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Unlocking the surgeons h.., p.10

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart, page 10

 

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart
 


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  He’d run his fingers along the skin of countless patients, but his touch had been clinical as he’d felt for lumps, bumps, and other signs of illness. This time it was different. This time his sensitive fingertips noticed softness while his nose picked up the fresh, floral scent that was pure Christy.

  Stopping was impossible; it seemed crucial to catalogue every inch of her, although he was cautious of what he suspected were her well-defined boundaries. But her skin was warm and his five senses conspired against his good sense until his fingers traveled an inch lower and she suddenly pulled away.

  Puzzled, he stared at her, wondering if he’d touched a tender spot, but as he glanced at the point where his hand had roamed on her sternum, he mentally kicked himself for his insensitivity. Clearly, she thought he intended to stray deeper into what she considered forbidden territory.

  “I should go to bed,” she said, her voice breathy as if she’d been jogging for a mile. “Goodnight.”

  “Goodnight,” he answered to her back as she fled. His night, however, couldn’t end with him in his current state. He’d work off his tension in Ty’s basement weight room and if that didn’t resolve his problem, a cold shower would come next.

  All because of the sixty seconds she’d spent in his arms.

  * * *

  Christy spent the next twenty-four hours scolding herself for overreacting to Linc’s touch. His gentle caresses hadn’t been inappropriate and yet she’d jumped like a frightened virgin.

  The truth was she’d enjoyed being in his arms far more than she’d dreamed possible. He was solid and warm and comforting, which gave her such a deep sense of safety—almost as if she was being protected from the latest of life’s impending storms. More than that, though, he reminded her of a steady rock she could lean on whenever the need arose.

  In spite of all that, she’d jumped away from him like a startled rabbit, she thought with disgust.

  She might have apologized, but she didn’t see him at all on Monday, although she knew he had come home because he’d left a glass in the sink and a scribbled note on the counter, asking her to pick up his clothes at the dry cleaner’s. Please, he’d underlined in thick, bold strokes.

  On Tuesday, she saw him at the hospital, but other than a quick “How are the kids?” their conversation had been limited to the status of his patients.

  She didn’t see him at all on Wednesday, but once again she’d found a note. This time he’d stated how much he’d liked the oatmeal cookies she’d left for him. She’d seen his distinctive scrawl before and thought nothing of it, but his personal message—his compliment—brightened her day. Because she was off duty and intended to spend her hours on household chores and laundry, she needed that bright spot.

  Since the kids were in school, she vowed to tackle household projects. She cleaned furiously, debating for the longest time if she should go into Linc’s room in case he’d think she was invading his privacy. Finally, after she’d cleaned bedrooms and the community bathroom, she caved in to her own arguments. The man hardly had time to breathe, so he certainly wasn’t going to spend his free hours dusting and scrubbing the tub. As neat as he was, he wouldn’t notice she’d been in his domain, anyway.

  She, however, certainly did. The masculine scent of his bath soap hovered in the bathroom and clung to his towels. Even his bed sheets retained his personal fragrance.

  He left more than his scent behind, though. She found other clues that fit the man she knew him to be. The unmade bed suggested he’d been called out early, but even the rumpled bedding testified to Linc’s control. A faint indentation of his head on the pillow and one corner of the sheet pulled out from under the mattress hinted that he wasn’t a restless sleeper—probably because when he finally closed his eyes, he was too exhausted to move.

  Idly, she wondered what he’d be like to sleep with. Would he snuggle up close, like Ria did when it was cold outside, or stick to his side of the bed? Would he pull her toward him or move to the center to meet her?

  As she caught herself in her own daydream, she chuckled with embarrassment and was grateful that he wouldn’t walk in and discover her locked within her own wicked imagination.

  She stripped the bed, forcing a clinical detachment to complete the job.

  His full laundry hamper presented another problem. It seemed a horrible waste of water to ask him to launder his things separately—again, when would he even have time?—so she gathered his washables and added them to her other loads, all the while trying not to notice how wifely it felt for his T-shirts and unmentionables to mingle with her own.

  Determined to keep her thoughts occupied, she dusted and scrubbed and vacuumed until Ria fled the house for the quiet safety of the back yard. She left nothing unturned, and had even gone into Ty’s basement weight room where she’d found a few dirty towels. By the time Emma and Derek were out of school, the place was spotless and she was literally exhausted.

  They strolled to the park to exercise Ria and came home at dinnertime, but once again Linc didn’t put in an appearance. She didn’t see him until the next day at the hospital and then she was certain it was only because Thursday was his normal scheduled surgery day. One of his patients had just been wheeled to a room after waking up in Recovery and Linc had walked in to talk to the man’s wife, wearing his green scrubs.

  After they’d dealt with the usual order of patient business, he pulled her aside. “When can you get away for lunch?”

  “It’s hard to say,” she admitted. “We’re swamped today.”

  “Make time.”

  She was tired enough to bristle at his demand—between keeping up with two busy children, a house, and working a short-staffed twelve-hour shift, she now understood why her working-mother colleagues had fragile tempers by the end of the week—but she had to eat and if she didn’t take a break soon, her feet would revolt.

  “Maybe by one or so,” she began.

  “Okay. I’ll see you then.”

  He strode away before she could recover from her surprise. As far as the gossip mill had reported, the man rarely took time for himself between his surgical cases and when he did, he usually ate on the run. Could it be he was finally loosening up and becoming more approachable? She smiled at the thought.

  Yet as she watched him pause to talk to a pharmacist, then laugh at whatever she’d said, her self-satisfaction dimmed as an unreasonable combination of curiosity and jealousy flooded over her.

  Was this the woman he’d mentioned he’d wanted to get to know? If so, then her plan to convince him to enjoy life’s simpler pleasures might drive him into another woman’s arms.

  It was silly of her to consider the possibility. After all, she didn’t have any illusions that she was his type.

  But, oh, it was nice to dream…

  * * *

  Linc’s work schedule for the week hadn’t been that unusual for him, but throughout the day—especially during the evenings—he’d caught himself wondering what Christy and the kids might be doing. Knowing that he was missing out had made him impatient at times and he’d earned a number of startled glances from his staff who obviously wondered what had twisted his surgical gloves into a knot.

  Each night as he came home he half hoped Christy would be waiting for him, as she had on that first night. Logically, he knew he was expecting too much. Ten-thirty or eleven was late for someone who went to work at five a.m. Not being accustomed to keeping up with two active children, she probably ended her day as soon as Emma and Derek did.

  Illogically, he still hoped.

  Whenever he walked into a quiet house, those hopes deflated, although he was pleased by her gesture of leaving the kitchen light blazing so he wouldn’t stumble in the dark in the somewhat unfamiliar surroundings.

  While she might not physically make an appearance, he felt her presence in other ways—a
plate of food in the refrigerator, a pan of frosted brownies on the stove, clean towels in Ty’s weight room. Only one thing could have topped them all—if he’d been able to slip into her bed instead of his.

  With great relief, he saw his hectic week finally drawing to a close. He could hardly wait another day to talk to her in person instead of through hastily scribbled notes left on the kitchen counter. Yes, he’d seen her a few times at the hospital, but they’d both been coming and going, so conversation had been limited to medical issues.

  Today, though, he’d decided to make a change. Before his last case, he’d shocked his surgery staff when he’d announced a thirty-minute break between patients, but he didn’t care that he’d wrecked his own routine. He only knew he couldn’t wait until Friday night or Saturday morning to see Christy again, and maybe…steal another kiss.

  In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this eager to meet someone. His job had meant so much to him that it had consumed his existence until most of the personal side of his life had faded away. He’d become somewhat aware of the situation—his time with his brother’s family had pointed out what he was missing—but he hadn’t discovered a compelling reason to change the habits he’d formed.

  Christy had provided it.

  A week ago, he’d believed she wasn’t right for him with her daring, impulsive approach to life. Oh, he’d been drawn to her like a hapless bug flew toward light, but, given enough opportunity, he was certain he’d eventually purge her from his system. Now, a mere seven days later, it was the last thing he wanted.

  His attitude was odd, really. They’d spent more time apart than together, and yet everything he’d seen, everything he’d heard, and everything he’d done only whetted his appetite for more.

  The good news was, “more” hung right around the corner.

  He returned to the surgery floor at the appointed hour with five minutes to spare, then waited for her to swap an IV fluid bag that had run low. He chafed at the delay, but he was only minutes away from having her to himself, relatively speaking, so he hid his impatience by accessing several lab reports while he listened for her footsteps.

  When she returned breathlessly, as if she’d hurried on his account, her smile was worth the wait.

  In the cafeteria, he steered her toward a table for two in the corner near the aquarium. Aware of the curious glances directed toward them, he simply ignored everyone and focused on Christy.

  “You look tired,” he said without preamble as she poured her low-fat dressing over her chef’s salad.

  “Is it that obvious?” she asked ruefully.

  He shrugged as he dug into his roast beef special. “Only to me. You aren’t doing too much, are you?”

  “Probably, but that’s how it works,” she quipped. “To be honest, you’re looking a little frayed around the edges, too. You aren’t the only one with keen powers of observation.”

  “Apparently not,” he answered dryly, surprised she’d picked up the signals others had overlooked. He immediately wondered what else she’d deduced about him. If she had any idea of how easily she triggered a surge in his testosterone level, she’d probably lock herself in her bedroom and never come out.

  “I don’t know where I’m busier—here at work or at home with the kids. We haven’t had a dull moment.”

  “I’ve seen the calendar Gail left for us. Next week will be better.”

  “I don’t see how. Between soccer practice two nights and a Cub Scout meeting—”

  “I’ll be available to help,” he interrupted. “The load won’t fall completely on you. I’m sorry it did this week, but it won’t happen again.”

  “Don’t apologize. A doctor’s life doesn’t run on a schedule. If it’s any consolation, the kids have missed you.”

  “I’ve missed you all, too. How did the internet call go last night? No tears when it was all over?”

  “A few, but not many. Emma’s having a ball, sending emails. You created a monster when you created her own account and showed her how to send letters. I think she’s singlehandedly trying to fill her mom’s in-box.”

  “Maybe we should limit her to one or two a day.”

  “Keeping her too busy to think about sending a message would be better. Forbidding her to contact Gail will only make her more homesick and she’ll dwell more on her parents’ absence than she should.”

  He considered her comment. “You’re probably right.”

  “Don’t worry. She’ll get past this. We simply need to be patient.”

  “How did you get to be so wise with kids?”

  She tipped her bottle of lemonade and drank deeply. “I learned a lot from watching my brother and sisters interact with their children. How about you?”

  “My parents constantly reminded me that as the oldest I had to look out for the younger siblings no matter where we were or what we were doing. I’m afraid I wasn’t always tactful,” he said wryly.

  “Ah, you were the bossy older brother.”

  “Afraid so. I suppose I had more of a dictatorial style, but I think that came from being left in charge so often. My mom had a fantastic voice and a dream to make it big in the country-music scene, so my dad hauled us all over so she could perform and it was my job to keep the little ones busy. As soon as I turned thirteen, they left the three of us at home.”

  “What did you do to occupy the time?”

  “Board games, cards, whatever. You name it, we played it. If I had a dime for every round of Chutes and Ladders or Sorry, I’d be a wealthy man,” he said wryly. “In any case, our main goal was to be awake when our parents came home.”

  “Were you successful?”

  He shook his head. “No. Joanie would usually conk out around eleven, Ty would fall asleep at midnight, and one was my limit.”

  “Did they do that often? Leave you home alone?”

  “Every Saturday night.”

  “That must have been tough.”

  He considered for a moment. “It wasn’t as tough as it was frustrating. The little kids needed their attention, not mine. I knew my parents loved us, but at times I resented how easily they left us to chase their own dreams.”

  And that, he knew, was the main reason why he hadn’t been in any rush to look for Mrs Right. Although his job guaranteed there would be times when he’d be gone at night, just as his parents had been, he wanted the mother of his children to be a mother twenty-four seven, not just when it was convenient.

  “Regardless of their actions, they must have done something right,” she said softly. “You and Ty both turned into responsible adults.”

  They had, hadn’t they? he thought.

  “Your story does explain why you take life so seriously,” she remarked. “Didn’t you ever do anything just for fun?”

  “Sure. I hung out with my buddies on Friday nights after football and basketball games. Band kids had to stick together.”

  “Marching band?”

  “I was quite the trumpet player in my day,” he said proudly.

  “Can you still play?”

  “I doubt it.” He grinned. “Fortunately for you, I sold my trumpet so we’ll never know. By the way, the house looks great. You’ve been busy.”

  “I’m surprised you could see a difference. You haven’t been home much.”

  He couldn’t tell if she was peeved by his absence or surprised that he was aware of his surroundings even if he came home during the wee hours. He grinned. “You’d be surprised at what I notice. Speaking of which, I don’t expect you to clean my room or do my laundry.”

  “I’m sure you didn’t, but I couldn’t very well let your room turn into a pigsty, could I? Gail would kill me.”

  “Actually, she’d kill me,” he said wryly. “Regardless, I don’t want you taking on more than you need to
. I’ll ask my housekeeper to add us to her list and—”

  “You’ll do no such thing.” Her voice was firm. “I’m perfectly capable of performing a few chores.”

  “It isn’t a matter of capabilities.” He had to tread lightly because he hated to offend her independent spirit. “It’s a matter of having enough hours in the day.”

  “We’ll make time. If everyone pitches in, cleaning won’t take long at all. ‘Many hands make light work,’ my mother always says.”

  “Yes, but, as far as I’m concerned, paying a housekeeper is money well spent.”

  “I’m sure it is, but I wouldn’t feel right if you footed the bill. We’re in this together, remember, and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s an unnecessary expense.”

  Her light tone didn’t disguise the steel in her voice. He wanted to continue to argue his point, but his gaze landed on the fraying edge of her scrub top’s neckline. Nurses might be paid well these days, but thanks to the associated expenses of her illness he suspected money was still tight.

  Although he wanted this to be his contribution to the household, he didn’t press the issue. “Okay, we’ll do it your way. For now,” he tacked on his proviso.

  “Fair enough.”

  “So you know, if I had my choice as to what I’d like you to do—cook or clean—I’d choose cooking. What are the odds of getting another batch of those cookies?”

  She laughed, clearly amused by his hopeful tone. “That depends on when Derek is scheduled to provide treats for another soccer game.”

  “Ah, that explains why I couldn’t find any more. You gave them away.”

  She finished her salad. “I did, but you liked them, did you?”

  “The best oatmeal cookies I ever tasted.”

  “Somehow I never saw you as having a sweet tooth.”

  “I do, which is why I work out three or four times a week. I’m surprised you haven’t heard me in the basement.”

  “You actually exercise when you get home?” She sounded incredulous.

  “Sometimes,” he admitted. “Lifting weights helps me work out the kinks if I’ve been in surgery all day. Sometimes I’m too keyed up to go to sleep, so pumping iron helps.”

 
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