Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart, page 12
“Stay with me,” she said.
He froze, certain his hearing had suddenly and inexplicably failed. “Stay?” he echoed as surprise paralyzed his lungs for a few seconds.
“Talk to me until I fall asleep,” she said. “Please?”
He simply rose and followed her like a lemming. He couldn’t explain why he obeyed—perhaps it was the plea in her voice and on her face. Perhaps he was just a glutton for punishment. Whatever the reason, he knew he couldn’t refuse.
As he watched the slight sway of her trim hips, he decided that he deserved a sainthood for what he was about to do. His discomfort increased as she crawled into bed with her nightshirt riding dangerously high over her delightful backside, and he hardly noticed Ria standing at the foot of the bed, watching what her humans would do next.
The instant Christy scooted across the full-sized bed that was hardly large enough for her and patted the spot beside her, he immediately lost his ability to breathe or swallow. He’d expected to sit beside the bed, not share it.
“Please?” she asked.
Considering how she’d nearly jumped out of her skin when he’d touched her the other day, her request seemed out of character. Only able to arrive at one reason for her change of heart, he narrowed his eyes to study her with a physician’s objectivity. Her pupils appeared normal, but he still had to wonder if she was acting under the effects of a drug or suffering from some sort of chemical reaction.
“What have you taken?” he asked, suspicious.
“Over-the-counter stuff,” she said. “Why?”
Telling her that he thought she was high on drugs wouldn’t win him any brownie points.
“No reason,” he said, resigned to a very long workout after she’d dozed off.
“I know I’m asking a lot of you but, as comforting as Ria is, our conversations are one-sided. If you don’t want to, though…”
He wanted to, and if she knew how badly he wanted it, she’d have locked her door before he’d come inside. However, he must have paused too long to answer because she suddenly sat up and wrapped her arms around her knees in a protective gesture.
“Forget it,” she said. “I shouldn’t have asked. I knew better, but I’d hoped you were comfortable enough…”
Once again, he mentally kicked himself. She’d seen his hesitation as a sign of distaste when in
reality he was simply trying to keep his body under control.
“Trust me, I want to be here, beside you,” he said as he lowered his weight onto the bed. “If you knew how much, though, you’d rethink your request.”
Idly, he noticed Ria had disappeared but the tell-tale sound of her scratching her pallet as if making her nest told him the animal had accepted his place in Christy’s bed.
Christy hadn’t responded. Thinking she might be reconsidering her request, he glanced at her and saw her eyes wide with disbelief. “Really?” She hesitated, her teeth worrying her lower lip, “You’re not just saying that because you feel sorry—”
“Sweetheart, right now I’m feeling a lot of things and ‘sorry’ isn’t on that list.” He held out his left arm as an open invitation and she slowly curled against him.
It was heaven. It was hell. He persevered as she wriggled to find a comfortable position with her head resting on his shoulder and her body plastered against his. He inhaled sharply, but that, too, was a mistake because her sweet scent filled his nostrils.
Hoping conversation would focus his attention on subjects other than her physical presence and how great she felt in his arms, he asked, “What should we talk about?”
“I don’t care. Whatever you like.”
He wanted to point out that she was the one who’d requested conversation, but didn’t. He simply had to think of this as being similar to sitting beside Derek or Emma as he read or told bedtime stories.
Unfortunately, the circumstances weren’t the same; they didn’t compare in any way, shape, or form.
“Okay,” he said, casting about for a place to start. “Do you always get physically ill when you’re overtired?”
“No. I wasn’t like this B.C., before chemo. I keep hoping it’ll fade, but it hasn’t. Normally, I do a better job of pacing myself, but taking care of Derek and Emma is like a dream come true. I was like the Energizer Bunny. I kept going and going and going.”
“Why? You have two months to fill Gail’s shoes.”
“Two months in which to pack a lifetime of mothering,” she corrected. “If I never have kids of my own, I have to store up the memories when I borrow someone else’s.”
“You don’t know that you won’t ever be a mother.”
“I also don’t know if I will.”
“No one has guarantees,” he pointed out. “I hate to break it to you, but you’re like the rest of us. Fertility for anyone isn’t a given. If it were, there wouldn’t be specialty clinics all over the country.”
“Hmm. I never thought of it like that. But you have to admit the odds of my hormones staying on a permanent sabbatical are much greater.”
“People beat the odds every day. However, if you don’t…” he shrugged “…there are a host of other ways to have a family. Your real problem is that you worry too much.”
She snickered. “I do, don’t I? So tell me, why don’t you let anyone see your emotions and the passion inside you?”
It took him a minute to follow her conversation shift because she’d started rubbing her fingers against his heart and the contact was doing crazy things to his nerve endings. He placed his hand over hers to stop the gentle torment as he spoke.
“People trust me with their lives. They want to feel confident about the person who’s cutting them open and messing around with their insides. Patients prefer a surgeon who is cool, calm, and collected under fire, not one whose emotions are constantly on display.”
“I suppose you’re right.” She burrowed deeper against him and sighed like a contented kitten, which effectively sent a fresh surge of blood into his groin.
“I know I am.”
Her words came slower, which made him think she was finally starting to doze. A few seconds later, she spoke again.
“Why aren’t you married by now?”
“I haven’t found the right woman,” he answered.
“Have you been looking?”
“Not seriously,” he admitted.
There was something about the darkness that made it easier to share things he only admitted to himself. “I had this idea to wait until I was forty.”
“Forty? Gracious. Your life will be half-over.”
He grinned at her affronted tone. For a woman who wrung every minute of joy from her day, he was surprised she had such a glass-half-empty attitude. Then again, if he’d endured what she had, aware that any day could be his last, hindsight would paint those years as wasted, too. As he’d already pointed out, life didn’t come with guarantees.
Unsettled by his epiphany, he went on to explain. “I suppose I wanted my future spouse to be settled in her career like I was, wanting the same things I did when it came to raising a family. I’d met a few women who’d interested me, but there always seemed to be something missing.”
Was that it? Possibly. Probably. Whatever the reason, he’d never felt compelled to pursue them. Christy, however, was the exception.
“What about the lady you told me about?”
“You know. The one you said you wanted to get to know.”
He had to think a minute to remember…and when he did, he was grateful the room was too dark for her to see his grin. “Oh, that woman.”
“So, Romeo, are you going to ask her out?” Her body tensed, as if bracing herself for his answer.
Because it was dark, he sensed rather than saw her disappointment. “That’s nice,” she answered, although her words lacked sincerity.
He wanted to believe she was jealous; he certainly hoped so because it meant she had feelings for him. His for her were certainly multiplying at an exponential rate.
“What’s she like? Is she pretty?”
“I think she’s beautiful, but I get the impression she wouldn’t agree.”
“What attracted you to her? I’ll bet she has a great body. Doesn’t have a single scar either.”
Once again, he heard her mournful tone. “She has scars, but I’m a surgeon so they don’t bother me. I think of them as badges of courage.”
“Oh, what a great description. What else can you tell me about her?”
“She’s sweet.” As she snorted at that remark, he continued, “And kind. She’d do anything for her friends. She loves kids and is definitely a dog person.”
She sighed. “She sounds perfect.”
“Oh, she has her flaws, but to me no one else compares.”
“Where will you take her on your first date?”
“I haven’t decided yet. Where would you suggest?”
“My choice would be Grant’s Point,” she said, her voice growing softer. “It’s a very peaceful, romantic spot. You can reach out and touch the stars while you hear the wind whisper through the trees and smell the pines. There’s no place better.”
If memory served him, the landmark was a famous place for couples to visit. Local folklore suggested the majority of Levitt Springs’ population had been conceived on that overlook. Regardless, if the hill was Christy’s choice, he’d take her there.
However, she seemed to be speaking from experience and he hated the idea of another guy taking her there, even if only for a platonic let’s-see-the-local-hot-spots trip.
“You’ve been there before?”
“Ria and I drove there one night and watched the stars come out. It was great. You and your lady friend will enjoy it.”
He was uncommonly pleased to hear Ria had been her date. “I’m positive we will.”
“If you want, she can take my place as your dance partner.” Her reluctance was evident, as if she didn’t want to extend the offer but good manners demanded it.
“I’m happy with the partner I have.”
“If you change your mind…”
“I won’t,” he assured her.
He wondered what she was thanking him for—for not changing his mind or for being happy to have her as his partner. Maybe it was simply because he wasn’t rejecting her in favor of another woman.
For a long minute he only heard her gentle breathing and he thought she’d finally fallen asleep, but before he could move a muscle, she spoke again.
“I’m sorry for jumping out of my skin the other night when you touched me.” She slurred her words and he wondered if she realized she was speaking.
“It’s okay. I understand.”
“It’s not okay. I wanted you to do what you did, but—”
“I don’t feel anything,” she said flatly. “Men expect a woman to respond, but I can’t because they aren’t feeling me. If you don’t mind, I need your help.”
Clinically he understood her dilemma, but personally he sensed a minefield had appeared in front of him. He could only hope she wouldn’t remember this conversation in the morning. “Help with what?”
“Help me so I don’t jump next time,” she said. “We could practice.”
He swallowed hard. “Practice?”
Her nod felt as if she was nuzzling his shoulder with her nose. “That way, if I ever meet a fellow and he—”
The idea that she wanted him to condition her to handle another man’s touch nearly made him growl with frustration. As uninhibited as her exhaustion had made her, if she’d asked to begin now, he would be the one jumping out of his skin, not to mention her bed. Although he was male enough to be grateful she had asked him for help.
“Sorry, but that isn’t something we should do. You’ll have to wing it when the time comes.”
Once again, she sighed. “You’re right. Your girlfriend wouldn’t understand, would she?”
For lack of anything else to say, he resorted to, “No, she wouldn’t.”
“You know something?” She slurred her words. “I was prepared to dislike you, but you’re a very nice man.”
He grinned like a loon. “I’m glad you think so.”
“It’s too bad, though.”
“Oh?” he asked.
“Because it wouldn’t take much for me to fall in love.”
His breath froze in his lungs. “Would that be so terrible?” he asked softly.
“Not terrible,” she murmured. “It would be wonderful. Not a good idea, though.”
“Why not?” he asked.
One minute of silence stretched into two, then into five, but she didn’t answer. He wanted to nudge her awake so she could reply to his question, but he was reasonably certain she wouldn’t remember what she’d said.
He, however, wouldn’t forget.
Another five minutes went by. With great regret, Linc eased out from under her, covered her bare legs with a sheet, then tiptoed from the room.
He’d never imagined the evening would end with the two of them engaging in pillow talk. If another woman had said she could fall in love with him, he would have run for the nearest exit, but hearing Christy admit those feelings only reinforced his determination to hold on to her in any way he could.
Aware of his lingering arousal, he headed once again to the basement. At the rate he was going, he’d develop a bodybuilder’s physique before Ty and Gail returned.
“I THINK Jose is well enough to go home, don’t you?” Linc said to Christy after he’d reviewed Jose’s chart five days later.
“He’s doing remarkably well,” she agreed. “He’s complaining about the food again, so he’s definitely feeling better.” Between the filter that had been surgically inserted and medication adjustments, his most recent tests showed the clot in his leg was nearly dissolved.
Linc clicked a few final computer keys before he logged off the terminal. “I’ll break the news to him while you get things rolling.”
He scooted his chair away from the counter. “You have a sitter for tonight, right?”
“Heather’s coming over at seven,” she told him. Heather was the sixteen-year-old high-school girl who came early on the mornings Christy had to work and oversaw Derek and Emma getting ready for school. Sometimes Linc was still there, but more often than not he’d left early, too, so Heather’s presence was a godsend.
“Although I still don’t understand why we need a sitter while we practice a dance routine,” she grumbled good-naturedly. “Derek and Emma won’t bother us.”
He raised an eyebrow. “If they don’t, it would be a first,” he said wryly.
“I agree they’re rather clingy, but they’re still adjusting.”
“I understand that, but even if by some miracle they would give us an hour to ourselves, I’d rather not risk it. Constant interruptions aren’t conducive to learning what we need to learn. The competition is only six weeks away.”
As if she needed reminding. She’d fielded more questions about being Linc’s partner, and from some of the comments she’d overheard, most were surprised to hear of his participation. Speculation and curiosity had increased ticket sales, as she’d suspected would happen. She only hoped Linc hadn’t heard those same rumors because, knowing his determination to excel, he’d insist on incorporating a more advanced routine than neces
“Regardless, everything is set for tonight,” she said.
“Great.” With that, he rose and headed to Jose’s room.
Less than a minute later, one of the other nurses, Rose Warren, strode into the nurses’ station, looking over her shoulder with eyes wide and her jaw slack.
“I can’t believe it,” she remarked to Christy. “Did you see him?”
“See who?” Christy answered as she pulled the appropriate discharge forms and patient home-care instructions from various folders.
“Dr Maguire.” Rose stared in the direction she’d come. “The man smiled at me.”
Christy grinned. “How absolutely terrible.”
“I wonder what’s happened? I mean, he’s always been courteous but he’s never gone out of his way to be friendly.”
“Yes, he has,” she protested mildly.
“To you, maybe. To the rest of us, he’s just…polite.”
Was Rose right? Christy thought for a moment and suspected there was some truth to her observation, but if Linc spoke to her more often than anyone else, it was only because most of the staff didn’t bother including him in their conversations. Granted, they’d probably tried at one point and his usual monosyllabic answers had eventually convinced them to stop trying, but she’d been undaunted. She’d always forced him into a discussion that didn’t involve treatment plans or patient symptoms and over the two years she’d known him they’d progressed to single sentences. Now, though, he didn’t wait to speak until spoken to, which was quite an achievement, in her opinion.
“He’s a very quiet, reserved person,” she countered, “but once you get to know him, he’s a great guy.”
“Well, whatever you’re doing to put the smile on his face, keep it up.”
She wasn’t doing anything in particular, although she had to admit that ever since Linc had sat with her while she’d fallen asleep, she’d caught him staring at her with the most amazing twinkle in his eyes. She must have said something amusing, but she couldn’t remember what it must have been. She recalled asking him why he hadn’t married, as well as a host of other questions regarding the woman he wanted to get to know. In a fuzzy corner in her memory she thought she’d apologized for jumping out of her skin when he’d touched her, and had told him why, but the rest was a blur between reality and a dream.
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