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Authors: Alexandra O'Hurley

Tags: #Romance, #Healing Hearts 1

Falling for Him (2 page)

BOOK: Falling for Him
3.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Olivia! Congratulations!” Mrs. Palmer stepped in and pulled Olivia into an embrace. Mrs. Palmer had always been a touchy-feely sort and was one of the few people outside her family who Olivia could stand fussing over her. Plus she always smelled of vanilla and gardenias, which made Olivia smile for some reason.

She lifted her gaze and noticed Liam standing at the bottom of the entry stairs looking up at her. Stiffening, she leaned back and took in the sight of him. She hadn’t seen him since he’d left for college, followed by medical school, leaving her to cry into her pillow for weeks, her heart broken. For years, she’d been left with tidbits of news when the Palmers had come for dinner, but it hadn’t been enough.

Olivia soaked in the sight of him like a thirsty woman, needing the nourishment of his presence. He was a towering man, well over six feet, and his wide shoulders had made him an incredible football player in high school. Coupled with the perfectly aquiline nose and strong chin, he was almost too masculine, but his full lower lip softened his appearance somewhat.

Olivia remembered sitting in the bleachers with her family at the occasional game they would attend with the Palmers, her secretly fantasizing about being one of the cheerleaders on the sidelines, getting a kiss from him after he threw the game winning touchdown. She felt her face fill with heat as her gaze centered on his lips. She wondered what it would be like to be the focus of his intimate attentions.

Suddenly, she realized she was standing there gawking at Liam and hadn’t welcomed them in. “Come in, please, come in,” she said quickly as she stood back to give them room. She shook her head, wondering how the remnants of a crush she’d last dwelled on a decade before could come crashing into her as he’d never left. The last time he’d seen her, she’d been almost eleven. Now she was a woman of twenty-two. Then why did she still feel like that ten-year-old in his presence?

As the trio scuffled in, Olivia’s parents came around the corner and loud welcomes and hugs, along with a few pats on the back, were exchanged by the old friends. Soon after, her mother and Mrs. Palmer left to look at the spread of food the caterers had put out while the older men exited to the bar.

Leaving her there, alone with Liam.

Olivia looked up at him, not sure what to say, knowing whatever she might utter wouldn’t be as sophisticated as the dreams she’d have of seeing him again. A smile was plastered to his face as he looked her over, but she sensed he didn’t know what to say, either. He was so handsome, so perfectly wrought. Why couldn’t she have a man like him?

Because she was plain, slightly overweight, and walked with a limp. After years of studying literature, she knew girls like her didn’t win the hearts of the dashing heroes. They were lucky if they walked away with the gallant sidekick. More often than not, they didn’t even appear on the pages.

He frowned for a moment as his gaze regarded her, and she wondered what he’d found lacking. “Olivia, look how much you’ve grown.”

“I just graduated college. Did you expect a little girl in my place?”

A bemused smile twisted his lips at her comment. “No, but it’s been at least ten years since I’ve seen you. It’s just a big change after all that time.”

“It’s been eleven years since you left.”

His brow furrowed at her comment, the dark swaths arched together before a smile erupted across his face. Her reply must have amused him, as the sides of his lips twisted up as he looked at her. “Have you missed me so much you’ve counted the days, Babycakes?”

She felt the blush cross her face at the old nickname. She wasn’t five anymore. “The name’s Olivia.”

“Yes, of course.”

Another of his too-white smiles stretched the perfect angles of his tanned face. She was floored by that smile, her heart pitter-patting in her chest like some silly cartoon.
Dr. Liam Palmer.
He was the man she’d hoped would be her husband one day. Seeing him like this only made her realize that it would never be. He was the shining star of his family, the ruggedly handsome doctor with the killer smile, saving patients left and right, she was sure. Olivia was Quasimodo. She wondered if she should go look for her bell to ring, anything that would pull her from the awkward conversation.

Instead, her nerves forced rude questions to her lips. “What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be at Johns Hopkins saving lives and such?”

He smiled once more. “I’ve been offered an opportunity to work with Dr. Ethan Peterson, one of the best surgeons on the east coast. How could I refuse the chance to come back home
get to work with such a top-notch doctor? I’ll finish the last three years of my residency here.”

“And then what?”

His gaze settled on her face, an odd look crossing his features. “Then I hope to complete a goal that’s been a long time coming.”

His voice had lowered, the hushed tones making her skin tingle. Or perhaps that been his gaze, which was more like a caress than a stare. “And what’s the goal?”

“That, I can’t tell you. Not yet. But soon, you’ll hear all about it.” The jovial smile was back and he jostled a gift in his hand, something he’d apparently gotten her for a graduation gift. His gaze dropped to it. “Where can I put this?”

She pointed to the parlor across from them. “Over there, I suppose.”

“Ah, right.” He suddenly looked nervous, as if he wanted to be anywhere but there. “I think I’ll go find my parents.”

He turned to leave, and she pivoted to head up the stairs but stopped when he called her name. When she turned around, the seriousness on his face stunned her.

“I’m so glad you made it to your goal, that you’ve accomplished this feat. I’m very proud of you, Babycakes.”

She heard the vile nickname but ignored it; the depth of what he was saying meant too much to her to bring it up. He smiled and sauntered off, leaving her standing there breathless and shocked. Olivia wasn’t exactly sure what that had been about, but her chest ached with the sentiment and tears stung the back of her eyes for some reason. Shaking the sensation off, she wandered back up the stairs, deciding it was better to hide as the guests arrived. Perhaps she could hide the rest of the day. She wasn’t sure anyone would even notice.

An hour later, her mother found her typing away on her manuscript.

“There you are! I’ve been looking everywhere for you. We were about to serve the cake and couldn’t find you.” Her mother walked closer and saw the open document on the screen. “This is more important than your party?”

“Your party. I told you I didn’t want one.”

“Olivia Anne, those people downstairs are here to celebrate your accomplishment. The least you could do would be to spend some time with them.”

As she stood, her mother also took note her dress was long gone. Maria picked at the edge of her hoodie and wrinkled her nose. “Would it have killed you to stay dressed a little while longer?”

Olivia rolled her eyes heavenward and tried to collect herself. She didn’t want to go back down, but knew she had to. Her mother would never let her live it down if she didn’t. Moments later, she smiled as they brought the cake. She’d cut into the first slice and took the first bite, a round of cheers going up around her as she did. She tried not to sigh loudly as they all twittered and smiled around her. Her gaze drifted to Liam and she saw the bemused look on his face, as if he knew exactly what was going through her mind. She tried to keep her stare from him for long, afraid he would figure out other things going through her mind as well.

Soon after they finished the cake, she politely thanked those assembled as she opened one impersonal gift after the other. She knew she shouldn’t be rude, but she almost wished they hadn’t bought her anything at all, but it had been the price of admission to her mother’s party. The guests had been expected to bring something and she was expected to fawn over it, whether she liked it or not. She wished she’d thought ahead of time and asked the families to donate to her favorite charity in lieu of gifts, but she wasn’t used to big parties in her honor, either.

When she’d received Liam’s gift, she’d gazed at him for a brief moment before she began to tear through the tissue paper it was wrapped in. Her fingers shook and she hoped no one noticed. Once she’d cleared the paper away, she saw the most exquisitely bound leather notebook she’d ever seen. The cover looked like stained glass, shards of color reminding her of the Tiffany lamp in her father’s office. A fine pen was attached to the side, encrusted with crystals that resembled the cover.

“For you to write down your ideas. Your mother says you spend all day typing away. I thought an old-fashioned notebook might come in handy and get you outside on occasion.”

Her gaze flew to his and she almost sensed a note of hesitancy in him. It was a remarkably thoughtful gift from a man she hadn’t seen in so long. She looked back over the sterile, benign gifts everyone else had given her. None of these people truly knew her and hadn’t made an effort in the gift giving. She knew it was the thought that counted, but she knew they had only bought the items because it was expected. His gift had been thoughtful and heartfelt. He’d even apparently talked to her mother to find out what she might like. Her gaze returned to the notebook and she felt tears prickle the back of her eyes. She fought to hold the emotion back. “Thank you, Liam. It’s lovely.”

His smile pierced her heart and made her realize that old crushes never really faded away. She couldn’t imagine why a man like him would never be interested in a woman like her, yet she couldn’t stop the wave of longing she still felt for him. She captured his stare for a moment longer before he turned from her and began talking to her aunt.

Everyone began to rise around her and either made their way to the door or to the buffet to grab another plate of food, leaving Olivia to feel as if she wasn’t even there. They all drifted away without a word, instead clustering into smaller cliques and couples, and talking to one another. Their laughter flittered around her and felt like slings and arrows to Olivia’s soul. She was forgotten once more, the outsider. She took it as an omen and made her hasty retreat back to the safety of her room, the notebook in her hand. It was the only gift that mattered to her.

Chapter 2

Four years later…

Olivia rocked on the swing, pulling her cardigan up tight as a stiff autumn breeze twirled around her. Dried leaves danced on the air as more of the brightly colored foliage fell from the trees in her backyard. She brought the old dog-eared book closer as she perused the pages of her romance novel. The two young lovers were intertwined in lovemaking, bringing heat to her face … and a few other intimate spots. It wasn’t the first racy romance she’d ever read, but the steamier scenes always made her blush. She hadn’t known that kind of passion the two were engulfed in, but she longed to have that same fire in her own life.

She lived vicariously through the characters on the page, knowing this kind of relationship wasn’t for her. The few men she’d dated hadn’t wanted the kind of romance she read about in the books that were her guilty pleasure. Heroines didn’t have wide hips, curving stomachs, or ample bosoms. Well, perhaps they did have the ample bosoms, but not along with the first two. It also didn’t help that she walked with a slight limp, a remnant from her fall so many years ago. Her mother told her that it was barely noticeable, but to Olivia, she felt as if that was all anyone could see when they looked at her.

Another gust swept across her and made her shiver. She put down the book, and her gaze ventured across the lawn, stopping on the tree stump in the middle. Why her mother had never had the gardeners remove it, she’d never know. Maria Owens had been adamant that the tree, which had nearly killed her daughter, be removed from her sight, but now the grayed-out stump was still a reminder of the day Olivia’s life changed forever.

“Olivia! Come in out of the chill. I’ve made soup.”

Pulled out of her reverie by her mother’s voice, she stood, stretching a bit before she took her first step. Working out the kinks always seemed to help her get moving easier. Once done, she carefully ambled across the lawn and slipped in the back door, the scents of her mother’s cooking hitting her instantly.

“You’re going to catch your death out there in the chill, Olivia. Come warm yourself with some lunch.”

Olivia sat at the kitchen table as her mother set a bowl before her. Without words, she started to eat, spooning the warm liquid into her mouth, knowing her mother was going to begin pressuring her once more. Maria sat down beside her, a bowl for herself in her grip.

“Did you look over the pamphlet I left for you?”

Olivia’s stomach turned, even though she’d known it was coming. “Yes, I looked it over.”

She felt her mother’s expectant gaze on her, but she didn’t want to answer any further.


“And?” She ladled another spoonful into her mouth to give her mind an extra moment to think. “And … I don’t think I want to do it.”

“But … this could be life changing for you.”

“I understand that, but it’s my life. I have the right to choose how I spend it.”

“You’d rather continue on like … this?”

Tears prickled the back of her eyes from the sense of rejection. Even though logically she knew her mother meant no slight, she couldn’t push away the sensation she would never be good enough for her mother, no matter what. “Surgery has complications. There’s a chance something could go wrong and I could be paralyzed from the waist down. The doctors told you twenty years ago it was a miracle I was even walking at all. I don’t want to chance it.”

“Exactly! Twenty years ago. Medicine has changed dramatically in that time. This is your opportunity to have an
life for once.”

“Active? You mean skinny.” Olivia wanted to bite her tongue as soon as the words came out, her instinctual defensive hackles rising before her brain put a stop to her mouth. Yet she couldn’t help feeling as if she was a disappointment. Her mother was always pushing her, prodding her to do more. Nothing was ever enough.

BOOK: Falling for Him
3.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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