I get back to you? I ought to look at the calendar at home.” As she said this, she knew she needed to consult her internal chart of mood and readiness more than any wall calendar. Was this really happening?
“No rush. If we want to go this weekend, probably ought to make reservations by tomorrow.” Steve handed Maren one of his newly printed cards. “My email and pager, but I can give you my cell. Do you have a pen handy?”
This time Maren couldn’t conceal amusement. “Here,” she said, reaching into her handbag. “And no I don’t believe for a minute that you’re really not good at this, Dr. Kramer.”
“A man my age you mean.” He lifted a brow and smirked.
“For the record, you brought up age this time,” she pointed out. “My comment goes to experience. You’ve been married, right?”
“No, I haven’t,” he said smugly. “Now, what gives you that impression?” The tables had turned. He enjoyed watching her mind wrap around that newly divulged detail so much so that he leaned against her Ford Focus and thrust his hands deep into his pockets. His eyes never left hers, looking for his answer. A few awkward seconds passed. “Or, what are you really wondering?”
Her cheeks appeared to warm and not from the September sun alone. Maren wondered what message she sent off. If she had no interest at all, she wouldn’t give a damn, as Steve continued leaning into her vehicle, thereby keeping the conversation rolling.
“OK, I’m curious. Age? Relationship status? I get the impression you’re well-liked around here.”
“And that would mean?” He took his eyes away to scrawl the number hurriedly, handing her back his business card.
“That’s an eight or a nine or some hieroglyphic?”
“An eight.” Steve fumbled with the pen and crossed it out.
“I better get used to deciphering such chicken scratch.”
“No problem asserting yourself for what you need,” Steve replied. He handed her a totally different card confining his crumbled first attempt to his pocket. He wrote on this one with a slow, deliberate hand. Something made him want to keep her even longer. The parking lot began emptying slowly around them.
“That skill might be necessary since you’re dodging my questions. My demographics were an open chart with Dylan’s name on it.” Maren grinned, somewhat pleased with the assessment of her assertiveness he had just rendered, but still damn curious and slightly resentful that he had an edge on the information front. “I’ll email or call you tomorrow. How’s that?”
“I’ll look for your reply.” Steve fingered his sunglasses before he shielded his eyes. “I’ll check when sunset’s expected. Won’t want to miss that.”
“Ah, I haven’t said yes,” she reminded him.
“Yet.” He studied her, parted his lips, and beamed a mile-wide grin.
An irresistible one, Maren noted, more determined than ever to dig her heels into the pavement beneath them. “Here’s my number.” She scrawled it on a scrap of paper from her purse. “I should have my cards tomorrow.”
Steve reached for her hand, the one that didn’t hold onto her handbag shouldered on her right side. “Maren, I’m more than happy to entertain your questions. Have dinner with me. You’ll get your answers. A gorgeous sunset, too.” Maybe more he thought with another smile turned mischievous before he erupted in laughter.
“The devil you talked about is indeed in the details. Not in the deep blue sea.” She shot him an all-too-knowing gaze. “Have a good evening. After-care closes in 20 minutes. I better get moving.”
Maren reached into her handbag for her keys. Without asking, he took them from her and opened her car door. Maren tossed her bag to the passenger seat and slid in. Steve handed back the keys. “Likewise. Give Dylan my best.”
“I will. Thanks.” She pulled her car door shut and waved goodbye. To the man who liked to take charge; the one who also cornered her curiosity.

Ending orientation, Maren reviewed employee paperwork in HR, received her insurance details as well as her newly printed business cards with the title of marketing associate, and she discussed with her boss how the first week felt.
“I’ll make it work,” Maren said of the small office. “The department has these manuals, right?” Maren referred to the desktop publishing software they used.
“Yeah, we have the online help desk and database. Keep at home what you need for days you aren’t here,” Alicia replied. “Next week you’ll get a better feel for the real schedule. How’s Dylan adjusting?”
Like Maren, Alicia Lewis had studied partly at Maryland Institute College of Art, otherwise known as MICA in Baltimore, each obtaining their BA degrees elsewhere. When Maren and Mark were newly married, the two women remained friends easily commiserating about projects, deadlines, and life getting in the way.
“The typical complaints, not wanting to get up in the morning.” Hands perched on her hips, Maren sighed. “If he hadn’t been admitted, I wouldn’t shudder every time he complained.”
“A stomach ache isn’t always a stomach ache, I hear ya.”
“Yeah, but it turned out OK,” Maren admitted about Dylan’s appendicitis. “Staying here steered me into the department, Alicia. That and some nudging.”
“Well, whatever it took. Did I prod too much?”
“No, I totally understand where you were coming from. Chatting with Dylan’s doctor, I must have shown I hated hospitals or something.” Maren derided how that must have come across. “I let it slip that I had an offer,” she said. “He encouraged me to seriously consider the spot…kept asking if I’d called you.”
“There are some who appreciate us and others who see marketing as unnecessary overhead,” her boss cautioned. “Get used to it. Who was it?”
“Dr. Steve Kramer. I’d rate him on our side overall.” Maren didn’t offer the wisecrack he made about the sushi bar. On a scale of being marketing minded, Maren put him at maybe an eight, on a 1–10 scale.
“I don’t know him that well, but he’s got a good reputation. Works long hours. Doesn’t hang around, if you know what I mean. Works; leaves.” Alicia turned to Maren. “Trust me, a few females around here might love to have been you in a conversation with him. He’s single.”
“I’m aware,” Maren revealed. “He asked me out.”
“No way.” Alicia’s mouth fell open. “Are you going?”
“I don’t know. I put him off, but I promised a reply.”
“I’m seeing that as your style, Maren. How many days did I have to wait for a yes?” Alicia Lewis shifted into a hearty laugh as she stood in Maren’s newly appointed office.
“You call it like you see it.” Maren rolled her eyes. “Dylan in here was a legit excuse for my stall on that.”
Alicia touched Maren’s shoulder. “Of course it was, but I also sense it’s hard to know what paths to pursue when you’ve had a year like you just had.”
“Thanks, it is. My minister Luke always said not to make major decisions in the first six months, maybe a year after a traumatic event.”
“Mark died May of 2001? Almost a year and a half ago, right?”
“So I’m being too cautious?”
“Maybe not terribly cautious, but you have to decide when you’ll try new things. I know you loved Mark. The few times we went out after class, I could tell you made a great couple.”
“I do miss him.” Maren’s eyes scanned the floor but nothing could steer her away from images of her late husband. Alicia had noticed the ease they had between them, and yes, the affection, too. “So much sometimes.”
“What would Mark want for you, Maren? For Dylan? Think about that.”
“Mark wasn’t the kind to wallow. He was a doer. Problems got tackled. Straight on.”
“So he’d want you to live a little and be happy?”
“Yeah…” Maren lowered her voice. “But how and when? Foreign territory for sure.”
“Step by step. There’s no one right way.” Alicia looked squarely at Maren. “Like this job, the opportunity presented itself. You seized it. I’m elated. I hope you will be. I know there’s other stuff out there for you, too.”
“Like dating? Ugh. I’m so out of sync with that scene.”
“It’s a lunch or dinner or whatever he asked you to. Step by step,” Alicia encouraged. “I’m dating or I’d be jealous.”
Maren’s face fell blank. One ounce of curiosity confirmed. Steve Kramer was considered a catch, even by her own friend, turned boss. “How long have you dated Drew?”
“Six months. We met online,” Alicia revealed. “So no worries.” Alicia’s smile seemed innocent enough. “Look, I have to clear my desk. Promised my kids I’d take them shopping tomorrow and to the park. So I’m not taking work home.”
“Good for you,” Maren said as Alicia started out of her small space. “Thanks for thinking this through with me.”
“After my divorce, it took me some time. No one-size-fits-all guidebook. Have a good weekend.” Alicia waved as she walked to her office.
“Thanks…you, too.” Maren sat down at her desk. Still fairly sparse, they had given her a telephone, which she picked up, then set back down in order to find Steve Kramer’s number as she dug into her purse before the dial tone ran out.
She picked up the receiver again, this time with his business card in her other hand, and punched in the now clearly legible digits of his cell phone number.
“Steve Kramer,” he answered. It was about four p.m. He hadn’t recognized the number on the caller ID, but knew it was an internal hospital extension.
“Maren Mitchell, Dr. Kramer. How are you?”
“It’s Friday. It’s getting better.” Steve pulled himself away from his desk in the high-back leather chair. He planted one elbow upon the armrest, hanging onto his cell lazily with his left hand. He’d have to commit her extension either to memory or enter it into his contacts. Or both, he thought.
“I promised I’d give you an answer.”
“Yes, you did.” Steve leaned back having an idea that if she was rejecting dinner outright, she’d have told him via email.
“If you’re talking Saturday—tomorrow—I probably can do something. Dylan spends a weekend each month with my parents. They’re chomping at the bit to spoil him, especially after his hospital stay, so they’re taking him tomorrow.”
“And you’re telling me you can probably do something?” Kramer’s voice conveyed that questioning tone.
Maren laughed. “I can make it.”
He matched the chuckle. “Don’t let me rush you. If you need a few more hours to decide.” Steve’s expression rose. He got the impression Maren Mitchell didn’t do anything fast.
“A woman has to eat, and well, I do like French cuisine.” She sensed the tease but wasn’t about to let his ego swell. Flirting. Part of the dating drill, too?
“What time should I pick you up then? I was thinking 6:30 but maybe sooner, well before sunset.”
“I can be ready by 5:30 or 5:45… not knowing how long it takes to get there.” Maren gave Steve her address. He straightened his chair in line with his computer, quickly calling up a map search engine. He told her the name of the restaurant as he tapped her address into the keyboard.
“5:30. That way, we can have a drink on the observation deck. Nice views.”
“Sounds good. I’ll see you then.”
Maren hung up the phone, letting go a breath she held bottled inside. “What’d ya know?” she muttered aloud. No one save the fake plant in the corner could hear her. That plant had to go, she thought, as she gathered her things, grabbed the sorry-looking semblance of plastic and silk, and closed her office door.

Saturday morning came quickly since Friday night hadn’t afforded as much sleep as Maren and Dylan both needed. Still, Maren always liked driving to the home where she grew up, especially on a gorgeous afternoon with just enough sun peeking through a few cumulus clouds, which Dylan dubbed cotton ball clouds when he was only three. The description stuck.
Jack and Audrey Cole had raised their daughter in a community along the South River in Annapolis. To get there, Maren navigated streets, crossing creeks and small bays—inlets that people enjoyed as part of their way of life.
Dylan happily bounded into his grandparent’s house with its three bedrooms, 2 ½ baths, and den with built-in bookshelves right off the foyer. Every spring the daffodils bloomed in the front, followed by black-eyed susans, the state flower, prospering each summer. Though it was slightly past their season, Maren loved how some of them hung on.
She wondered if her parents would keep the house after retirement, but that seemed like a dozen years away. She considered them young in years, active in lifestyle. She didn’t like to impose, but they had grown accustomed to keeping Dylan once a month, especially in the last 18 months, in order to give their daughter a much-needed break from solo parenting.
Maren followed him with his backpack as Dylan insisted upon wheeling his own suitcase, which looked hardly more than a backpack, by her estimation. Some days, like this week in a new routine, she appreciated his independent streak; other times, it reminded her that her precious little boy was growing up.
It hadn’t seemed that long ago that she and Mark had brought him home as a newborn. It would soon be a year and a half since they had lost Mark. Dylan was four then, not even in kindergarten. Not in the public school system. He hadn’t known how to tie his own shoes, and he was much more shy. Back then, Dylan still had hit or miss accidents, and after losing his father, progress in potty training slid backwards.
That, thankfully, resolved. Today, rustling his bag to the front door, you wouldn’t have known that just weeks ago, he was one sick little kid, either.
“Hi Grampy, Grammy.” Dylan opened the door where he was always welcome.
“Hi honey.” Audrey kissed him and hugged Maren who strolled in behind. “Much traffic?”
“Some people out shopping, but I stayed clear of the Navy jam.” Navy Memorial Stadium could draw a crowd with college football fans.
“Dylan, you can put your things in your mom’s old room. Your train table is in the spare room. I just made some iced tea. Come have some.” Audrey led Maren to the kitchen and to a particularly sunny spot just beyond it where they could have a pleasant view of water in the distance. “How’s work?”
“Next week will be the real test. This was just orientation, learning the ropes, getting shots.” She took the glass and swallowed a refreshing amount. “Thanks, tastes good,” she said. “Hi Dad.”
Jack had just noticed her car and extra voices in their often too quiet home. “I heard you talking about your job.”
“Yeah. It seems OK, but it’s only been a few days.”
“I’m proud of you honey for taking it,” Jack told his daughter. Maren took note of the extra gleam in his eyes.
“I think Alicia instigated it, Jack.” Audrey smiled. “These girls were always friends. It’s good they kept in touch.”
“Yeah, graphic design has helped keep my mind occupied. I’m glad for that.”
“Anything we should know about Dylan? He’s OK to play and do whatever these days?” Audrey might not ask such a question if Dylan hadn’t been hospitalized weeks ago.
“I’d take him on the boat tomorrow but I’m committed to 18 holes of golf,” Jack added. “Maybe before the season ends.”
“Actually, he has some medicine for his ears. Instructions are on the bottle. He takes it without complaint.” Maren put it in the refrigerator. “Has to be kept cold so don’t let me forget it when I pick him up. He had his morning dose.”
“What will you do the rest of the day? Running errands?” Jack asked. He could never figure why women spent time going here and there, sometimes void of clear purpose.
“No, Dad. I’ll stop for groceries, but I have plans actually.” She took another sip of iced tea, downed it, and suddenly saw both sets of parental eyes inquiring. Being an only child wasn’t always the best thing when you became the singular focus. “I’m going out.”
“Where?” Audrey asked. “Just curious. Someplace fun?”
Maren laughed. “Now I know where I got my innate inquisitive streak.” She tried to mask the fraction of embarrassment. It still seemed odd. “I have a date. Just a friend from work.” Audrey and Jack looked at one another, rather matter-of-factly. Not disapprovingly. They merely fell silent.
“What? You think it’s too soon?” Maren’s eyes grew a little wider, ping-ponged between them. “You met him actually. Dylan’s doctor. We chatted at work, and we’re celebrating my new job and his promotion.”
Jack Cole smiled at Maren. “It’s been a while since my little girl has been on a date, and no I don’t think it’s too soon. If you don’t.” He rubbed her back in recognition of the step this was after the year she had. “Of course, I wouldn’t have thought you’d be going out with a doctor or anyone from a hospital, but then I never thought you’d work in one either.”
“You and me both, Dad.” Maren shrugged. The heaviness of that choice still weighed on her without total certainty it was the best professional call. She shared with him how the poster he’d given her had bolstered her decision to make the leap from freelancer to full-time employee.
“I don’t remember him too well. Except that he was handsome.” Audrey searched her memory. “He was good with Dylan, as I recall.”
“He was. Seems nice. I hardly know anything about him. And please, Dylan doesn’t know. It’s not a big deal.” Not quite a big deal. It was a milestone, however. “Speaking of Dylan, I better check on him.”
“Maybe he and I can go outside,” Jack said. “It’s too nice to stay indoors. He can play trains tonight.” Jack Cole enjoyed being the male figure Dylan looked up to this past year.
“He can play all he wants. Just nothing too terribly physical.”
“I guess that topic might come up tonight.” Audrey goaded her daughter. “Nervous?”
“I don’t know. I shouldn’t be; maybe a little.”
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“A French restaurant with a great view. He made the arrangements.” Maren gathered her handbag. “You really don’t think I’m pushing it here, do you?”
“No honey,” her mom reassured. “You’re not the type to rush into things and you need to have a little time to yourself. You’re too young to sit at home.”
And too beautiful her father mused as he walked into the next room. Jack had buried the unease fathers felt when daughters brought home new men. Mark treated Maren well. Through the years he had become a fixture in their lives, abruptly snatched away from them, too.
“You sound like Alicia.” Maren smiled. “Dylan, come give me a hug,” she shouted up the stairs. Hearing his mom, he scampered down.
Maren stooped to hug him. She planted a kiss on her son’s forehead. “Be good.”
“Mom, I don’t get in trouble here,” Dylan reminded.
That was for sure, Maren thought. “Bye Mom.” Maren kissed Audrey’s cheek. “Bye Dad,” she yelled as she walked into the other room to plant a kiss on him as well. “I’ll be here around lunchtime tomorrow if that’s OK?”
“See you then,” Jack said, reaching for his daughter’s hand. He took it in his. “And Maren…”
“Yeah, Dad?” Maren had pulled away after the quick peck to his cheek but this gesture claimed her a little closer again.
“Have a good time.” He winked his approval, smiling because she was not of the age where she sought it. But Jack Cole knew his vote mattered in Maren’s mind. It always had.
“Thanks, Dad. I will.” She let go and let the front screen door slap closed behind her.

Lauren Monroe is a novelist residing on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. A native of Pittsburgh, she grew up around boats and beautiful scenery in Western Maryland, later moving to the Washington, D.C. suburbs before settling across the Bay Bridge.

Various experiences shape her writing including marriage, family, friendships, a graduate degree in the social sciences, and her career paths.

In her spare time, the author enjoys reading fiction and non-fiction, boating, swimming, biking, good food, and travel.

The Maryland Shores has two books in the series, with Second Chances: Book Two launching spring 2015.

Letting Go: Book One of The Maryland Shores women's fiction series was published in 2014, and a second edition appeared April 2015.


(Continental USA ONLY)

Enter to Win Chesapeake Reading Basket June 11-Sept. 11th
Over $80 in value with books, kitchen, and Chesapeake items. 
One entry for every positive review placed. 

Items in the basket include: 

• Each paperback in The Maryland Shores series
Working At Home While the Kids Are There, Too
Surviving Separation & Divorce: A Woman’s Guide
• Blue crab mug, pot holder, Maryland crab magnet
• Wye River crab seasoning & metal crab cookie cutter
• Blue boat frame, two silk flowers representing the Maryland State Flower
• Basket, wrapped in cellophane, shipped UPS Ground w/in continental US

@LaurnMonroe #TheMarylandShores

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