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Jennifer Youngblood

Dancing With the Doc (Falling for the Doc Romance Series)

Dancing With the Doc (Falling for the Doc Romance Series)

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📚Read an Excerpt

“Cat’s got a boyfriend! Cat’s got a boyfriend,” Miriam sang out.

“Shh! I don’t have a boyfriend,” she hissed. “Besides, he can’t be my boyfriend if I don’t even know who he is.”

“Let me see another one.” Miriam snatched the next note from Cat’s hand and started reading. “‘Dear Cat, How’s it going? Hero.’ Look at the nice heart he drew. How romantic.” Her voice had a teasing tone.

Cat turned the pile over and picked up what had to be the oldest note from the bottom of the stack. The paper was so brittle and weathered that a corner broke off when she unfolded it. “Wow. Red crayon. How old is this?” The handwriting looked like it belonged to a kindergartener.

“‘Dear Carmalitta.’” She sighed. “How come nobody around here knows how to spell my name?” Now, most people knew her as Cat, but when she was younger everyone called her Carmelita. She continued reading. “‘You’re nice and priddy. Can we be frinds?’” There were two boxes … a yes and no. It was signed Hero. She pursed her lips. “Even back then he was calling himself Hero.”

“I guess Superman was already taken,” Miriam teased.

The bus slowed down and pulled to the side of the street in front of the school. Cat got off the bus, still pondering over the notes. Who was Hero? She looked at the masses of students congregating beneath the breezeway, waiting for school to begin. Was Hero here?

Cat went to place the notes back into her pocket, but the wind caught one and sent it sailing across the yard in front of the school.

“Oh no,” Miriam moaned. “We’ll never catch it.”

The note skimmed the ground to the far side of the schoolyard and would have escaped through the fence had a boy not stomped his boot down, trapping it. They watched as he bent over and picked it up. When they could see his face, they gasped. It was Drew. He was the last person they wanted in on their secret.

“We’ll never get it back from him,” Miriam groaned.

Despair sank over Cat. Which one of the notes did Drew have? One with her name on it? How many Cats were there in the school? She had no idea. Not wanting Drew to see her nearby and connect the note to her, she grasped Miriam’s arm. “Don’t worry about it. Let’s go inside.”

The notes kept coming all that school year and into the next. Sometimes they were flirty, sometimes sad, always anonymous. Cat was dying to know who Hero was, but it seemed that the person was being very careful to never give any clues about his identity. They didn’t come every day, but at least a handful each month, and often, a few times a week there was a surprise waiting for her in the tree.

Winter came and went. Spring arrived in an explosion of color. Chicago’s famous winds ripped blossoms from the trees and sent them cascading in waves down the street. They gave Cat all the more reason to dance as she leapt over and through the tumbling masses of petals rolling in the wind.

As Cat left for school, she stopped by the tree. There hadn’t been anything there for over a week. When she spotted the slip of paper, a smile curved her lips as she hungrily read it.

Dear Cat,
Sorry about all the notes. I promise I’m not a stalker. I just like having someone to talk to. If you hate the notes and want me to stop, just put a rock in the knothole, and I won’t send any more. But I hope you don’t. Hero.

Stop? Why would she want him to stop? The notes were great. They made her feel special. She’d been checking the tree every morning hoping for more. She wouldn’t have minded if Hero sent one every day. This past week, she’d begun to fear that Hero had lost interest in her. Tucking the note in her pocket, Cat went to the bus stop. When she returned home that afternoon, she got out a piece of paper and pen and started writing.

Dear Hero. Who are you? I have to know. I’m in Mrs. Nelson’s class. Are you in her class too? I love your notes.
Wait! She’d used the word love. That wouldn’t do. She crumpled up the paper and got another one.

Dear Hero. Thanks for the notes you’ve sent me. They mean a lot. It’s been really hard for Mami and me without Dad here. Do you have two parents? I mean, do both of them live with you? I hope your life is happy, and I want to meet you. From Cat.

She folded the paper in half, and folded that in half again. With a nimble step, she hurried out to the tree to place it in the knothole. She smiled thinking of Hero’s reaction when he realized that she’d written back. On more than one occasion, she’d looked out the window at the tree, hoping to catch a glimpse of Hero, but he was too stealthy.

She hardly slept a wink that night, wondering how Hero would answer. To her disappointment, there was no note.

When Cat and Miriam got off the bus at school, the breezeway was empty because it was raining. They ran to the school entrance with all the rest of the kids while teachers clutching umbrellas urged them inside. Cat went to her locker to retrieve her books. As she closed the door, she was surprised to see Drew O’Hannon there.

“Hi, Cat.”

It was hard to tell if he was sneering or smiling. She shrank back.

“I see you found my notes.”

Her mouth went dry. Somehow, she managed to find her voice. “What notes?”

“The ones in the tree,” he said smugly.

Her heart began to pound. No, this couldn’t be happening! Hero couldn’t be Drew O’Hannon. Drew was a blockheaded bully. He couldn’t possibly be so sensitive and insightful. Had he been toying with her the entire time, or was Drew different inside than his outer shell?

He leaned closer. “Do you like them?”

Confusion swirled in Cat’s head.

“It was kind of you to write back.” Drew held up a sheet of paper—her note that she’d placed in the knothole this morning.

Her heart clutched as she tried to reconcile Hero with Drew O’Hannon. It was impossible. Her mind simply couldn’t do it.
She clutched her book to her chest. “I—I’ve got to get to class.”

“Be sure and drop me a note anytime,” Drew said glibly with a wink. “You know our secret spot.”

A wave of nausea rolled over Cat as she turned and hurried away, eager to put as much space between her and Drew O’Hannon as possible.

There was no way she would ever leave a note for Drew O’Hannon.

Her heart cracked.

Hero was dead.

She moved on from her old crush. Then she realized that he’s her new doctor.

Cat Hernandez has an up-and-coming dance studio in quaint, coastal Clementine, Alabama. She has escaped the unpleasantness of her past and is happy with her new life.

An unexpected encounter with her former crush sends Cat’s orderly life into a tailspin, leaving her questioning if she should trust her heart or her head. Chase Brooks, a.k.a. Dr. Blue Eyes, is even more attractive now than he was when they were kids with his easy grin and adorable dimple. Too bad he’s unavailable!

As sparks kindle to a burning flame, Cat feels the menace of something unseen closing in around her, resurfacing old insecurities.

Can Cat and Chase build a lasting relationship, or will the bonds of the past forever keep them apart?

Read the First Chapter

Cat paced back and forth across the kitchen floor. “Are you sure you heard correctly?” She stopped and looked at the silver-haired woman sitting at the table, watching her with sympathetic eyes.

Romina nodded, a solemn expression on her lined face. “Juanita Garza saw Drew at the diner with another woman.” She motioned with her hands. “The woman had big blonde hair and a tight red dress that left little to the imagination.”

Her face colored as she shook her head slowly back and forth. “I knew that Drew O’Hannon was trouble. You should’ve never gotten involved with him. If your mother saw you now, she’d roll over in her grave.” She made a cross over her chest.

Romina had told Cat about the other woman a couple of hours ago, but Cat had been too upset to get the details, which was why she was asking Romina to repeat the story.

Cat ran a hand through her hair, swallowing down the lump in her throat. “I can’t believe Drew would do this to me.”

Actually, it wasn’t so hard to believe. Ever since Cat had started dating Drew in her sophomore year in high school, she’d caught whispers of Drew’s infidelity off and on. She’d confronted Drew about it, but he adamantly denied it.

Midway through her junior year, Cat and Drew started fighting a lot. Drew was growing increasingly possessive and began cutting Cat down, chipping away at her confidence. Cat had planned to break up with Drew, but then her mom suddenly got sick with breast cancer and died. The house where Cat and her mother lived was a rental. There was no life insurance, no nest egg. Cat was a high school student without a penny to her name. She’d hadn’t seen hide nor hair of her dad since he was deported.

She’d been eight years old at the time.

With no money, Cat was afraid she’d have to give up dance, but her instructor Mrs. Patterson insisted that she keep coming to class. Cat paid her tuition by teaching junior classes.

A few days after her mother’s funeral, Cat moved in with her next-door neighbor Romina Castaneda, a widow who’d been her mom’s best friend. It was just easier at that point to let things with Drew ride. Also, Cat had felt so alone that she needed someone to cling to.

Drew played the part of the doting boyfriend so well that Cat assumed they’d moved past the rocky phase of their relationship and were on their way to building something lasting. Then, the rumors started up again.

“Sit down,” Romina encouraged. “You’re making me nervous with all that pacing.”

Huffing out a breath, she pulled out a chair and slumped down. Cat let out a harsh laugh. “You know what? I’m not shattered by Drew’s infidelity.” She gritted her teeth. “I’m mad enough to chew nails, but I’m not shattered.” She sucked in a quick breath. “I guess I’m just mad at myself for letting it go on for so long.”

Maybe a part of her had wanted to believe that Drew really was the hero he pretended to be in his notes. The knothole, those notes … they’d meant something to Cat. She’d even kept them. Remembering the notes made her think of a softer, kinder Drew. “I guess it’s time I grew up and realized that Hero really is dead,” she sighed.

Romina looked puzzled. “I’m sorry?”

She offered a wistful smile. “Never mind.” Tears rose in her eyes as she fidgeted with her hands. “What am I gonna do?” She’d graduated from high school three months prior. Mrs. Patterson had asked her if she wanted to come on as a full-time dance instructor at the studio. While that was tempting, Cat was starting to feel like this neighborhood was suffocating her. Every time she looked at her former house, a deep sadness filled her.

She thought of Mami … how quickly the cancer took her life. Mami’s life had been hard and sad. She’d worked three jobs to keep a roof over her and Cat’s heads. Was it wrong to want something more?

In a strange way, Drew’s notes in the knothole had kindled a fire in Cat. They’d opened a space inside her that allowed her to dream of a new life with the possibility of a bright future with a hero who loved her for who she was. Not one who constantly tried to make her into something else.

Her brow furrowed as she thought of Drew. All he cared about was being a jock. He craved the admiration of prominent people. Nothing Cat ever did was good enough for him. If she wore her hair a certain way, he wanted it another. If she wore a particular dress, he found something wrong with it.

Romina gave her a perceptive look. “You already know what you need to do. You’re just trying to muster up the courage to do it.”

Cat’s head snapped up. “What do you mean?”

“You need to get away from here … away from Drew. You need to find your own life.”

Tears welled in her eyes. “It’s true,” she croaked. “It’s just …” Her words lost air as she tried again. She balled her fist, her fingernails digging into her palm. “I’m scared.” There it was. She’d admitted it out loud.

Romina nodded. “I know.” A tender smile spread over her thin lips. “But your mother will be watching over you from above. Never forget that.”

Tears dribbled down Cat’s cheeks as she nodded. She thought of something else. “How can I leave you?”

Romina patted her hand. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I’ve got my kids close by.”

A feeling of excitement trickled over Cat. Where would she go? Someplace warm. Florida. Mami had always talked of going to Florida but never got the chance. A new thought took hold, bringing back the gloom. “I don’t have enough money.” She’d squirreled away some, but it wasn’t near enough to move.

Romina used her hands to heave herself to her feet. She shuffled over and opened a door to the cupboard. Pushing her flour and cornmeal canisters aside, she retrieved a jelly jar. Her arthritic fingers worked to unscrew the lid. She reached in and pulled out a wad of cash. A large, gleeful smile filled her face as she turned to Cat. “How much do you need?”

“Thank you,” Cat breathed, tears running rivers down her cheeks. Her heart was filled to overflowing for this stooped, unassuming woman. “I’ll leave in the morning,” she sniffed, mopping her eyes.

A second later, Cat about jumped out of her skin at the loud pounding on the door. She looked at Romina, whose face was carved with worry. “It’s probably Drew,” Cat said unnecessarily. They both knew it was him.

Less than an hour prior, Cat had called Drew and told him it was over. He’d yelled, screamed, and called her every name in the book until finally, she hung up on him.

“Don’t answer the door,” Romina warned, clutching the jar tightly in her hands.

More banging.

A white-hot anger rose in Cat’s breast. “I’ll not be bullied by Drew,” she seethed. “Don’t worry,” she assured Romina, “it’s really over this time.” Running a hand through her hair and adjusting her clothes, she went to the door, trying to slow her erratic pulse.

“Open up, Cat,” Drew demanded, pounding on the door with his fist. “We need to talk.”

She flung it open, causing him to fall in. He caught himself and closed the door behind him. Then he got a good look at her tear-stained face. He swore under his breath. “I don’t know what you’ve heard, but it’s a lie. Baby,” he began, touching her cheek.

She pushed his hand away. “Don’t.”

“Will you just listen to me?” he demanded.

Cat thought of Romina in the kitchen. Romina was frightened by Drew and his outbursts. “Let’s go outside and talk on the front steps.”

Before he could protest, she opened the door and went outside, leaving him no alternative but to follow. It was a dark night with only hints of the fingernail of a moon showing through the fast-moving clouds. Cat sat down on the steps, pulling her knees to her chest as she hugged them with her arms. Drew plopped beside her. She could feel him watching her. He trailed his fingers over the naked skin of her arm.

“Cat,” he began in a sultry tone that was probably supposed to be sexy, but it came across as grating.

She jerked her arm away. “Don’t you dare touch me!”

Drew scowled. “You’re being ridiculous. I told you there was no one else.”

“People saw you in the diner,” she snapped, the anger returning full force. “You were with a big-haired blonde with a skimpy red dress.”

He blinked a few times in surprise, and she could see the guilt written all over his face. It made her sick to her stomach. She couldn’t believe she’d wasted so much time on Drew.

His words rushed out in a heap. “It’s not what you think. Monica works at the dealership. We were getting lunch for everyone.”

A hard amusement tickled Cat’s insides. Drew’s dad owned a string of car dealerships. Drew’s wealth had made him a big man on campus, making Drew think he could buy anything he wanted … including her. Well, those days were over.

Cat had thought him so handsome with his muscular build and thick crop of wavy, blonde hair. His quick smile and hazel eyes had turned many a head in high school. Drew was a bully when they were kids. If it hadn’t been for his notes, Cat never would’ve given him the time of day. However, she’d started to view Drew differently. And even though no further notes were exchanged between them in the knothole, she took note of him. Then, when Drew asked her out, she accepted and the two fast became the it couple in school.

Now, however, Cat was becoming disenchanted with Drew’s looks. She wanted more than a good-looking face and monster-sized ego. She wanted a partner in life—someone to build her up and share her dreams. Drew was not that person. He cared nothing for her dance or the movies and books she enjoyed. Furthermore, Cat didn’t fit in with Drew’s country club life and fast friends.

“Drew, I’m tired of your lies. I’m not an idiot. I know there have been others. It’s over.”

His eyes narrowed. “Don’t say that.”

The fight had drained out of her. Drew’s infidelity didn’t matter. She was moving on. She ran her hands through her hair, feeling weary to the bone. “It’s late, Drew. I need to get some rest.”

“No,” he countered, his jaw hard. “You’re not going to bed until we work this out.”

She grunted. “Get it through your thick skull. We’re through.” She stood. He sprang to his feet and caught her arm, his fingers digging into her flesh. “Let go of me,” she growled.

He smirked. “Or what?”

“You’re hurting me, Drew.” She glanced around, wishing there were other people outside. It was just the two of them, however.

A mask of anger twisted Drew’s face, and then she saw something that struck fear into the center of her heart—a smug look that let her know that Drew liked that she was afraid of him. It gave him some sick feeling of power. “I trusted you,” she heaved through gritted teeth, tears rising in her eyes. “You took that trust and stomped it into the ground.”

“Don’t you talk to me like that, you little tramp.” His breath seethed through his teeth as he spit out the angry words.

She winced at the stench of beer on his breath. “You’re drunk,” she said, disgust twisting her gut. His words stung, and she wasn’t going to take it … not anymore. “Go home, Drew.” She grunted. “I never should’ve let you into my life. You’re a low-down, cheating jerk!” Her voice escalated. “We’re done!”

The hard slap took her by surprise. Pain wrenched through her as her head snapped back. The breath left her lungs, her mind reeling to process what had just happened. Drew had hit her! She wasn’t one of those women. This couldn’t be happening! Tears burned her eyes. “I hate you!”

He punched her in the jaw.

She toppled backwards, holding her jaw. “Just leave,” she cried.

Grabbing her hair, he yanked her to her feet and began dragging her down the steps.

“Stop!” she screamed, hitting his hand, but it was useless. “Where are you taking me?”

“You belong to me, and it’s about time you acted like it.”

Panic engulfed her, her legs wobbling uncontrollably. Drew had been pushing her to be intimate with him, but she’d put him off. It was with a sickening dread that she realized he intended to rape her.

“Stop right there!” Romina’s thin, raspy voice filled the night air, bringing Cat a swift relief that left her dizzy.

“Go back inside, old woman,” Drew roared.

Romina stood in a battle stance, holding up the phone. “I called the police.”

Cat sensed Drew’s hesitation and felt the tide shift. He released her, giving her a look filled with such hatred that it shriveled her insides. “This is not over,” he sneered as he stormed down the walkway, got in his Mustang, and squealed off.

Cat’s legs were so weak she feared they might give way. She stumbled towards Romina, a sob trembling from her lips. Frail, meek Romina was her angel.

“Are the police coming?” Cat stammered as they rushed inside and locked the door. She dreaded having to talk to the police but knew it was inevitable.

Romina winced. “About that … I might’ve fudged the truth a little.”

Cat’s eyes rounded as she hiccuped a laugh. “You were bluffing?” Her hand went to her mouth. She realized she was shaking all over.

Romina nodded. Her features pulled into taut lines, eyes darting towards the door, as if she feared Drew might break through it at any moment. “You need to leave … tonight.”

“Tonight?” Terror streaked through Cat. Her jaw throbbed with pain. Gingerly, she touched it, thinking she needed to put an ice pack on it.

Romina looked her in the eye. “You need to get as far away from this place and Drew O’Hannon as you can. Go someplace where he’ll never find you.” She placed a hand on Cat’s arm, eyes cutting into hers. “Promise me.”

“I promise,” she croaked.

The future was a dark pool of muddy water. Facing it alone terrified Cat. Yet, staying here at Drew’s mercy was even worse.

She straightened her shoulders, trying to calm her pounding heart. Before she even consciously realized what she was doing, her silent plea lifted to heaven.

Help me, she prayed. Please, help me find my way.

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