Unlocking the surgeons h.., p.15

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart, page 15

 

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart
 


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“I vote we try once more,” he told her.

  So he started the music once again.

  To Christy’s delight, they repeated their steps perfectly, ending with a final spin that required him to catch her.

  For a long minute he simply held her against him, making her aware of how his labored breathing matched hers.

  The patter-patter of rain on the roof punctuated the silence and the fresh, clean scent it brought mingled with Linc’s masculine fragrance. He

  exuded warmth, and while that was pleasant, as the air suddenly carried a coolness she hadn’t noticed before, she was more impressed by his strength and rock-solidness.

  In that instant Linc no longer seemed like a friendly dance partner. He was an attractive, virile man in the prime of his life.

  She should push herself away, but she couldn’t. The intensity in his gaze was too mesmerizing and savoring this moment too important for her to move.

  “That was awesome,” he murmured.

  “Oh, yes.” She didn’t know if her breathlessness was due to physical exertion or from being in his arms. She was playing with fire, but it had seemed like for ever since she’d felt as carefree and as attractive as she did at this moment.

  It was also a bittersweet moment. She hated to be realistic with romance simmering in the air but she had to control her attraction because these feelings could never grow. Not yet, anyway, and, depending on her doctor’s findings, maybe never.

  “I suppose we should stop practicing while we’re ahead,” she said lightly. “End the session on a high note, so to speak.”

  “Probably.”

  Yet for the next sixty seconds he didn’t release her and she didn’t push the issue. The moment would end soon enough and she wanted to enjoy it for as long as it lasted.

  “It’s raining,” she commented inanely, wishing she could go back to her carefree youth when the C word only applied to other people. “We should call Ria and go inside.”

  “I’d rather kiss you,” he said.

  Her gaze landed on his mouth and although her small voice cautioned her about the wisdom of it, she raised her chin to meet his lips in a kiss so fierce her toes curled and her inner core ached.

  “We shouldn’t do this,” she murmured when he gentled his mouth and inched his way to the sensitive area behind her ear.

  “Of course we should.”

  Her mind barely registered his words, she was too consumed with the sensation of being pressed against his entire length to make sense of them.

  Suddenly he pulled away just enough to meet her gaze. The hunger in his expression warmed her down her to her toes. “Have you thought about what we’ll do after Gail and Ty return?”

  “The Fall Festival is the same day,” she pointed out. “The next afternoon I leave for Seattle so I can be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for my doctor’s appointment on that Monday. With a hectic schedule like that, I haven’t thought past that weekend.”

  “We should,” he said.

  Instinctively, she sensed he was referring to a topic she’d been purposely avoiding. “I imagine we’ll go back to the way things were before,” she said lightly. “We’ll see each other a few times a week at the hospital.”

  “I don’t think so. Too much has changed.”

  He had a point. Between their shared parenting responsibilities and the dance competition, whenever she saw him on her unit, she treated him differently. Oh, she still gave him the respect he deserved, but now she joked and teased and asked personal questions that she’d never had the courage to ask before. He’d also loosened up enough to join in staff conversations without prompting. Rose hadn’t been the only person who’d noticed the change.

  “You’re right. Things are different. In fact, you’re so different that several single women have mentioned they’d love to go out with you. If you like, I can give you their names.”

  She struggled to make the offer because she felt rather possessive about him, but she had no right to that particular feeling. Yes, she’d dragged him out of his shell and convinced him to stop putting his professional career ahead of his personal life, but those lessons would simply prepare him for the woman of his dreams. When he found her and eventually had his own Derek and Emma, and maybe even a Nick or a Beth, she could take pride in the role she’d played.

  “You’re pulling my leg, right?”

  “Not at all. Theresa in Respiratory Therapy, Monica in the Recovery Room, and—”

  His hold around her waist tightened. “Their names don’t matter because every one of them will be disappointed. Maybe you didn’t hear me when I came by your house. I want to spend my time with you—no one else.”

  It was a wonderful thought and her heart did a happy dance, but the implications scared her. He was asking too much, too soon. “That’s sweet of you to say, but—”

  “I know you’re worried about your upcoming appointment but, whatever happens, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

  Christy stiffened, and Linc sensed her mental withdrawal. Any second she’d bolt, and he imperceptibly tightened his hold. She felt too good right where she was and he wanted to show her both literally and figuratively that he wouldn’t let her go without a fight.

  There would be no turning back.

  He could have said nothing and let the days roll by, but she needed to know that this time she wouldn’t face her future with only Ria as her companion. His intentions were to prove he had more staying power and more strength of character than the other jerks who had walked into—and out of—her life.

  Moisture glistened in her eyes and she blinked rapidly. “I know you mean well, but please don’t make any promises.”

  “I already have.”

  “I won’t hold you to them,” she warned.

  “Are you giving me an escape clause?”

  “Someone has to.”

  “Do you really think I’m the sort of guy who runs at the first sign of trouble?”

  Her shoulders slumped before she shook her head. “No, but it’s too risky to say what you might do when or if the situation changes.”

  He disagreed, but she wouldn’t change her opinion in the space of this conversation. “Okay.” He spoke evenly. “We’ll continue our discussion after your appointment, but I happen to believe we have a future. Don’t let fear hold you hostage.”

  For a long minute she didn’t move, until finally she nodded ever so slightly. “I’ll try.”

  Pleased by his small victory, he stepped forward and lightly brushed her cheekbone with his lips. “That’s all I ask.”

  * * *

  At times over the next three weeks Christy wondered if she’d imagined that particular conversation because Linc never referred to it again. However, every now and then she’d catch him studying her, sometimes with curiosity and sometimes with a speculative gleam, but no matter what she saw in his eyes, he always smiled his lazy grin that turned her insides to mush. She tried to do as he’d asked—to think about a life after she received her five-year medical report—and it was easy when he was nearby. In the wee hours of the night, however, when darkness had closed in and she had only Ria to hold her fears at bay, it wasn’t. Fortunately, those instances didn’t happen often. She was simply too busy trying to stay on top of their schedule and keep the household running smoothly to reflect past the upcoming weeks.

  Time, however, was marching on and the kitchen calendar reflected it. Emma had circled the date of her parents’ return with a red magic marker and, thanks to the huge black Xs she marked in the squares at the end of each day, Christy could count the remaining white spaces at a glance.

  There were fourteen of them.

  Her time of sharing the house with Linc and playing a mother’s role was drawing to a close, so she savored every moment, includ
ing those less than idyllic times…

  “Christy.” Derek raced into the kitchen while she was finishing the dinner dishes. “Emma keeps bugging me. She won’t stay out of my room.”

  “He took my doll’s car,” Emma wailed, “and I know he’s hiding it under his bed. I want it back.”

  “I didn’t take it. It’s probably buried under all your doll junk.” His disgust was obvious.

  “My stuff is not junk.” Emma’s lower lip quivered.

  “Is, too.”

  “Is not.”

  “Guys,” Christy warned. “Both of you, calm down.”

  “He called my stuff junk.” Emma was clearly affronted. “I don’t make fun of his toys.” She poked a finger in her brother’s chest. “Take that back.”

  “Will not. And quit touching me.”

  He shoved his sister and Emma began weeping. “You’re being mean. I want my mommy! She’d make you be nice to me!”

  Christy abandoned her task to hold the little girl as she sobbed on her shoulder. “Oh, sweetie, your mom will be home in two weeks. That’s only fourteen days. Don’t forget about tonight being our phone call night. You don’t want your mom and dad to see you with red eyes and a runny nose, do you?”

  Emma sniffled.

  “You’re just being a baby,” Derek complained in a typical big-brother voice.

  “Am not!”

  “Stop, you two,” Christy scolded. “We’ll straighten this out in a few minutes.”

  Linc had been outside watering the shrubs and walked in as Christy delivered her warning.

  “What’s going on?” he asked.

  Emma pointed a finger at her brother. “He started it.”

  “Did not.”

  “Quiet. Both of you,” Linc ordered. “Will someone tell me what’s going on?”

  “Emma can’t find her doll’s car and she thinks Derek took it,” Christy explained.

  “I didn’t,” Derek insisted.

  “Did, too!”

  Linc held up his hands. “There’s only one way to solve this. We’ll look for the car right now.”

  “It’s in Derek’s room,” Emma informed them.

  “Is not.”

  Christy exchanged a glance at Linc over their heads and shrugged. “They’ve been like this all afternoon.”

  “Off you go to your rooms,” he commanded as he pointed. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

  As each child stormed to their private corners, Linc paused. “All this drama is over a lost car?”

  “That convertible is very important to Em,” Christy said with a smile. “The main problem is they both miss their parents. She reacts with tears and Derek hides his feelings behind aggression.”

  “I didn’t realize. Everything was going so smoothly I’d hoped we’d passed that stage.”

  “We did, but two months can seem like for ever to a child. A time out for both is in order, I think.” A distant door slammed and Christy smiled. “Do you want to deal with that or should I?”

  “I will,” he said.

  He returned less than ten minutes later. “The mystery of the missing car is solved.”

  “Where was it?”

  “Under Emma’s bed. She’d decided the space was the perfect place for a ‘garage’ and forgot. She apologized to Derek, so life is good.”

  “Will you be able to handle them by yourself tomorrow?”

  “Considering they’ll be in school most of the day, I’d say so,” he said wryly, “but I’ve been thinking. I could go with you.”

  His offer surprised her because when she’d mentioned her upcoming trip a week ago, he’d simply nodded. “I’m flying to Seattle for the usual battery of tests, not open-heart surgery. Don’t you have patients to see?”

  “None that couldn’t wait until next week,” he said. “I’ve been rearranging my schedule, just in case.”

  “You have?” She could hardly believe he’d go to the trouble. “Whatever for? You’d go crazy sitting in waiting rooms all day.”

  He grinned. “Probably, but I’d do it. For moral support.”

  She wanted to cry at his thoughtfulness. “Thanks, but my mom has planned to spend the day with me. She’s used to the routine.”

  “Good, because I don’t want you to be alone,” he stated firmly.

  It seemed strange to have someone other than her own family fuss over her. His concern gave her a warm, fuzzy feeling that was far better than hot cocoa and a warm blanket on a cold winter night.

  “I won’t be,” she assured him. “This way is best for the kids, too. After tonight’s outburst, they need you, not a sitter.”

  “Maybe, but I still don’t understand why you want to travel so far for your tests, only to turn around in another two weeks to visit your doctor. We run the same procedures here, you know.”

  His voice and expression revealed his frustration quite clearly and she tried to explain her reasons. “This seems silly, but all my records are there and I’d like to have the same people looking at my scans. As crazy as it sounds, they’ve given me good reports and I don’t want to jinx myself.”

  He fell silent for a few seconds before he finally nodded. “If that’s what you need for peace of mind, then that’s what you should do.”

  She was half-surprised he didn’t try to convince her otherwise. “You aren’t going to tell me I’m being illogical and superstitious?”

  “I could,” he admitted, “but having faith in one’s medical team is crucial to a patient’s recovery. If you aren’t ready for someone else to run your tests, you shouldn’t. Otherwise, whatever the outcome, you’ll always question the results.”

  “Thanks for understanding.”

  “What I don’t like is how you’re going to be exhausted when you return.”

  “It’s sweet of you to worry, but I’ll be fine.”

  He frowned. “I don’t see how you will be. You’re taking the red-eye flight in the morning, spending the entire day being poked, prodded and scanned, then jetting back late at night. At least stay a little longer and fly home Saturday.”

  “I scheduled my flights months ago. I can’t change them now without huge penalties.”

  “Screw the penalties. I’ll pay the difference.”

  “I can’t have you do that. Honestly, I’ll be fine.” She grinned. “Keep the light on for me, okay?”

  “I’ll do better than that. I’ll be waiting up.”

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHRISTY kissed her mother on the cheek as soon as she met her at the baggage claim the next morning. “Hi, Mom. It’s great to see you.”

  “You, too, hon,” her mother said. At a very young-looking fifty-four, Serena Michaels was dressed fashionably smart in spite of the early hour and their final destination. Although Christy had told her repeatedly that no one expected her to look as if she was heading for a photo shoot instead of a day at the hospital, her mother had disagreed.

  “If you look great, you’ll feel great, too,” had been her mantra, so Christy had taken a few special pains herself. Instead of wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt, she’d worn a comfortable pair of dress slacks, one of her favorite designer shirts, and a matching sweater.

  “Did you have a good flight?”

  “No problems,” she answered cheerfully, preparing for the inevitable question that would come next.

  “How are you feeling?”

  She’d trained herself over the years to not worry about cancer invading again if she didn’t feel well, but her mother hadn’t learned the same lesson. She still needed the reassurance that as long as her daughter felt healthy, then it must be so.

  “Never better,” Christy answered. “I really appreciate you taking the time away from the restaurant today.”

&
nbsp; “Of course I’d take the day off,” Serena assured her as she ushered her to the parking garage. “We may as well use the time in between your tests to catch up. I want to hear all about your side job as a live-in nanny and this dance competition you’ve told me about.”

  While Christy filled in the details, she soaked up the ambience of the city. She’d grown up here, and while it was home, it also wasn’t. Oddly enough, she felt more rooted in Levitt Springs and she wondered if Linc had made the difference.

  Throughout the day Christy shared story after story between her sessions of blood draws, PET and bone-density scans, and every other test her physician had ordered. She didn’t realize Linc had figured prominently in every tale until her mother commented.

  “You’ve talked about this Linc a lot lately. Is he someone new?”

  “I’ve been acquainted with him since I moved to town, but I didn’t really know him until we began taking care of his brother’s children.”

  “He sounds like a special fellow,” Serena remarked.

  “He is. He even offered to rearrange his patient schedule to come with me today.”

  A knowing smile appeared on her mother’s face. “He’s that taken with you, is he?”

  “He seems to be, but…” she hesitated “…I’m not sure it’s wise.”

  “Why not? You’re healthy, attractive, and—” Serena stopped short. “You’ve told him about your history, haven’t you?”

  “Yes, Mother.”

  “The news didn’t scare him away?”

  “It should have,” she said honestly, still amazed by his tenacity, “but it hasn’t so far.”

  Serena’s eyes glowed with happiness and she leaned over to hug her. “You’re going to keep him, aren’t you?”

  “A relationship isn’t that simple for me, Mom. There are long-term consequences to consider.”

  “He’s a physician, Christy. Of course he knows the consequences.”

  “I’m just trying to protect him from making a mistake he’ll regret, especially if my ovaries never wake up and he can’t have the son or daughter he wants.”

  “I may not be in the medical profession, but even I know there are plenty of ways around that particular problem. Do you love him?”

 
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