Release date: June 15, 2015
When Alicia Fuentes walks into Dr. Raúl Mendez’s treatment room, something about the plucky single mom stirs his personal interest. After he diagnoses her son, Luis, on the autism spectrum, Raúl takes a chance and offers support beyond the doctor’s office, hoping friendship might become more.
Grateful for the help, Alicia is tempted by her new pediatrician’s kindness, consistency, and attractiveness, but she has no room in her life for a serious relationship. She’s juggling a part-time job and classes at the local community college to get her life back on track and pursue a cosmetology career.
Between his busy medical practice and his desire to help his family, who was deported when he was a teen, return to the United States, Raúl doesn’t have time for anything or anyone else, either. But his heart won’t be denied.
by Casey Dawes
Sensuality Level: Behind Closed Doors
Casey Dawes lives in Big Sky Country where eagles, herons, deer, and the ever-changing landscape of the Clark Fork River distract her while she’s writing contemporary romances.
An excerpt from California Sunrise:
Raúl pushed open the door to the examining room.
The petite woman standing by the child on the examining table turned.
The strong bones of her face, full lips, and dark eyes matched the structure of her body. Attractive. Not that he was looking for anyone right now.
“Are you Dr. Mendez?” she asked.
“Sí. And you are”—he checked the chart—“Alicia Fuentes.”
The boy on the table squirmed and let out a howl.
Raúl glanced back at the chart. No medical problem stood out, but the young woman had been to several doctors, including specialists at Stanford. Was it some type of Munchausen syndrome, or was there a legitimate illness?
“What seems to be the problem?” he asked.
“Luis is difficult.”
He was tempted to tell her all children were difficult, but the set of her jaw stopped him short. “In what way?” He leaned back against the counter, his interest piqued by what she might have to say. If the child wasn’t simply a fussy baby, it might be a chance to increase his behavioral development experience.
“He mixes up his days—sleeps during the day and wants to be up all night. He’s a fussy eater. I practically have to hand-feed him. He doesn’t seem to sit up well. And temper tantrums! I know all children have them, but his seem worse than other kids’. My grandmother says she’s never seen anything like it.” Snapping her mouth shut, she stared at him, as if defying him to tell her there was nothing wrong, that her child was normal.
In that instant, he knew there wasn’t anything normal about Luis.
“Although he hadn’t seen a wedding ring, he asked the question anyway. “How is he with his father?”
“I’m a single mom.” Her chin went up. “He never sees his father.”
A too common answer. His heart crinkled with sadness for her and anger at the boy’s father. “He has no contact with his son?”
The finality in her voice warned him not to pursue the subject.
He ignored the warning.
“It must be very difficult for you, especially so young.”
“I’m eighteen.” She made her age sound as if she were in her mid-thirties.
“He hid a smile. “The baby is twelve months, correct? What have the other doctors told you?”
“They don’t know what’s wrong. He’s too young for certain tests. They can’t help me.” Defeat crept into her words, and her shoulders slumped, but then she rallied and looked him straight in the eye. “I’m told you can.”
He hoped her confidence wasn’t misplaced. “Why don’t you take a seat, and I’ll take a look at your son?”
“Do you have children, Dr. Mendez?” She moved toward the chair but didn’t sit.
“Me? No. I’ve never been married.”
“Brothers and sisters?”
“Yes. Older brothers. Why do you ask?”
“It seems odd for a single man to be a pediatrician.”
“Like many of us, I come from a large, extended family. Lots of cousins. Lots of different problems—some the normal hazards of being a kid, some brought on by poverty. Giving kids a healthy start is a way to help our people.” He looked down at Luis and put his stethoscope in his ears. “Now let’s see what’s up with you, little man.”
The phone rang.
Yanking the tubes from his ears, he turned back to the desk and stabbed one of the buttons. “I told you not to interrupt me when I’m with a patient.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but your next patient is here, and her baby looks very sick,” Graciela said.
“She’ll need to wait.” He put the brakes on his temper. “Thank you, Graciela.”
“He glanced at Alicia. Her face seemed paler. Had the call bothered her? Or had it been his short display of temper? “I’m sorry about the interruption. I tell the ladies out front each patient is as important as the next, but they have their own priorities.”
As if sensing something was going on, Luis began to stir and wail. Raúl touched the boy’s arm to comfort him, but the noise increased in volume.
“I see what you mean about being difficult.” He took a penlight from his pocket and waved it in front of Luis’s eyes.
The boy’s gaze followed the moving light, and he calmed down.
“Good boy.” Raúl patted the boy’s shoulder, then clicked off the light.
Luis’s gaze locked on the ceiling tiles, his eyes moving as he traced a pattern visible only to him. Raúl went through the vitals and tested the child’s reflexes. No scars or bruises marred his skin.
“Hi, Luis.” Raúl waved his hand in front of the boy.
He tried again. Luis squirmed and fought his way around the table so he could see the ceiling again.
Suspicions formed in his mind, but the other doctors were right: it was too early to confirm them. And if he was correct, Luis would always be difficult for his mother. She was young, but would never be able to share the freedoms that other women, even other single mothers, would have.
How could he support her?