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Unlocking the surgeons h.., p.14

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart, page 14

 

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart
 


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  She hoped his mystery woman deserved him.

  The doorbell—and Ria’s answering barks—interrupted her thoughts. She was inclined to ignore her unexpected visitor, but Ria bounded into the bathroom and began barking in her familiar follow-me style.

  “Okay, okay,” she grumbled as she patted her face dry, hoping she’d removed all traces of crustiness and didn’t smell as if she’d fallen into a distillery vat.

  Ria nudged her toward the stairs and stood beside Christy as she unlocked the door.

  The man on the stoop caught her by surprise. “Linc!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

  “May I come in?”

  “Certainly.” She stepped aside, both happy and puzzled that he’d dropped by. “Where’s your date? Or should I ask when is your date?”

  His grin was broad as his gaze traveled down her entire body. A second later, he flicked at a dried flake on her T-shirt. “I came to pick her up, but I’d say she isn’t ready.”

  Her heart pounded and she couldn’t breathe. “You came for me? But…”

  “You’re my date.” His mouth curled with amusement. “Now, run along and get dressed. I’ll occupy Ria’s attention so she won’t hide your shoes.”

  Shock, as well as suspicion that she’d somehow misunderstood, had rooted her feet to the floor. “You mean…I’m your mystery woman?”

  He nodded.

  “I’m the woman you want to get to know?”

  “Yes.”

  Although her spirits wanted to soar into the stratosphere, she held a tight rein on them. “I don’t understand. I thought you cared about…”

  “Someone else?” he supplied helpfully.

  She hesitated. “Well, yes.”

  “You were wrong. There isn’t anyone else. You’re the one I care about—the one I want to spend my evening with.”

  She wanted to cry tears of joy as well as frustration. “You shouldn’t want that—”

  “Of course I should,” he interrupted. “You’re a kind, generous, thoughtful woman and every bachelor I know would trade places with me in an instant.”

  “It’s a nice thought, but—”

  “Whatever has happened in the past or will happen in the future doesn’t matter. The current moment is what we have, so we’re going to focus on it. The real question is, have you eaten yet or…” he leaned closer to sniff “…have you been drinking your dinner?”

  Her face warmed. “I suspect the ingredients in my great-grandmother’s facial recipe were chosen for their, shall we say, medicinal qualities.” She grinned. “According to Grandma Nell, her mother faithfully applied her facial every Saturday night. Her private time probably included sampling the ingredients while she pampered her skin.”

  He chuckled. “I don’t blame her. Life was hard a hundred years ago and she probably deserved a beer or two at the end of her week.”

  She smiled. “It makes for an interesting story, doesn’t it?” Then, because she didn’t want to think about not having descendants who could pass on the tale, she changed the subject. “As for dinner, I haven’t eaten.”

  “Good, because I’m starved. Now, put on your glad rags and let’s go.”

  She should protest, and she was inclined to do so, but she didn’t. Perhaps she held back because he acted more like a friend than a guy who was seriously intent on a commitment. Maybe it was only because she was relieved she didn’t have to share him with anyone else. She was certainly flattered he’d asked her when he could have chosen from a host of eligible women.

  It was also far too easy to remind herself she was mere weeks away from her five-year check-up and the end of her self-imposed moratorium on romantic relationships. She could go out, keep the mood light, and just enjoy being in the company of a handsome fellow.

  The more she considered, the more enticing an evening of Linc’s undivided attention sounded.

  “Casual, I assume?” she asked, eyeing his jeans and noticing how fantastic he looked in denim and a cotton shirt.

  “Whatever’s comfortable,” he agreed. “Keep in mind it’ll be cool after dark.”

  She changed in record speed, although she was so excited it took her three tries to successfully brush on her mascara and apply lip gloss.

  “I’m ready,” she said breathlessly when she emerged fifteen minutes later, wearing her favorite low-cut jeans, a sleeveless white cotton shell and her favorite pearl earrings.

  He held out his arm. “Then shall we?”

  Before she could pat Ria one final time, he snapped his fingers. “Let’s go, Ria.”

  The dog raced to the door while Christy stared at him. “We’re taking her with us?”

  “Not to dinner. We’ll drop her off at my place on the way. She can chase rabbits and hunt squirrels while we’re gone.”

  “She could stay here. She’s used to being alone.”

  “She could,” he agreed, “but wouldn’t you rather let her run in a huge yard instead of relegating her to a tiny apartment? Do you really want to deprive her of one of our rare days of nice weather?”

  She couldn’t refute his argument, although he obviously intended to end up at his place at some point. Was he giving her the opportunity to spend the night by ensuring she couldn’t use Ria as an excuse to refuse?

  He must have read her mind because he pulled her close. “Before you get all righteous and accuse me of having an ulterior motive, I want you to remember this. However long our night lasts, whether it ends at ten o’clock or in the wee hours, nothing will happen that both of us aren’t ready for.”

  She knew he wouldn’t push her beyond her comfort zone—he wasn’t the sort who notched his bedposts—but nevertheless she had to ask. “You won’t be disappointed if we have an early night?”

  His smile was tender as he cupped her face. “I’m a guy. Of course I’d be disappointed, but tonight isn’t about me. Tonight is for you.”

  He was being so sweet, she wanted to cry. More than that, though, she wanted him to kiss her. He obviously wanted it too because he bent his head and she felt his breath brush against the bridge of her nose. Unfortunately, in that split second before his lips met hers, Ria barked impatiently.

  He grinned and instead of the lingering kiss he’d been so obviously prepared to give, he delivered a swift peck on her cheek. “We’re being paged, so hold that thought.”

  She did.

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  “THANKS for letting me share your dinner,” Christy said as ninety minutes later they left Rosa’s Italian Eatery, the mom-and-pop restaurant he favored for its authentic cuisine and intimate dining atmosphere.

  “You’re welcome.” He’d never divided his dinner with a date before, but Christy had eyed his chicken and eggplant parmesan with such curiosity that he’d given her a sample. In the interest of fairness, she’d shared a taste of her vegetable lasagna and before he knew it, they’d split both meals between them.

  “How long have you known Rosa and her husband?” she asked.

  He thought for a minute. “Several years. I first met them when their sixteen-year-old son, Frank Junior, had been in a car accident. After I put him back together, Rosa insisted on showing her gratitude by catering a meal for my office staff. The food was fabulous and now, if I want Italian food, her place is at the top of my list.”

  She stopped in her tracks and he felt her gaze. “You really amaze me,” she said.

  He grinned, pleased she was seeing him as a good guy and not of the same ilk as the infamous Jon. “Why? Because I prefer eating at great places?”

  “No, because your patients aren’t just patients. The ones I’ve met have always spoken highly of you, and I’d assumed it was because of your surgical skills and the stories of how, no matter how busy you are, you find time to see someone
who needs you.”

  “I try,” he admitted, “but I have a few favorites, as I’m sure you do, too.”

  “Yes, but, unlike you, I don’t usually see them again.”

  They’d reached the car and because Linc had been keeping tabs on the weather, he noticed a bank of clouds building in the west.

  “Looks like the weatherman might be right about the rain,” she commented.

  “That’s what I was afraid of.”

  “Oh? You don’t want the moisture? For shame, Dr Maguire. Don’t let the farmers hear you utter such blasphemy,” she teased.

  “I don’t want it tonight,” he corrected. “I need nice weather for what I had planned.”

  “Then you did organize your evening,” she accused good-naturedly. “You told me you were allowing your date to plan your activities.”

  He grinned. “I did, more or less. She told me what she’d like to do and I took her suggestions to heart.”

  “I didn’t give you any suggestions.”

  “If I recall, you mentioned Grant’s Point.”

  Her face lit up like the mall’s Christmas tree. “Is that where we’re going? I can’t believe you remembered.”

  “You’d be amazed at what I remember,” he said lightly. In fact, he remembered a lot more than she thought he did. “The only problem is…” he pointed to the sky “…we won’t have much time out there before we get wet.”

  “Bummer.”

  “Yeah, but if you’re okay with waiting, we’ll save that excursion for next time.” It was a subtle mention of his intention to take her out again, and he waited for her reply.

  “I’d like that.”

  Hiding his satisfaction over her response, he helped her into the car, then walked around to the driver’s side.

  So far, everything was turning out better than he’d hoped. He’d worried how Christy would react when he arrived on her doorstep unannounced and had half expected her to refuse to go at all. She’d seemed determined to shun a personal relationship until she’d reached the magical date she’d set, which was why he’d used the just-friends approach.

  However, his ultimate goal was to show her that friendship would never be enough. For himself, he already wanted more because he didn’t want to return to his previous life when everything he did revolved around his work. He wanted his days—his future—revolving around her because he couldn’t imagine facing a day without her.

  * * *

  A short time later, Linc escorted Christy into his house and once again she was filled with a sense of belonging, as if she “fit” in this house. If she’d had the finances, not to mention the time and strength, to maintain a place like his, she’d buy it. Her feelings had nothing to do with the owner.

  Oh, who was she kidding? She enjoyed being around Linc whether they were at the hospital, Gail and Ty’s house, or his place. If the truth were told, she enjoyed being with him far more than she should at this point in her life.

  She paused in front of the patio door. “I’ll get Ria so we can go.”

  “How about a glass of wine first?”

  She hesitated. Returning to her empty house wasn’t nearly as attractive as staying here with Linc, but, given how easily she was falling for him, it wasn’t wise to stay.

  “I bought this bottle specifically for our star-gazing,” he coaxed. “We may not be able to see too many stars from my patio, but we can’t let it go to waste.”

  Rather than argue that a sealed bottle of wine would keep indefinitely, she gave in because deep down she wanted to stay and pretend she possessed a future as secure as any other twenty-eight-year-old woman’s. “One glass, on the patio, please.”

  If she’d refused, she was certain he would have been chivalrous and obliged, but his broad smile suggested her answer had pleased him. He grabbed two wine glasses and the bottle he’d brought in from the car then accompanied her outdoors.

  As soon as she stepped outside and called for Ria, the Lab raced toward them, only to stop abruptly in front of Linc and nudge his leg in an apparent attempt to receive his personal attention, too.

  He laughed as he tucked the wine bottle under one arm, then obliged. He’d obviously found the right spot because the dog extended her neck as if to encourage him to shower his attention over a much larger area.

  “Don’t I get a hello?” she asked her pet lightly, disappointed Ria had transferred her allegiance to Linc so quickly.

  Ria wagged her tail and continued to lean into Linc’s touch.

  “Apparently not,” he said. “You know I can find the right spots, don’t you, girl?”

  “Yes, well, you’re going to spoil her with those magic fingers of yours.” Remembering his touch on several occasions, she wished she was on the receiving end instead of her dog. “Ria,” she asked, “are you almost ready to go home?”

  A rabbit darted across the yard and slipped through a small opening in the wooden fence. Ria gave a sharp woof before bounding to the same corner to nose the ground where her prey had escaped.

  “I think her answer was ‘No’,” Linc said as he handed her an empty glass, then popped the cork on the bottle.

  “You do realize she’ll be willing to spend hours in your yard?”

  He grinned. “She’s a dog. Of course she will.”

  “Yes, but we shouldn’t wear out our welcome.”

  “You won’t,” he assured her. “If the weather hadn’t interfered with my original plan, she’d be spending hours doing what she’s doing now.”

  “Yes, but—”

  “Do you have something special to do when you get home?”

  “No,” she said slowly. “But—”

  “But nothing,” he said as he poured both glasses half-full. “We may have postponed our Grant’s Point trip, but the evening is still ours. And…” he emphasized the word “…I have a Plan B.”

  “Which is?” She sipped her wine.

  “We haven’t practiced our dance steps today,” he reminded her.

  “No, we haven’t, but one day won’t matter.”

  He lifted an eyebrow. “Speak for yourself, my dear.”

  She smiled at his grumble. “Mario was quite impressed with you at our last lesson.”

  “And I want him to stay that way. Or are you trying to get me in trouble with the teacher?”

  She laughed. “I can’t believe you ever got in trouble at school.”

  “Contrary to what you might think, I had my moments of infamy. Unfortunately, my stories can’t leave this property. They would ruin the ‘perfect son’ standard I projected to Ty and my sister.” He grinned.

  She laughed. “I promise. What did you do?”

  “Nothing malicious. Mostly stuff like hiding red pens on test days, rearranging the books on the teacher’s desk, hiding the dry-erase markers in another classroom so she couldn’t post assignments on the board.”

  “Did your ploys work?”

  “Once,” he admitted, “but my teachers were a wily bunch. They kept extra red pens and markers in their file cabinets. If one disappeared, they simply pulled another one from their stash or borrowed from another instructor.” He smiled. “But my tactics gave us a few minutes’ reprieve and to an eight-year-old a few minutes’ delay was a coup.”

  “Did you go to school in Levitt Springs?”

  He shook his head. “We grew up about three hours from here. Fortunately, my hometown had a college, so I earned my undergrad degree while Ty and my sister finished high school. After that, we went our separate ways. I began med school, Ty and Joanie entered different colleges and Gran had died by then, so splitting up was inevitable. We kept in touch with weekly phone calls, though.”

  “How did you and Ty both land in Levitt Springs?”

  “Ty had gotten a job with an a
rchitecture firm here after he finished his education. Eventually, after I’d completed my surgery residency, I looked for a place to go. I’d narrowed my job offers down to two—one in St. Louis and one here.”

  “And you chose Levitt Springs.”

  “My niece and nephew swayed my decision,” he admitted. “They don’t have grandparents, so it seemed important to give them a doting uncle. I would have moved to be near my sister, too, but she’s a buyer for a department-store chain and spends most of her life on the road.”

  “A win-win situation for everyone,” she remarked.

  “It is,” he agreed. “Being surrounded by family after all those years of only getting together for Memorial Day or Christmas is wonderful. Of course, I’m busy enough that I don’t see Ty and his kids as often as I’d like, but we manage to get together at least once a week, even if only for an hour or so.”

  “Family means a great deal to you,” she guessed.

  “It does. Although I’ve watched the kids before on weekends, filling in for Ty makes me eager to have a Derek and Emma of my own.”

  In another lifetime she would have been thrilled to hear him confirm that his philosophy mirrored hers. However, her future was too uncertain to rejoice in those similarities.

  She drained her glass because she couldn’t think of a suitable reply.

  “More wine?” he asked.

  “No, thanks. Our steps are difficult enough without having impaired coordination.”

  He rose to click a button on his iPod player. The music began and he smiled at her. “Shall we start?”

  Regardless of what her future held, her heart skipped with excitement as she set her glass on the end table and walked into his outstretched arms. “Of course.”

  For the next thirty minutes she turned and twirled, conscious of his strength as he caught her. Occasionally he stepped on her toes or she stepped on his but as time went on, those incidents occurred less and less.

  Finally, they’d managed to make it through the first half of their routine without a single misstep.

  “Are we getting good or was that a fluke?” she teased him.

 
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