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His long awaited bride, p.2

His Long-Awaited Bride, page 2


His Long-Awaited Bride

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  Although Marissa couldn’t claim to know precisely what Abby was feeling, she did know how empty and lifeless her own house seemed at times. More often than not, she sensed it after one of Justin’s lengthy visits when they played Scrabble or indulged in one of their movie marathons until the wee hours. Strange how she didn’t experience that same phenomenon with anyone else….

  “But I’m not totally alone,” Abby said with a smile as she rubbed her swollen abdomen. “The baby’s been a big help already.”

  “I’m glad.” It was anyone’s guess what condition Lonnie would be in when he regained consciousness. He could need months and years of therapy before he could go home. If he could ever go home at all. Abby’s son or daughter would give her something to hold on to no matter what the future held.

  Abby motioned to the small spiral notebook that held Marissa’s findings. “How’s he doing?”

  In lieu of good news, she opted for the stock answer. “He’s holding his own.”

  Abby’s smile wavered. “That’s better than the alternative, isn’t it?”

  “Absolutely.” Marissa supposed it was a case of seeing a glass as either half-empty or half-full. A report of “No change” might not be a strong ray of hope, but it was better than “His condition is deteriorating.”

  Before Abby could ask more questions, Marissa posed one of her own. “What are your plans today?”

  “I thought I’d read to him this morning,” Abby said. “I brought Oliver Twist.”

  “‘Please, sir, may I have some more?’” Marissa quoted.

  “Then you’ve read the story?”

  “Read the story, seen the movie. Although, to be honest, I liked the movie version better.” Marissa grinned. “And that’s the only line I remember, but don’t tell anyone.”

  Abby giggled. “It’ll be our secret.” She stroked her husband’s face. “Isn’t that right, dear?”

  Suspecting that Abby would read until she was hoarse, Marissa cautioned her not to overdo it.

  “Oh, I won’t. You see, I have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon. Then it’ll be nap time—doctor’s orders,” she added ruefully. “So I won’t come back until after dinner. You’ll call me if…”

  “There’s any change,” Marissa promised, as she always did. “Your number is posted in the nurses’ station. By the way, aren’t your childbirth classes starting soon?”

  Abby rubbed her tummy once again. “This week.”

  “Do you have a labor coach?”

  “With my parents and sister living so far away, Lonnie’s brother, Eric, has offered to stand in.”

  “I’m glad you have someone, but don’t hesitate to call if you need me.” Marissa had given Abby both her home phone and cellphone numbers several weeks previously as an emergency contact. It seemed the least she could do for the new mother in such a sad situation.

  “Believe me, I won’t.” Abby patted her stomach. “I’m not about to take any chances with Junior.”

  Marissa nodded, well aware that this baby was surrounded with love and care even without Abby’s firm assurance. And while she might not be able to do as much for Abby as she would like, the one thing she could do was to give Abby’s husband the best possible nursing that she could provide. With any luck, he might be alert when his son or daughter arrived in a few short weeks.

  She cast a final glance at the array of monitors above her patient’s head. Satisfied by the readings, she deftly adjusted the blanket over Lonnie’s feet. “I’ll leave you two alone for now,” she said with a smile. “If you need anything, I’m only a few steps away.”

  Her calm deserted her the moment she left the room. Determined to ignore Justin as much as possible, or at least to treat him with cool indifference, she crossed into the nurses’ station, braced for a fight.

  To her surprise, Justin was noticeably absent.

  He hadn’t seen his patient, so he couldn’t have gone far.

  “Where’s Dr. St. James?” she asked Kristi, hating to ask in case he was within earshot.

  “Dr. Tremaine paged him for the ER. He left about ten minutes ago, and said he’d be back as soon as he could. Do you need him?”

  Need Justin St. James? Hardly, she inwardly scoffed. “Not at the moment. I just didn’t want him to get away without rewriting a medication order.” Then, because she wanted to push the man from her mind, she changed the subject. “I noticed we’re low on syringes and blood-gas kits. Before I check through the drawers, can you think of anything else to add to my order?”

  “Not right now.”

  Marissa nodded. As she compared her checklist to the labeled cupboards and drawers in the small medication room adjoining the nurses’ station, she wished that her life was as neatly arranged.

  Maybe that was all it took—a checklist. Let’s see, she thought as she started a mental tally. She had a house that suited her perfectly, even if it was on the small side. A Cairn terrier that served as companion and confidant. Wonderful neighbors, especially Lucy Mullins next door. She also had great friends and lived in a community that boasted enough shopping opportunities and free-time activities to keep her happy. What more could a girl want?

  A husband. A couple of kids. A family.

  Okay, so those things were missing. And, yes, she admitted, those were major items for a woman who had been raised by her grandmother, thanks to her mother’s parade of husbands who hadn’t been interested in having a stepdaughter underfoot. The fact that she wanted a family at all was a testament to her grandmother’s moral fiber and value system. If she’d actually lived with her mother during the turbulence of all her marriages, she might have felt differently, but her grandmother had been her anchor and her role model.

  The one thing she had learned from her mother was not to be taken in by a charming smile and a handsome face. While she considered herself “cautious” when it came to the opposite sex, some might call her “picky.” Admittedly, she was, although she’d dreamed of having her family—or at least a husband—by the time she hit thirty. She had a year to go before she missed her self-imposed deadline.

  Of all the men she’d ever dated, Travis Pendleton had the most potential of being The One. And if their relationship continued to move along as well and as fast as it had so far, she just might be on the way to realizing her dream with time to spare.

  Idly, she wondered how Justin would react to news of her getting married. He’d be shocked, to be sure, and would try to change her mind, but if this was the right thing for her to do, then nothing would stand in her way.

  But, oh, how she’d love to see the look on his face when she told him….

  Justin lingered at the far end of the nurses’ station, out of Marissa’s sight as she sat in front of a computer terminal. She seemed in a good mood, which was a relief considering the way they’d parted thirty minutes ago. Even if she hadn’t been, he’d always been able to wiggle his way back into her good graces. He felt certain he could do so again.

  Do you really think so? his little voice asked.

  It might not be as easy this time, he admitted. Discrediting the man who’d provided more bouquets than most women saw in a lifetime hadn’t been the smartest thing he’d ever done. He should have known that she’d feel compelled to defend the man. The problem was, he didn’t quite understand why his temper had suddenly flared at the mention of Pendleton and his dramatic gesture.

  You’re jealous.

  Hardly, he scoffed at Marissa’s words echoing in his mind. He simply didn’t want her to be taken in by a man who was all flash and no substance. If he could save an old friend from making the same mistakes that he had, he would. His motives were as simple as that.

  And, yes, Marissa had a good, level head on those pretty shoulders. She could size up a fellow quite well, but none of them had ever gone to such drastic lengths to impress her. What woman wouldn’t be affected by the romance of this grandstand gesture? It was his duty to make sure that an undeserving lout didn’t hang stars in
her eyes now, only to blast them to earth later.

  Even now, he swore he could smell flowers, although it was probably all in his imagination. That, or the fact that the scent of those damn roses he’d carried had rubbed off on his clothes.

  Just as he was about to make his presence known and tell her about his new ICU admission, the phone rang to give him a brief reprieve.

  He watched and listened as she spoke with the usual joyful lilt in her voice. From past experience, he knew that one didn’t have to see her to hear her perpetual smile. It was why he always made a point to talk to her either in person or on the phone at the end of the day. Just the sound of her voice lifted his spirits, no matter what his mood.

  Her long, light-brown hair was tied back in a ponytail instead of a braid, which meant that she’d probably overslept that morning. It made her appear too young to be the shift charge nurse, but those who were foolish enough to think that a youthful appearance and medical experience couldn’t coexist soon learned otherwise.

  She tucked an ink pen behind her ear, drawing his attention to her fine features. Even from his position, he could see the gentle curve of her mouth as she reached out to caress one of the daisy petals with long, slender fingers. He knew just how gentle her touch was—he’d seen her work her magic with her patients and had enjoyed more than one of her back rubs when he’d been dead tired.

  To him, though, her hazel eyes, framed with dark lashes, were her best feature. Gazing into them was like watching the different moods of the Atlantic, but whether they sparkled with animation or reflected her genuine care and compassion, they didn’t reveal a lot of what was going on inside her pretty head. For all her friendliness and the years they’d known each other, she was still, in effect, a private person.

  Sometimes, like now, he wondered why she hadn’t found the right man to spend her life with, but considering her mother was on husband number four, he understood why she hadn’t rushed into the state of matrimony.

  Her mother’s failed marriages aside, he chose to take a small amount of credit for Marissa’s caution. After his own marital fiasco, he’d vowed that none of his friends would be taken in by a pretty face or, in Marissa’s case, a handsome one. No, siree. It wouldn’t happen on his watch.

  Perhaps he wouldn’t feel this strongly if someone had warned him about his ex-wife, Chandra. Her gorgeous face and model’s body had hidden a calculating mind and a hard, greedy heart. Within six months of their wedding, she’d maxed their credit cards to the limit “because you’ll be able to afford it, darling. And I have an image to uphold,” she’d cooed.

  Some image. He grimaced at the memory. Sleeping with the bank loan officer who’d been helping them obtain the funds for their first home had certainly not been upholding his ideal image of a trustworthy physician or a happy marriage. Neither was having an affair with their accountant, her dentist or their veterinarian. By then, her escapades had killed any feelings he’d had for her.

  Had he loved her? He’d thought so at the time, but now he couldn’t say. True love couldn’t be killed so quickly, could it? After all, he missed Maisie, Chandra’s French poodle, more than he missed her.

  In any event, she’d eventually walked out because she’d been tired of trying to make their marriage work when she hadn’t loved him. Privately, he doubted if she ever had. She may have loved him for his profession, his future income and his status, but not for him. If he hadn’t been so blinded by lust, he might have seen the same character flaw that his closest friends in med school had seen. But he hadn’t, and they hadn’t uttered a single word. “We hoped we were wrong,” they’d said in their defense.

  Unfortunately, they hadn’t been. Now, having been burned by his experience, he’d never sleep at night knowing that he could have saved a friend from misery and hadn’t.

  Be that as it may, their personal issues and discussion would have to wait. The soon-to-arrive patient would take precedence.

  He approached Marissa as she severed the phone connection. “I’m back,” he announced.

  The smile on her face faded. “How nice.”

  Her polite tone grated on his nerves but he deserved a chilly reception. Before he could frame an apology, she pointed to the monitor of a second computer. “My notes on Mr. Newland are charted for your review. The pharmacy has already called about renewing his medication orders, so if you can take care of that first—”

  “They’ll have to wait. I’m admitting a new patient to the unit, a seventy-year-old female with possible meningitis or encephalitis. I’ll want a spinal tap.” The elevator bell dinged an interruption, and he added, “That’s probably her now.”

  She rose and darted around the counter, her cool demeanor changing to her usual professionalism. “I’ll put her in two.”

  “Marissa, wait.”

  She stopped in her tracks. “Why? Your patient is here.”

  As if he needed a reminder. “I know.” He paused. “You need to know something first.”

  Impatience flitted across her face. “What?”

  “It’s Lucy.”

  “Lucy who?”

  “Lucy Mullins.”

  It took a second for the name to register. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped. “My Lucy?”

  He nodded, intently watching her response.

  Lucy Mullins might be Marissa’s seventy-year-old neighbor, but she was far more than that. Neither woman had any family to speak of, and he knew that Lucy offered friendship, homemade cookies and motherly advice whenever any of the above were needed.

  The worry in Marissa’s eyes turned to determination. “As soon as I’ve gotten her settled into room two and am ready for the spinal tap, I’ll let you know.”

  She headed in that direction, but Justin’s hand on her arm held her in place. “What now?” she asked impatiently.

  “Ask Kristi to take over for you.”

  She stared at him, incredulous. “Why? Lucy is my patient.”

  He shook his head, aware that she wouldn’t like what he would say next any better than she’d liked his comments about Pendleton. “Not today she isn’t.”


  JUSTIN braced himself for her inevitable outburst and hoped he could make her see reason.

  “What do you mean, she isn’t my patient?” Marissa demanded, her eyes flashing fire.

  “Just that.”

  “Of course she’s my patient,” she snapped. “Not only do I have two patients to Kristi’s three, but I’m in charge of nursing assignments.”

  Her emphasis on I didn’t escape him, but he knew it would be better for all concerned if Marissa stepped aside. “You’re too close to the situation,” he pointed out. “You won’t be objective.”

  “I won’t be objective?” she sputtered.

  “This isn’t any different than a physician treating a family member,” he countered. “So don’t get all up in arms about it. I just think—”

  Marissa leaned close enough that he could feel her breath whisper across his chin. “Don’t. Don’t think at all, because you can’t stop me from making a nursing decision. You won’t stop me from looking after Lucy. I’m the senior nurse on this unit and I—not you—make the patient assignments.”

  He’d hoped this would be easy, although he knew before he left the ER that it wouldn’t. “I can go over your head. And if I do, you know I’ll win.”

  Once again her jaw dropped before she clamped her mouth into a tight line. Obviously she knew that if he spoke with the director of nursing, Marissa’s decision would be overruled. Not to mention there was also the distinct possibility that Lorraine might transfer her to another unit for the duration of Lucy’s stay.

  “I’m sure you would,” she said quietly, “but if you stood in my shoes, wouldn’t you want to be in the middle of things, too? Lucy is important to me, which is all the more reason why I will do whatever it takes to see her well.”

  “I understand but—”

  “I can do this,” she urged. “I
know I can. Don’t do this to me. Or to Lucy.”

  He hesitated. Lucy had always been vocal about disliking hospitals. Given the choice, she’d want Marissa taking care of her. Hell, he’d want Marissa taking care of him, too, if he were seriously ill. But if Lucy went into convulsions or suffered other complications, he didn’t want to worry about Marissa being too distraught to keep her wits about her.

  “Have I ever fallen apart on you before?”

  Her gaze was steady and he couldn’t lie. “No.”

  “Then I won’t this time, either.”

  The ER nurse halted next to the nurses’ station counter. “Where do you want us?”

  Marissa’s gaze didn’t waver from Justin’s. “Room two,” she told her colleague. As soon as the nurse began wheeling the gurney in the right direction, Marissa tapped her foot. “Well?”

  His resolve wavered. “Okay, but if it looks like you can’t handle whatever happens—”

  “I’ll voluntarily step aside,” she finished quickly.

  He studied her expression. Although he knew that Marissa had never been anything but honest, he wanted everything spelled out clearly to avoid a misunderstanding. “You’re certain.”

  “I’m positive. Lucy’s health comes first.”

  “No arguments?”

  “No arguments,” she promised.

  “Then let’s get to work.”

  Let’s get to work. As if she were the one who’d been holding up the process, Marissa thought with exasperation as she hurried to catch up to her new patient. And yet, with each step forward, she was grateful that she’d won the battle to look after the woman who seemed more like her mother than her own.

  Lucy’s face appeared pale under the tan she’d already earned this spring, and her mouth was pressed into a line, as if she were in pain. She was a small woman, but Marissa never thought of her in terms of size. Her spirited personality had more than compensated for her petite frame as she puttered in her garden and engaged in enough volunteer activities to send a person half her age to bed. Right now, she hardly made a bump under the coverlet. Part of Marissa wanted to gasp in dismay, but the man she was trying to ignore would only see her reaction as a sign of weakness.

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