The Surgeon's Cinderella
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From matchmaker...to perfect match?
Whitney Thomason prides herself on being able to find the perfect partner for anyone, but heart surgeon Tanner Locke is a real challenge! He wants to settle down, but he’s adamant there’ll be no falling in love...
When Whitney’s candidate falls through, it’s up to her to be the girlfriend Tanner needs for his weekend business getaway, but two days in close proximity proves torturous. They know giving in to temptation is a bad idea, but desire is more powerful than reason...
I never know where a story idea is going to come from. This one literally came from the sky. While I was on a plane, reading the airline magazine, I noticed an advertisement for a matchmaker who specialised in helping the busy professional. A spark of an idea was born, and that became Whitney and Tanner’s story.
This was a fun one to write—especially when this couple finds out that what they want is right under their noses. The setting isn’t bad either—San Francisco and Napa Valley.
I hope you enjoy the journey that Whitney and Tanner take on their way to finding true love. Hearing from my readers is one of my greatest joys. You can contact me at SusanCarlisle.com.
The Surgeon’s Cinderella
Books by Susan Carlisle
Mills & Boon Medical Romance
White Wedding for a Southern Belle
His Best Friend’s Baby
Heart of Mississippi
The Maverick Who Ruled Her Heart
The Doctor Who Made Her Love Again
Married for the Boss’s Baby
The Doctor’s Sleigh Bell Proposal
Visit the Author Profile page at
at millsandboon.co.uk for more titles.
Everyone should have a son-in-law like you.
TANNER LOCKE NEEDED a matchmaker’s help.
Two days earlier Whitney Thomason’s hand had quivered slightly as she’d held the phone.He was certainly a blast from the past. Why would someone like Tanner require her help?
An hour earlier he had texted her that he needed to change their arrangements and asked her to meet him at a small airport outside San Francisco. As the owner of Professional Matchmaking, Whitney had made concessions for clients on more than one occasion, but this was the first time she’d been asked to meet one at an airport at dusk.
Tanner had said something had come up and that he couldn’t join her at her office. He would appreciate her meeting him at the airport. If she hadn’t been familiar with his status in the community she wouldn’t have considered such a plan. She wasn’t acquainted with the small airport but had agreed to do as he’d requested.
Having the Dr. Tanner Locke’s name on her client list would be good for business. Even though it was unethical to publicize his name, she could say that an eminent doctor in the city had used her services. Who knew? He might even send her referrals. Either of those would make it worth her drive to meet him.
As the “big man on campus” when they’d been at Berkeley, all the girls had had a crush on Tanner, including herself. But she hadn’t been his style. He had been into thin, blonde, preppy sorority girls while she had been the heavy, dark-haired, mousy nobody. At least she already knew his type.
In the past couple of years she’d seen Tanner’s name in the news a few times. He was an up-and-coming surgeon in the heart transplant field. So why did someone as good-looking and eligible as Tanner need her help in finding a mate?
Whitney chuckled drily. For the same reasons her other clients did. They didn’t have the time or energy to weed out the unsuitable. She handled the nitty-gritty work of finding people with similar backgrounds so they only connected with the people most appropriate for them. It was a one-and-done process.
She rolled through the gate of the airfield minutes before she was due to meet Tanner. Would he recognize her? Why should he? She’d just been one of those people who had been a filler in a couple of his classes. Plus she’d changed a great deal since then. At least on the outside. She’d lost fifty pounds. She’d long outgrown having a crush on Tanner. Heavens, she didn’t even really know him.
Pulling into a parking spot in the lot next to a red single-story, cement-block building, she turned off the engine. A gleaming white jet sat on the tarmac in front of the terminal. There were a couple of men working around it. Was Tanner going somewhere? Probably off to Hawaii for the weekend.
Normally Whitney liked to have her initial interview in a neutral and laid-back place. A local caf?, the park. Out of the client’s high-pressure work world so that they were more relaxed, less distracted. She found that even though people’s favorite subject was themselves, when it came to their personal life they weren’t as forthcoming. Men tended toward telling about half of what she needed to know. The more successful her client was, the more insecure or demanding or both they were about their choices for mates.
At the sound of an ambulance siren, she glanced into the rearview mirror. The noise abruptly ended as the vehicle rolled through the gate at a normal speed and continued until the ambulance stopped close to the plane. A group of people dressed in green scrubs exited the back.
What was going on?
One of the men in the party broke away from the group and started toward her. That must be Tanner. It had been years since she’d seen him. He’d changed as well. His shoulders had broadened and his face had lost its youthfulness, having matured into sharper angles. He was still an extremely handsome man. Maybe even more so now.
With a wide stride that spoke of a person who controlled his realm and was confident to do so, he approached her. She stepped out of the car, closed the door and waited.
He didn’t recognize her. Was she relieved or disappointed? She extended her hand when he was within arm’s reach.
Tanner took her hand and pulled her to him, giving her a hug.
What was he doing?
Her face was pressed into the curve of his shoulder. He smelled not of hospital antiseptic but of clean, warm male. Whitney was so surprised her hands fluttered at his waist. What was going on? She was released almost as quickly as he had grabbed her.
Tanner glanced over his shoulder. “Please just go along with me. First names only. No titles.”
She looked beyond him to see the others in his party watching them. He made their meeting sound like a covert operation. She took a small step away from him. “Okay. I’m Whitney.”
“I’m Tanner. I would prefer we keep my request between the two of us.” His dark brown eyes beseeched her.
“I understand. I assure you I am discreet.” Most professionals she worked with wanted their interactions with her to remain low-key. Either they didn’t want others to know they needed help in their personal life or were just embarrassed they couldn’t find someone on their own. Whatever it was, she respected their desires. But no one had gone to the extent that Tanner was to keep his secret.
So why was he meeting her in front of his colleagues? “Then why here?” She nodded her head toward the group at the plane.
“I didn’t know I was going to have to go after a heart and I wanted you to get started on this right away.”
“After a heart?” Her voice rose.
“I’m a heart transplant surgeon. I’m in the process of retrieving a heart.”
“Oh.” He made it sound like that was commonplace. For him it might be, but for her it was a little unnerving.
He looked over his shoulder as the jet engines roared to life. “So what do you need from me?”
And he wants to do this right now, right here?
“It usually takes an hour or so for me to get enough information from a client to form a good idea of the type of woman they are best suited to.”
Tanner glanced back to where the others were loading the plane. “I don’t have an hour. I have a patient who needs a new heart.”
“Then I suggest we postpone this meeting.” Whitney reached for her car door handle.
“I’d like to get the process started. I’m up for a promotion and the board is breathing down my neck to settle down. I’ve got to do something right away about finding a wife. But with my caseload I don’t know when I’ll be able to sit down and talk anytime soon.” His voice held a note of desperation that she was confident didn’t appear often. “What I’m looking for is someone who takes care of herself, is good in social situations, wants to be a mother and would be supportive of my career.”
Really? That’s all he wanted? He hadn’t said anything about love. This would be a tough order to fill. “Those are pretty broad requirements. I like to know my clients well enough that I don’t waste their or their potential partner’s time.”
“Hey, Tanner,” the last man getting on the plane called. “We gotta go. This heart won’t wait on us.”
Tanner looked back to her. “I’ve got a patient that’s been waiting for months for this heart. I have to see that he gets it. Look, I’ve heard you’re the best in town. Do your thing. I’m sure you can find someone for me. Here’s my contact information.” He handed her a business card. “Call when you have something. Don’t pull away. I’m going to give you a quick kiss on the cheek. I need for these guys—” he nodded toward the plane “—to think that you’re my girlfriend.”
Before Whitney could agree or disagree, his lips brushed her face and he jogged away.
The man’s nerve knew no bounds!
Minutes later Whitney watched as the plane lifted off the ground and flew into the darkening sky. Somehow tonight the Tanner she’d had such a crush on and worshipped in college from afar had become a mortal man. The thing was she really didn’t know this Tanner any better than she knew the old Tanner. If she did manage to find him a match, would he take the time to get to know the woman or just expect her to bow to his list of requirements? Whitney’s goal was to find love matches, and Tanner had said nothing about wanting that.
And while they worked together there would be no more physical contact. She was a professional.
* * *
Tanner looked down from his window seat of the plane at the woman still standing beside her small practical compact car. She looked like a matchmaker. Simply dressed. Nothing sexy or suggestive about her clothing—he’d even characterize her style as unappealing. Her hair was pulled back into a band at her nape.
He didn’t go around kissing strangers but he had kissed her. Little Ms. Matchmaker had the softest skin he’d ever felt. She was nothing like the women he was attracted to yet he found her no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point personality interesting. People generally didn’t speak to him so frankly.
Did he know her from somewhere? Maybe she’d been a member of one of his former patients’ families? But she’d said nothing about knowing him. He was good with faces. It could be her smile that drew him. It was one of the nicest he’d ever seen. Reached her eyes.
He hoped he’d made the right decision in calling her. There had been noises made by the powers-that-be at the hospital that he might be in line for the head of department position when Dr. Kurosawa retired. A subtle suggestion had been made that a settled married man looked more appealing on the vita than a bachelor.
For a moment he’d thought about doing the online dating thing but couldn’t bring himself to enter his name. He didn’t have the time or inclination to wade through all the possible dates. Make the dates and remake dates. The speed-dating idea came close to making him feel physically sick. Being thought pathetic because he used a dating service also disturbed him. The fewer people who knew what he was doing the better. Truthfully, he was uncomfortable having others know he needed hired help to find a partner. Even employing a matchmaker made him uneasy. But he’d done it. He wanted that directorship.
Finding women to date was no problem for him, but he had never found someone who met his requirements for a lifelong commitment. Tanner wasn’t interested in a love match but in a relationship based on mutual life goals. Maybe with the help of an outsider, an impartial one, he could find a woman who wanted the same things he did? The search would be handled like a business, a study of pros and cons.
One thing he did know was that love wouldn’t be the deciding factor. He’d already seen what that did to a person. His mother had loved his father but his father had not felt the same. In fact, she’d doted on him, but he’d stayed away more than he’d been at home. Each time he’d left she’d cried and begged him not to go. When he’d leave again she’d be depressed until she learned that he was coming home. Then she’d go into manic mode, buying a new dress and spending hours “fixing herself up.” His father had never stayed long. Leaving two boys to watch their mother’s misery as he’d disappeared down the drive. Finally he’d divorced her. Tanner refused to have any kind of relationship like that. His career demanded his time and focus. He had to have a wife who could handle that.
Maybe the executive matchmaker could help him find what he needed in a woman. If that woman was happy with what he could offer outside of giving his heart then she would suit him.
“Hey, Tanner,” the kidney team surgeon said after a tap to his arm, “who was the woman you were talking to? Did you have to break a hot date?”
He shrugged. “Just a woman I met.”
“You know one day you’re going to have to settle down. Hospital boards like to have their department heads going home to a family at night. I’ve got a friend of a friend with a sister. Pretty, I heard.”
“I’m good, Charlie.”
He grinned. “I’m just saying...”
Tanner was tired of being fixed up by friends and family. Everyone wanted their daughter or friend to marry a doctor.
He looked over at the nurse sitting beside Charlie. She was talking to a member of the liver team. They’d been out a number of times but nothing had really clicked. Tanner didn’t want to date out of the nursing pool anymore. He wanted to go home to someone who wasn’t caught up in the high adrenaline rush of medical work. A woman who gave him a peaceful haven where he could unwind.
He expected Whitney Thomason to find that person for him.
By the next morning, Tanner had put in over twenty-four hours at the hospital, but his patient, who had been at death’s door, was now doing well in CICU. The life-giving gift of a heart transplant never ceased to amaze him. He was humbled by his part in the process.
Thankfully he’d managed to catch a couple of hours’ sleep on the plane to and from the hospital where his team had retrieved the heart. Now he had morning rounds to make and then he was headed home to bed. His scheduled surgeries had been moved back a day or postponed. Sleep was the only thing on his agenda for today.
Knocking on the door of Room 223 of the step-down unit, he slowly pushed it open. “Mr. Vincent?”
“Come in.” The man’s voice was strong.
Tanner entered and moved to the bed. “How’re you feeling today, Mr. Vincent?”
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sore.”
Tanner smiled. Mr. Vincent was only a week out from transplant. Where he’d hardly been able to walk down the hall in the weeks before his surgery, now he could do it back and forth with confidence. Transplants were amazing things. “Sorry about that but it’s just part of the process. It should get better every day.” Tanner looked around the room. “Mrs. Vincent here?”
“Naw. She had a hair appointment. She doesn’t like to miss them.” He sounded resigned to his wife’s actions. “She’ll be here soon, though.”
“The plan is for you to go home tomorrow. There are a number of things that the nurses will need to go over with you both.”
“Cindy doesn’t like blood and all this hospital stuff.”
“She’ll need to help with your care or you’ll have to find another family member to do it. Otherwise home health should be called in.”
Mrs. Vincent’s self-centeredness was just the type of thing that Tanner couldn’t tolerate. This man’s wife was so focused on her own needs that she couldn’t be bothered to support her husband’s return to good health. Her actions reminded him too much of his father’s.
“I need to give you a listen, Mr. Vincent.” Tanner removed his stethoscope from his neck. After inserting the earpieces in his ears, he placed the listening end on the man’s chest. There was a steady, strong beat where one hadn’t existed before the transplant.
“Can you sit forward, Mr. Vincent?”
“I can but I won’t like it much.” The middle-aged man shifted in the bed.
Tanner was listening to the man’s lungs when a platinum blonde strolled through the door. She stopped short as if she was surprised to see Tanner.
“Hello, Dr. Locke,” she said in a syrupy thick voice.
Tanner had only met Mrs. Vincent a couple of times but each time he had the prickly feeling that she was coming on to him. This time was no different. At least twenty years younger than her husband, she was overdressed and too absorbed in herself for someone who should have been concerned about a husband who had recently been at death’s door. Wearing a tight top and pants a size too small, she sauntered up to the bedside, leaning over. Tanner had a view of her cleavage that had no business being shared with anyone but her husband.
More than once Tanner had seen his mother act the same way toward his father. The action then and now made him feel uncomfortable.
“Hi, sweetie. It’s nice to see you.” Mr. Vincent gave her an adoring smile.
“So how’s the patient doing?” she cooed, not looking at her husband. His mother had used that same tone of voice when she’d spoken to his father.
“He’s ready to go home after we make sure you both understand his care.” Tanner wrapped his stethoscope around his neck.
“I’m not sure I can do that. I’m no nurse. I’m not good with blood and stuff.” She gave him a wide, bright, red-painted-lips smile.
Tanner stepped toward the door. “I’m sure the nurses can help you practice so that you become comfortable with what you need to do.”
“Cindy, sweetie, we’ll figure it out together.” Mr. Vincent took her manicured hand and gave her a pleading look. Just the way Tanner’s mother had looked at his father before he’d left for weeks.
“I’ll let the nurse know that you’re ready for her instructions.” Tanner went out the door.
The Vincents’ marriage was exactly the type he didn’t want. The one-sided kind. Tanner was afraid he would be too much like his mother. Give his heart and have it stomped on. A relationship where one of the partners couldn’t see past their love for the other while the other cared about nothing but themselves. A bond based on mutual respect would be far more satisfying in the long run. With his executive matchmaker contacts, that should be just the type of arrangement he’d manage to find.
The censoring look in Whitney’s eyes when he’d given his list of requirements had him questioning that she might have expected something more.
* * *
Whitney had spent the last two days working through her database in search of women who fit the description of what Tanner wanted. She had five names she thought might be of interest to him. Now she had to pin him down for a meeting so they could start the process.
She picked up the card he’d handed her and tapped it on her desk.
Why couldn’t Tanner find his own mate? What was his deal with the passionless list of requirements? He had nothing in common with her in that regard. She was looking for true love. The kind of love that endured forever, no matter what the hardships. The till-death-do-us-part kind that her parents and grandparents had. She’d built her business on that idea. Believed her clients should have that as well.
Once she’d thought she’d had it. That love. With a business degree in hand, she’d taken a job in a corporation. There she’d met Steve. He’d worked in an adjoining department and had seemed not to care that she’d been heavy. That had been a first for her. She’d had no dates in high school and very few in college. When Steve had started giving her attention she’d been ecstatic. For once in her life someone had been interested. After dating for over a year, they’d started planning a wedding.
Two weeks before the ceremony he’d called and told her he’d found someone else. The woman had turned out to be thin and pretty.
Whitney had been devastated. Again that inferiority she’d felt in high school and college had come flooding back. To fight the pain, she’d done whatever she could to keep busy. She’d spent her time walking whenever she’d been alone to prevent dwelling on her broken heart. After a while she’d become interested in wellness nutrition and had adopted a healthy lifestyle. Soon she’d joined an overeating support group and continued to slim down. Men had started paying attention to her but she’d not yet found one that she trusted to stick with her. She wanted a man who cared about her and not just her looks. Those faded.
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