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His long awaited bride, p.13

His Long-Awaited Bride, page 13

 

His Long-Awaited Bride
 


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  “You’re shortchanging us.”

  “I don’t agree.”

  “You’re settling for second-best.”

  “I’m playing it safe,” she corrected. “The question is, after all this time, why are you suddenly so interested? Travis isn’t the first man I’ve dated in recent years.”

  “I wasn’t ready.”

  “And you are now.”

  “Yes.”

  “Sorry, but I’m not convinced.”

  “I’m working on my house,” he said. “I’m trying to make it a homey place, just like you suggested. You’ve always accused me of avoiding commitment. This proves I’m not.”

  “New paint, curtains and a few pieces of furniture don’t mean commitment.”

  “I don’t do anything that I don’t want to do,” he reminded her. “If I wasn’t willing, you would have never convinced me to step into a hardware store in the first place.”

  “And here I thought my powers of persuasion had finally cracked your shell.”

  “Maybe they did, but, regardless of how it happened, I don’t want to go on the way we have been. Our arrangement was fine for a while, but now it’s time for a change.”

  “So you want a change. Why me?” She studied him closely.

  “Why not you? We have a lot of history, Mari.”

  “You’ve been listening to Lucy, haven’t you?”

  “No, but the woman is right. We already know each other better than a lot of married people do. Why can’t we take the next step? Unless you’re running scared,” he accused.

  “And you’re only feeling sorry for me.”

  “Feeling sorry?” He snorted. “Right now, pity is definitely not what I’m feeling. Try exasperated and irritated.”

  He took several steps closer to loom over her. “Truth is, I’d like nothing more than to carry you off to your bedroom and kiss you senseless. Then I’d love to start going through my list of other things I’d like to do, the first of which is to drive you so wild you can’t tell up from down. Pity is the very last thing on my mind!” he ended on a roar.

  “Maybe it is, but—”

  “Would you stop finding excuses?” he ordered. “Because it’s all they are.”

  “They’re not excuses,” she insisted.

  “Believe me, they are. Arguing won’t change that fact.”

  She jumped to her feet, sending Toby on a defensive scramble to the end of the sofa while she stood toe to toe with him. “Can you hear us? We’ve only talked about dating for the last few minutes and already you’re losing your temper!”

  “Because you’re too stubborn to see reason.”

  “And you hate having someone say no to you.”

  For a long moment, there was silence.

  Hating that their conversation had turned into a shouting match, she apologized.

  A muscle tensed in his jaw as he nodded, but when he spoke, he’d softened his tone. “I know when I’m right about something and when I’m wrong. I’m right about us.”

  “Oh, Justin,” she began miserably. “I wish I could make you see the situation from my side.”

  He held up his hands. “I’ll admit I had lousy timing to spring this on you tonight after your fiasco with Pendleton, but I never thought you were a quitter, Mari. You’re quitting before the game’s even begun, and that’s not fair to either of us.”

  It may not be fair, she cried out inside, but it’s infinitely safer. She’d taught herself not to imagine him in her mental picture of the future. Letting herself fall back into the old habits she’d conquered was sheer foolishness. Doing so would only make them harder to break the second time.

  He took her hands in his. “All I’m asking of you right now is to think about what I said. Mull it over, try it on for size. Then when I ask for a date, you can say yes or no.”

  She sighed. “Justin, can’t you just accept my—”

  “No, I can’t.”

  “You’re setting us both up for heartache.”

  “I disagree, but if we can’t handle being more than friends, we’ll deal with whatever comes next like two mature adults.” He hesitated. “Be honest. You’d like to see if we can make this work, too.”

  She was prepared to deny it. Unfortunately, she couldn’t because, heaven help her, she wanted the same thing he did. She must be a complete glutton for punishment.

  Surrendering, she opted to set a few terms of her own. “You won’t hound me in the meantime?”

  “Not one word,” he promised. “As long as you keep an open mind. Don’t think about what could or couldn’t happen. Focus on today.”

  Could she do it? Would she be able to enjoy the moment and let tomorrow worry about itself? After all, what was the alternative? Having Toby as her sole companion for the next umpteen years? Going on blind dates with Kristi’s innumerable relatives and watching Justin fall in love with another woman?

  But how could she be sure that he wanted her for herself? That it wasn’t because he’d finally realized his lonely state and she was handy?

  There was only one way to find out, she supposed. Take each day as it came and wait for a sign. Any sort of sign.

  “I’ll try,” she said.

  “And no more talk of finding sperm donors.”

  “I’m not getting any younger.”

  “I’m serious, Mari. I don’t want you to even think about the subject.”

  “Okay, okay,” she grumbled, “but if your idea doesn’t work…”

  His gaze was intent. “It will, Mari. It will. You can bet the farm on that.”

  If only she was as certain…

  “Am I glad it’s Friday,” Kristi said fervently as she plonked into a chair and began charting her patient records in the computer. “What a week!”

  Marissa looked up from the heart monitor screen of their newest patient. Carter Mosby was thirty-two and had been admitted around three a.m. with all the symptoms of infective endocarditis. His recent dental work had wreaked havoc with his recently repaired heart valve in spite of his prophylactic antibiotic regimen, and now he was very sick.

  “I agree,” she said.

  “Have you finished Dr. St. James’s house yet?”

  “The furniture is being delivered today,” Marissa said. “He wants me to come by and help him arrange it, and then we’re officially done.”

  “Furniture? You must be one persuasive lady.”

  “Actually, it was his idea.” She’d been completely stunned when he’d asked her to help him find the appropriate pieces to fill his living room and bedroom. At first she’d thought he’d use the opportunity to press his suit, but he hadn’t acted any differently than normal. They’d fallen back into their easy routine and although she’d spent the evening bracing herself for him to officially ask her for a date, he hadn’t.

  Here it was, four days later, and he still hadn’t made any sort of overture. She didn’t know if she should be happy or sad.

  She should be happy, she decided. She still didn’t know if she’d say yes or no and it was easier to let matters slide rather than change the status quo.

  At night, though, with only Toby curled up at her feet, she almost wished otherwise.

  “What’s your next project?” Kristi asked.

  “Nothing. It’s enough to keep my grass as well as Lucy’s under control.”

  “How’s she doing these days?”

  “Great. Justin might let her go home tomorrow. She’ll need occupational therapy until she’s more independent as far as managing at home, but she does fairly well by herself. The hospital social worker has made arrangements for her to have home health nursing visits, along with a host of other services.”

  “Does she have any family nearby?”

  “Her sister is coming to live with her, at least temporarily.”

  “I’m glad for her. Even with all of her physical limitations, she’s still better off than some people.” Kristi’s gaze shot toward Lonnie Newland’s cubicle.

  Mariss
a sighed. “Yes.”

  “You know,” Kristi said softly, “the man is failing before our eyes.”

  “I know.”

  “This sounds so cruel and heartless, but I can never understand how we call ourselves humane for not allowing our pets to remain in a similar condition, yet we have a different set of rules for people.”

  “You’ll have to take up the issue with our ethics committee. All I know is that miracles do happen.”

  Kristi logged off her computer and rose. “If he’s supposed to get one, then I wish it would hurry up and manifest itself. I’m not sure how much more Abby can stand.”

  Marissa stared through the glass partition. Even from this distance, she could see the tired slump to Abby’s shoulders and the circles under her eyes. “I’ll try to talk her into resting a bit on the cot down the hall.”

  “Good luck. I’ve already offered but she refused.”

  Marissa went to Lonnie’s room. “How are you doing?” she asked Abby.

  Abby smiled faintly. “I’m okay. Junior isn’t quite as active today.”

  “Why don’t you take thirty minutes and lie down in the other room? The bed isn’t the greatest, but at least you’ll be able to put your feet up.”

  “Thanks, but Eric is coming by in an hour to take me home. I don’t really want to go…” she stroked her husband’s limp hand “…but Eric says that no one can look after the baby except me, and Lonnie’s in good hands.”

  “He’s right.”

  “I just hate to leave him. He’s going to be gone soon and I want to spend every possible minute with him that I can.”

  Clearly, Abby had come to terms with the terminal state of her husband’s condition. “I promise to call you if there’s the slightest change,” Marissa said kindly.

  “His pneumonia is better, isn’t it?”

  “Yes.” She didn’t feel compelled to point out that medical science had gained in that area, but had lost ground elsewhere. His seizures had become harder to control.

  “People have asked me if I’d known this was going to happen, would I have done anything differently,” Abby said.

  “And would you?”

  “No.” She shook her head. “I take that back. Yes, there is one thing. We’d have started our family sooner than we did. We always thought there would be plenty of time. There wasn’t.”

  “We’re all guilty of thinking on those lines.”

  Abby nodded. “My advice to anyone now is to seize the moment. Don’t put the important things off. And never let a day go by without telling someone you love them.”

  A tear rolled down Abby’s cheek and she quickly brushed it aside. “Look at me. I’m just a bucket of sunshine today, aren’t I? Well, enough of this maudlin stuff.”

  She pasted on a tired smile. “Did I tell you that Eric helped me finish the baby’s room? We’re set for the big day.”

  After listening to Abby talk about the decor of the nursery, Marissa returned to Carter Mosby. “It’s time to bother you again,” she said cheerfully as she went through her usual routine.

  “Has it been an hour?”

  “Time flies, doesn’t it?” she said, before she listened to his heart. The rumbling murmur she heard fit Justin’s diagnosis of mitral valve involvement.

  As she replaced her stethoscope around her neck, she smiled at him. “No changes that I can tell. Can I get you anything? More iced water? Another blanket?”

  “I’m fine.” With that, his head fell to the side as he suddenly went limp and his monitor went flat.

  Cardiac arrest!

  Instantly Marissa sprang into action. She slapped the code blue button on the wall, then began CPR. Within seconds, Kristi had wheeled the crash cart into the room and minutes later the small area was filled with staff who’d responded to the overhead announcement.

  By the time Justin arrived, Marissa had already put her advanced cardiac life support training to use. She’d defibrillated the patient twice and was already planning her next move.

  “What happened?” Justin sounded breathless, as if he’d run the mile in record time.

  “We were talking and he just crashed. We’re ready to defib for the third time.”

  One glance at the monitor’s unsteady line gave him the condition—ventricular fibrillation. “Go ahead.”

  She poised the paddles. “Clear!”

  No change.

  “Let’s intubate,” he said. As soon as someone placed the endotracheal tube into his hand, he slid it into place.

  “Where’s the epinephrine?” he asked.

  “Going in as we speak,” Marissa said, as she pushed the drug into the IV line.

  He picked up the paddles. “Here we go. Clear!”

  This time, a normal rhythm appeared on the monitor. “I want labs and a blood gas,” he ordered one nurse. “And I want someone to call Life Flight. This guy’s going on a ride.” He turned to another nurse. “See if we have a preliminary report on his blood culture yet. And if we don’t, get one!”

  Both nurses disappeared while Justin, Kristi and Marissa worked to stabilize the patient. Before long, both women returned.

  “Kansas City is ready for him and the helicopter will be taking off shortly,” the one reported. “It should be here within twenty minutes.”

  “Lab says the preliminary culture shows gram positive cocci—probably Staph aureus.”

  “At least we know what we’re dealing with,” Justin remarked.

  “It’s treatable, though, isn’t it?” Marissa asked. She’d cared for a number of patients with this condition over the years and they’d all recovered.

  “Yes, but the bacterial growth has probably formed an embolus which moved to another area of his heart and caused his infarct. He’ll need arteriograms and a host of other studies that aren’t available here. And if the infection spreads…”

  Marissa didn’t need the details spelled out. If the infection spread, their patient’s prognosis wasn’t good.

  Fortunately, Carter Mosby remained stable under their watchful eyes, although even if he pulled through without any other complications, he would require IV antibiotics for four to six more weeks.

  The cardiac flight team arrived on time and the Hope staff passed on their responsibility with some relief. An hour after Carter’s heart attack, he was on his way.

  “Anyone for a cup of coffee?” Justin asked.

  “I could use one,” Marissa said fervently.

  “You’re in luck.” He grabbed her hand and led her into the nursing conference area where a pot of coffee waited.

  She sipped the cup he’d poured. “This is awful.”

  “Yeah, but it’s a shot of much-needed caffeine. If it’s good stuff you want, I’ll take you to the best coffeehouse in town tonight to celebrate my house’s new look.”

  “Is this a date?”

  He grinned. “Nope. We may be celebrating, but going out for a cappuccino is not a date.”

  “I’m not so sure.”

  “Trust me. It isn’t. I’ll let you know when it is.” He drained his portion and tossed the paper cup into the trash can. “Sorry to run, but I’m already behind. See you at seven?”

  “Sure.”

  “Great.” All at once he did something he’d never done before at the hospital. He pressed a hard but quick kiss on her mouth, then disappeared, leaving a stunned Marissa in his wake.

  “Are you ready to fly this coop, Miss Lucy?” Justin teased his patient some minutes later.

  “I’ve been ready since the beginning of the week,” Lucy said tartly, although the twinkle in her eyes softened the effect.

  “Then I’ll sign you out first thing in the morning.”

  “That, my young man, is the best news I’ve heard all day.” She sighed. “I can’t wait to see my garden. Smell the roses, let the dirt run through my fingers.”

  He held up a hand. “Wait a minute. Seeing the garden and smelling the roses are okay, but letting the dirt run through your fingers has
to wait a while. I don’t want you tiring yourself out. You’re going to have a long recovery as it is. I don’t want you to suffer a relapse.”

  “I won’t. My sister is more of a fussbudget than you are,” she grumbled.

  “She’d better be, or I’ll keep you for another week.”

  “I’ll be good. I promise. At least I can sleep in my own bed. I can hardly wait.”

  He couldn’t wait to sleep in his own bed either. Although he wanted Marissa there, too.

  “I have to warn you, though. When you see your yard, don’t hold us to your gardening standards. We did our best, but we can’t compete with a pro like yourself.”

  “I’m sure you did fine. Beggars can’t be choosers, I always say.” She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “By the way, how are things going between you two?”

  “What makes you think there’s anything going on?” he prevaricated.

  “She told me about your little heart-to-heart.”

  “Did she also tell you about her crazy idea to have a baby on her own?”

  “Yes.”

  “I hope you set her straight.”

  Lucy smiled. “She’s afraid of making another mistake. Her mother’s antics and poor judgment have made her worry that she’s a chip off the old block.”

  “She’s nothing like her mother.”

  “You and I both know that, but look at it from her side. Every person she’s loved has rejected her in one way or another. Her dad died, then her mother dropped her at her grandmother’s house like a piece of unwanted luggage, now Travis.” She shook her head. “The poor dear. It’s hard to jump back in the saddle when you’ve fallen off so many times.”

  Inwardly he cringed. He hadn’t helped matters either over the years. No wonder she’d given up on him. Well, no more. He wasn’t giving up without a fight. “I’m not Pendleton.”

  “You don’t have to convince me,” she said.

  “That’s the problem. I want to show Marissa how much I care about her, but I don’t want to go down Pendleton’s candy and flowers route. His idea of romance seems too canned and impersonal. Any suggestions?”

  “Not at the moment, but Marissa isn’t impressed by what money can buy.”

  “I know. We’ve always gravitated to the simpler things like renting a movie, going out for ice cream, taking a long walk, but I want to do something different, something unique.”

 
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