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Unlocking the surgeons h.., p.11

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart, page 11


Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart

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  “Wow. I usually stare mindlessly at the television when I’m exhausted. I’m impressed you’re that…disciplined.”

  “Impressed enough to make another batch of cookies?”

  She giggled. “Okay. I’ll let you get lucky this weekend.”

  If she didn’t catch the double entendre of her own words, he certainly did. As he glanced at the aquarium and saw those same fish kissing again, he realized his craving went beyond mere cookies. He wanted another taste of Christy and he wanted it as soon as possible.

  Getting that taste wouldn’t be easy. Underneath her bubbly personality and a layer of friendliness lurked a skittish woman who’d been hurt by someone she’d trusted.

  It would be up to him to prove that he was someone she could trust.


  BY FRIDAY, Christy knew she was in trouble. Dredging up the old memories of Jon had fueled her determination to prove that just because she’d had cancer, she was still capable of doing everything any other woman could do. As a result, she’d pushed herself too hard and was paying the price with her nauseous stomach and the headache behind her eyes. She should have been at home because it was her day off, but someone had called in with a family emergency, so as soon as Christy had sent the kids to school, she’d reported to work.

  She would have rather spent the day in bed.

  There was one silver lining to this dark cloud—she’d arrived on duty after Linc had already made his rounds, otherwise he would have taken one look at her and with the tell-tale twitch in his cheek to indicate his unhappiness he would have insisted she return home. Naturally, she would have had to disobey his command on principle. She was still her own woman and made her own decisions even if, in this case, he was right.

  Fortunately, her supervisor had also arranged for a second-shift nurse to come early, so Christy was able to leave as soon as Derek and Emma’s school day ended.

  She swallowed several anti-inflammatories and painkillers, and soldiered on through the rest of the afternoon—even making Linc’s requested cookies—but by dinner’s end her own food refused to stay in her stomach and she finally had to face facts. Her body had reached its limit.

  “Are you guys ready for bed?” she asked, hoping she sounded brighter than she felt.

  Derek was horrified. “We never go to bed at seven, even on school nights. Fridays is our night to stay up late ’cause Mom wants us to sleep in on Saturdays.”

  “Yeah,” Emma chimed in. “It is.”

  “Then you do sleep late on Saturdays?” Christy asked, because so far they hadn’t.

  Derek’s grin was sheepish. “Sometimes, but if we don’t and Mom or Dad aren’t awake, we know not to bother them.”

  Thank you, Gail, for training them properly, she thought with some relief. “I’d suggest you snooze as long as you can. We have a full day tomorrow.”

  Derek was suspicious. “Doing what?”

  She had no idea, but surely Linc had a plan. “I have to discuss it with your uncle first,” she prevaricated.

  “We can watch a movie now, can’t we?” Derek asked.

  “Yeah.” Emma’s head bobbed enthusiastically. “Mom lets us on a Friday.”

  She hated to park them in front of the television, but common sense told her that Gail and Ty allowed them to watch their movies if the size of the children’s collection was any indication. As for leaving them alone, she also knew their parents didn’t hover over them every second. They were school-aged children, not toddlers who required constant supervision.

  “Okay, but after that, it’s bedtime.”

  “Sure.” Emma peered at her. “You don’t look so good, Christy. Are you sick?”

  She managed a smile. “A little. I’m going to lie down, but I want you to get me if you need anything. Anything at all. Is that understood?”


  “And don’t eat all the cookies. Save some for your uncle.”

  “We will,” the two said in unison.

  “Don’t forget to wake me in half an hour or when your uncle arrives, whichever comes first.”

  “We will.”

  As the opening credits appeared on the screen, Christy dropped onto her bed. Ria padded in and curled against her in her usual, I’m-here-for-you-because-I-know-you-don’t-feel-well position.

  Christy patted the dog’s head in gratitude for her faithfulness before she promptly closed her eyes and tried to relax.

  “All I need are thirty minutes,” she murmured aloud. “Just thirty minutes and I’ll be ready to go. Linc will never know I couldn’t keep up. How much trouble can two kids cause while watching a movie, anyway?”

  * * *

  Linc was more than ready to be home. His hospital patients were stable, including the emergency splenectomy case, and, barring a car accident, he should have a quiet evening ahead of him.

  He strode into the house at seven forty-five, expecting to see three smiling faces eager to enjoy the remaining daylight. Instead, he walked into a kitchen that resembled a disaster area, with stacks of dirty pots and pans, spilled juice, and a popcorn trail that led into the living room.

  Before he could wrap his head around the unusual scene, Emma came running and launched herself into his arms.

  “Unca Linc’s home!”

  “Hi, sprout. How are you?” he asked as he settled her on his hip.

  “I’m fine. Christy’s sick.”

  Emma’s revelation explained the mess. Immediately, he tried to recall what bug was making the rounds now, and came up blank. “She is? Was she sick all day?”

  Emma shrugged. “Just since dinner. She’s in bed so you hafta be quiet. Derek and I are watching a movie. We missed you, Unca Linc.” She flung her arms around his neck and hugged him.

  Not for the first time in his life, Linc was envious of his brother. This was what Ty came home to every night, not an empty house with a radio or television for company.

  This, he decided—coming home to a wife and kids and even an occasional mess—was what he wanted, too. Preferably sooner rather than later.

  “We missed you.”

  “I missed you, too.” He prodded for information. “What’s wrong with Christy?”

  “I think it’s her stomach because I heard her throwing up. She told us to wake her when you came home. Do you want me to get her?”

  “That’s okay. I’ll check on her myself,” he told her as he lowered her until her feet touched the floor.

  “Christy left a plate for you in the ’frigerator,” Emma offered helpfully, before she headed for the living room. “I’m gonna watch the rest of our movie.”

  Whatever Christy had served definitely smelled delicious and from the looks of the pots and pans on the stove, she’d served spaghetti. Although he wanted to dig into his own serving, he chose to wait until he discovered what was wrong with Christy.

  He strolled through the living room, past the two children, who were engrossed in their movie, and stopped at Christy’s door. When she didn’t answer his knock, he peeked inside and saw her lying in bed with a watchful Ria at her side.

  “Christy?” he asked softly.

  She stirred. “Linc?”

  “It’s me,” he assured her. “I hear you’re not feeling well.”

  “I’m okay. Dinner’s in—”

  “The refrigerator. Emma told me.” He strode in and stood next to her bed, worried that whatever had hit her had laid her so low and so quickly.

  “I still need to clean the kitchen.” She grimaced as she tried to rise.

  “The kitchen can wait. Do I need to phone your doctor? Call in a prescription?” He imagined all sorts of possible causes and treatments—some dire, some run-of-the-mill—as he gently placed his hand on her forehead. Her skin felt cool, which ease
d his worries to some degree.

  “No. Please, no. It’s nothing.”

  He disagreed. “What’s wrong? Stomach flu?” He’d already ruled out a chest cold because she breathed easily and her nose wasn’t running.

  “No, just overtired.”

  “Overtired?” His momentary panic eased. “I thought you agreed to pace yourself.”

  “I know, and I tried, but I felt so wonderful and thought I could do it all, so I did. Unfortunately, pushing my limits caught up to me today.” She met his gaze for an instant before she closed her eyes. “I know you want to, so go ahead and scold.”

  She sounded defeated as well as sick, so he opted for mercy. “I’ll wait until you’re feeling better,” he teased. “It’s tough to kick a man—or woman—when she’s already down.”

  “Thanks. Just give me another hour or so. I’ll feel better by then. Honest.”

  Linc doubted it. Her face was too pale and the circles under her eyes too dark for him to believe a mere hour’s nap would solve her problems, but he didn’t intend to argue with her.

  “Okay,” he said evenly. “Can I get you something in the meantime? Hot tea? Aspirin?”

  “I’m fine, thanks, although I’d appreciate it if you could let Ria outdoors. She hasn’t had a bathroom break for a while.”

  “Will do.” He snapped his fingers. “Come, Ria. Outside?”

  Ria perked her ears as if she wanted to obey, but from the way she glanced at Christy, then back at him, she was torn between obeying nature’s call and comforting her mistress.

  “Come on, girl,” he coaxed. “Take care of business and you can join Christy again.”

  Reluctantly, Ria rose, stretched, then gracefully leaped off the bed. Linc opened the patio door and as soon as Ria returned from a trip to her favorite bush, she ignored the tasty popcorn trail and disappeared into Christy’s bedroom.

  Certain the animal was now cuddled against her owner, Linc had one thought as he microwaved his dinner.

  He was jealous of a dog.

  After he’d eaten, washed the dishes, changed into a pair of comfortable gym shorts and an old T-shirt, he carried in a cup of tea prepared the way she liked it—with one teaspoon of honey—and stayed with her until she drank it.

  He spent the rest of the evening watching movies, playing a few hands of Go Fish and Old Maid with Derek and Emma, and checking on Christy.

  “I’m going to float away,” she grumbled as he helped her sit so she could drink another cup of tea.

  “Better that than getting dehydrated,” he said cheerfully. As soon as she’d emptied most of the cup and lay down again, he returned to the living room and found both children fighting to stay awake.

  For the next hour he oversaw their bedtime ritual and read the obligatory two stories, with an extra book for good measure.

  “Christy said we had big plans for tomorrow,” Derek mentioned as he crawled between the sheets. “What are we doing?”

  Linc thought fast. “We’ll see how she feels,” he hedged, “but I thought we could spend the day at my house. My weeds are probably knee-high by now.”

  “Can I ride the mower with you?” Derek asked, his tired eyes brimming with excitement.

  “Maybe,” he said. “Now go to sleep and we’ll talk about it in the morning.”

  Outside Christy’s room, he paused in indecision, but a noise in the kitchen drew him there instead. He found Christy leaning against the counter, a cupboard door open, as if she’d been trying to retrieve a glass but hadn’t quite managed it.

  “How are you feeling?” he asked.

  She straightened with obvious effort. “Better. I came to wash the dishes, but everything’s done.”

  Because she sounded almost irritated, he fought back a smile. “It gave me something to do while the kids finished their movie.”

  “Where are they?”

  “In bed, ready to wake up at the crack of dawn for a fun-filled, action-packed day at the Maguire house.” He motioned to the cupboard. “Can I get you something?”

  “Water, please.”

  He filled a glass and placed it beside her.

  “You should have left the dishes for me,” she said in between sips. “I said I’d—”

  “Yes, I know, but I didn’t mind,” he said calmly. “There weren’t that many, so it didn’t take long. I didn’t even get dishpan hands. See?” He held up his hands to show her.

  To his surprise, then dismay, a few tears trickled down her face and she swiped them away with her fingertips. Oh, man. She was crying.

  “Hey,” he protested. “Washing a few pots and pans isn’t anything to get upset over.”

  “I’m not.” She sniffed.

  From where he was standing, she certainly seemed as if she was. “If you’re not upset,” he said carefully, “then what’s wrong?”

  “I’d wanted everything to be perfect when you finally came home.”

  “It was,” he assured her. At her skeptical glance, he corrected himself. “Maybe not perfect, but it was close.”

  “No, it wasn’t.”

  “Hey, the kids were fed and my dinner was waiting for me. Having only a few dirty dishes waiting was pretty darned good, in my opinion.”

  “That’s not the point. I—”

  “If you were afraid I’d find fault, I apologize. You don’t have to impress me, Christy, because I’ve been impressed since our first weekend.”

  She met his gaze, her smile wan. “How could you be?”

  “Trust me. I am.”

  Her expression revealed her skepticism. “I truly wanted to amaze you with what I could do and how well I could keep up, but I’d really wanted to convince myself.” She raked her hair with one hand. “And I failed.”

  She’d caught him off guard. “You wanted to impress yourself? Why?”

  “After thinking about Jon the other night, I realized that all this time I’ve been trying to prove him wrong—that my cancer treatments wouldn’t make me less of a woman than any other. That I could still juggle the same things every other woman juggles in her life, even if I lacked a few body parts and didn’t have the same hormones swimming around my system. He’d never know if I’d succeeded or not, but I would know the truth.” She paused and her shoulders drooped. “I’m beginning to think he was right.”

  Furious with Jon’s insensitivity and angry at himself for dredging up enough of the past to rob her of her confidence, he held her by her shoulders. “Absolutely do not mention or think about that man’s narrow-mindedness again. You’ve done a remarkable job when it comes to balancing work and children and a house. Do not ever suggest or even think otherwise. Got that?” he ground out.

  She blinked several times before she nibbled on her bottom lip.

  He squeezed her shoulders and gave her a slight shake. “Did you hear what I said?”

  “I heard. But—”

  He gentled his hold as well as his voice. “You have nothing to prove to me or to anyone else, and I don’t want you to try.” He nudged her chin upward with his index finger so her gaze could meet his. “You’re tired and aren’t feeling well, so it’s easy to let your imagination and your fears run wild, but, honestly, no one in this house has any reason to complain about what you have or haven’t done, least of all me. I’m the one who’s been absent without leave for the past five days.”

  She hesitated, her face pensive as if she was giving his words some thought. “So you’re saying I should complain about you?”

  “If it’ll make you feel better, yes.”

  Her chuckle was weak but, nonetheless, it was still a chuckle. “I’ll pass.”

  “Good, because I’m not sure my fragile ego could take it. For the record, there’s no shame in recognizing one’s limitations and delegating according
ly. If we could manage everything ourselves, we wouldn’t need each other, would we?”

  Her downcast expression suddenly turned thoughtful. “I suppose not.”

  “Good. Now, finish your water and hop into bed where you belong. Tomorrow will roll around soon enough and I have a few plans on how we’ll spend the day.”

  She nodded, but didn’t move. Instead, her gaze continued to rest on him until he felt almost uncomfortable.

  “Do I have spaghetti sauce on my chin?” he joked.

  “No, but this is the first time I think I’ve ever seen you so passionate about something. Normally, you’re so…so controlled.”

  “People respond better if their surgeon is controlled and doesn’t rant and rave like a lunatic when he’s aggravated,” he said lightly.

  “You can be passionate without being out of control. Watching you express your emotion is…comforting, I guess. You seem so much more…natural. I like seeing you less formal.”

  He could think of many other ways to show her just how passionate he could be, but now wasn’t the time and the kitchen wasn’t the place. It was, however, reassuring to realize he didn’t have to hide his innermost feelings around her. He could relax and be himself, such as he was.

  “You’ll see my emotional side more often in the coming weeks after we all start to get on each

  other’s nerves,” he said in a dry tone. “In the meantime, you need your rest.”

  “I’m tired but I’m not sleepy. Does that make sense?”

  “It makes perfect sense,” he said as he led her toward her room, “but I’ll tell you what I tell the kids. Get ready for bed and by the time you’re finished, you’ll change your mind.”

  He turned down her sheets while she slipped into the bathroom, then returned to the living room where he sprawled on the sofa and debated if he needed another trip to Ty’s weight room before he called it a day, too.

  However, when she appeared wearing her sleepshirt that hit her midthigh, every part of his body seemed to notice just how long her legs were. “Do you need anything?” he asked her, hoping his voice didn’t sound as hoarse as it did to his own ears.

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