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Unlocking the surgeons h.., p.2

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart, page 2


Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart

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  She heard the hopeful note in his voice. “Trust me, the committee will love it. You may as well accept the fact you’re going to dance before hundreds of people.”

  He frowned for several seconds before he let out a heavy sigh of resignation. “I suppose.”

  “And that means you’re going to have to learn a few steps. A waltz, maybe even a tango or a foxtrot.”

  “Surely not.” His face looked as pained as his voice.

  “Surely so,” she assured him. “It’ll be fun.”

  He shot her a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding look before his Adam’s apple bobbed. He’d clearly, and quite literally, found her comment hard to swallow.

  “Tripping over one’s feet in front of an audience isn’t fun,” he pointed out.

  “That’s why one learns,” she said sweetly. “So we don’t trip over our feet, or our partner’s. Besides, I know you’re the type who can master any skill that’s important to you. Look at how well you can keyboard. Most docs are still on the hunt-and-peck method but you’re in the same league as a transcriptionist.”

  “I’m a surgeon. I’m supposed to be good with my hands,” he said, clearly dismissing her praise. Unbidden, her gaze dropped to the body part in question. For an instant she imagined what it would be like to enjoy this man’s touch. Would he make love with the same single-minded approach he gave everything else in his life that he deemed important?

  Sadly, she’d never know. She couldn’t risk the rejection again. However, it had been a long time since she’d been in a relationship and he was handsome enough to make any girl dream of possibilities… .

  “Hands, feet, they all follow the brain’s commands. ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way’,” she quoted.

  He rubbed the back of his neck as he grimaced. “Are you always full of helpful advice, Nurse Pollyanna?” he complained.

  Oh, my, but she’d just experienced another first—the most taciturn physician on staff had actually teased her. She was going to have to look outside for snow, which never fell in the Midwest in August.

  “I try.” In the distance, she heard the tell-tale alarm that signaled someone’s IV bag had emptied. As if the noise had suddenly reminded him of time and place, he straightened, pulled on his totally professional demeanor like a well-worn lab coat, and pointed to the monitor.

  “Keep an eye on Mrs Hollings’s chest tube. Call me if you notice any change.”

  She was strangely disappointed to see the congenial Lincoln Maguire had been replaced by his coolly polite counterpart. “Will do.”

  Without giving him a backward glance, she rushed to take care of John Carter’s IV. He’d had a rough night after his knee-replacement surgery and now that they’d finally got his pain under control, he was catching up on his sleep. She quickly silenced the alarm, hung a fresh bag of fluid, then left the darkened room and returned to the nurses’ station. To her surprise, Linc hadn’t budged from his spot. He was simply sitting there…as if waiting. For her, maybe? Impossible. Yet it was a heady thought.

  “One more thing,” he said without preamble.

  “What’s that?” she asked, intending to head to the supply cabinet on his other side in order to replenish the supply of alcohol wipes she kept in her cargo pants pocket.

  He rose, effectively blocking her path. “I’ll pick you up tonight.”

  Flustered by his statement, she made the mistake of meeting his blue-black gaze, which at her five-eight required some effort because he was at least six-three. It was a gaze that exuded confidence and lingered a few seconds too long.

  “Pick me up?” she said. “What for?”

  “You’re going to Gail and Ty’s for dinner, aren’t you?”

  “Yes,” she began cautiously, “but how did you know?”

  “Because they invited me, too.”

  Great. The first time Gail had hosted a dinner to include both of them, it had turned into a miserable evening. It had been obvious from the way Gail had steered the conversation that she’d been trying to push them together and her efforts had backfired. Lincoln had sat through the next hour wearing the most pained expression in between checking his watch every five minutes. To make matters worse, his attitude had made her nervous, so she’d chattered nonstop until he’d finally left with clear relief on his face. After that, Gail had promised never to put either of them through the misery of a private dinner again.

  While the past few minutes had been pleasant, she wasn’t going to believe that this dinner would end differently. Given his unhappiness over the fundraising idea, the results would be the same. It was inevitable.

  “How nice,” she said inanely.

  “So I’ll swing by and get you.”

  She bristled under his commanding tone. He might be able to expect his orders to be obeyed at the hospital, but this was her private life and she made her own decisions.

  “Thanks, but don’t go to the trouble. I’ll drive myself.”

  “It’s not inconvenient at all. Your house is on my way.”

  She stared at him, incredulous. She’d always believed he barely knew who she was, but he knew where she lived? How was that possible?

  “Don’t look so horrified,” he said impatiently, as if offended by her surprise. “Gail gave me the address and suggested we come together.”

  Good old Gail. Her friend simply wouldn’t stop in her effort to convince her to get back in the dating game, but to use her own brother-in-law when their previous encounter had turned into such a disaster? It only showed how determined—and desperate—her happily married buddy was.

  “That’s sweet, but I’d rather—”

  “I’ll pick you up at six,” he said, before he strode away, leaving her to sputter at his high-handedness.

  For an instant, she debated the merits of making him wait, then decided against it. Given their differing personalities, they’d clash soon enough without any effort on her part. There was no sense in starting off on a sour note. Besides, Gail had set dinner for six-thirty, which meant she’d timed her meal to be ready minutes later. If Christy flexed her proverbial muscles to teach Linc a lesson, she’d also make four people unhappy.

  In a way, though, having him fetch her for dinner had that date-night feel to it. Although, she was quick to remind herself, just because it seemed like one on the surface—especially to anyone watching—it didn’t mean it was real.

  Wryly, she glanced down at her own chest, well aware of how deceiving appearances could be.

  * * *

  Linc strode up the walk to Christy’s apartment, wondering if the evening would be as full of surprises as the day had been. He’d gone to the hospital as he did every morning, but today he’d been swept into the fundraising tide before he’d realized it. He couldn’t say what had prompted him to force Christy into being his dance partner, but if she was going to drag him into her little schemes then it only seemed fair for her to pay the piper, too.

  Of course, being her partner didn’t pose any great hardship. She was sociable, attractive, and his thoughts toward her weren’t always professional. He might even have allowed his sister-in-law to matchmake if Christy didn’t have what he considered were several key flaws.

  The woman was always haring off on some adventure or getting involved in every cause that came down the pike. While he’d been known to participate in a few adventures himself and had gotten involved in a cause or two of his own, he practiced restraint. Christy, on the other hand, seemed happiest when she flitted from one activity to another. She was like a rolling stone, intent on moving fast and often so she wouldn’t gather moss.

  His parents, especially his mother, had been like that. He, being the eldest, had always been left to pick up the pieces and he’d vowed he’d never put his children in a similar position.

  No, Christy wasn’t the one
for him, even if she’d captivated him with her looks and her charm. He simply needed a way to get her out of his system and the Dancing with the Docs idea seemed tailor-made to do just that. They’d spend time practicing and he’d learn just how unsuitable they were together. Then, and only then, he could forget about her and begin looking for the steady, dependable, down-to-earth woman he really wanted.

  Your ideal woman sounds boring, his little voice dared to say.

  Maybe so, he admitted, but there was nothing wrong with “boring”. Perhaps if his parents had relegated their dream of becoming a superstar country music duo to the past where it had belonged, they wouldn’t have driven that lonely stretch of highway halfway between here and Nashville at four a.m. They’d have been safe in bed, living long enough to see their children grow to adulthood.

  As for tonight, he hadn’t been able to coax the reason for their gathering from his sister-in-law or his brother, but it had to be important. After the last dinner-party fiasco between the four of them, only a compelling reason would have convinced Gail to repeat the experience.

  Gail had been immensely disappointed that he and Christy hadn’t clicked together like two cogs, but, as he’d later told her, Christy was everything he wasn’t looking for in a romantic partnership. After all the upheavals in his life—his parents’ deaths, school, work, college studies, raising siblings—he wanted someone who wasn’t in search of the next spine-tingling, hair-raising adventure; someone stable, calm, and content. While it wasn’t a bad thing that Christy’s friendliness and sunny disposition attracted people like sugar called to ants, he wasn’t interested in being one of a crowd of admirers.

  Tonight he’d sit through dinner, learn what scheme Gail was up to now, spend the rest of the evening in Ty’s den watching whatever sports event was currently televised, then drive Christy home. Dinner with Ty’s family wasn’t a red-letter occasion, but hanging with them was better than spending time alone.

  He leaned on Christy’s doorbell, but before the melodic chime barely began, he heard a deep-throated woof followed by thundering paws. Gail had never mentioned her friend owned a dog, so it was entirely possible he’d come to the wrong apartment.

  His sister-in-law had told him apartment 4619, but given that the nine was missing from the house number above the porch light, he may have made an error in guessing his prize lay behind this particular door. However, the whimsical fairy stake poked into the pot of impatiens seemed to be the sort of yard ornament Christy would own.

  As the footsteps—both human and canine—grew louder, he was already framing an apology for the intrusion when Christy flung open the door with one hand tucked under the black rhinestone-studded collar of a beautiful cream-colored Labrador.

  He’d definitely come to the right place.

  “Hi,” he said inanely, aware he was out of practice when it came to picking up a date.

  “Hi, yourself.” Christy tugged the dog out of the way. “Come in, please.”

  He stepped inside and wasn’t quite sure if he should look at her or the dog. He wasn’t worried about Christy biting a hole in his thigh, though, so he focused on the animal and held out his hand for sniffing purposes. “Who is this lovely lady?”

  “Her name is Ria,” she said. “She’s very protective of me, but she’s really a sweetheart.”

  As expected, Ria sniffed his hand, then licked it, making Linc feel as if he’d passed doggy muster. “I can see that,” he said.

  She eyed her pet as Ria nudged Linc with her nose. “It appears you two are friends already.”

  “Dogs usually like me,” he said. “Why, I’m not sure.” His fondest memories involved pets, but after their family’s golden retriever had died of old age when Linc had been sixteen, they’d never replaced him. As it had turned out, a few years later, his hands had been full trying to raising his younger siblings and attend college, without adding the responsibility of a canine.

  “Animals are a far better judge of character than we are,” she said. “However, Ria doesn’t usually give her seal of approval so soon after meeting someone.”

  “Then I’m flattered.” Then, because time was marching on, he asked, “Shall we go?”

  Pink suddenly tinged her face. “I’m sorry, but I need a few more minutes.”

  He couldn’t imagine why. She wore a red and white polka-dotted sundress with a matching short-sleeved jacket. Her bare legs were long and tanned and her toenails were painted a matching shade of red and one little toe had a silver ring encircling it.

  Wisps of her short reddish-blonde hair framed her face most attractively and seemed to highlight her fine bone structure. From the freckles dancing across the bridge of her nose, she either didn’t need makeup to create that warm glow or she only wore just enough to enhance her natural skin tone. He also caught a delightful whiff of citrus and spice that tempted him to lean into her neck and inhale deeply.

  Certain she sensed his intense, and appreciative perusal, he met her gaze, hardly able to believe the non-hospital version of the dark-eyed Christy Michaels was so…gorgeous. As far as he was concerned, a few more minutes couldn’t improve on the vision in front of him. The idea that he would spend his evening seated across from such delightful eye candy instead of poking inside someone’s abdomen suddenly made him anticipate the hours ahead.

  “You look great to me,” he commented.

  Apparently hearing the appreciation in his voice, she smiled. “Thanks, but Ria has carried off my sandals. She does that when she doesn’t want me to leave, and now I’m trying to locate where she’s stashed them. Would you mind checking around the living room while I go through my bedroom again?”

  Ever practical and conscious of the time, he suggested, “You could wear a different pair.”

  “No can do,” she said, plainly impervious to his suggestion. “They match this dress perfectly and nothing else I own will look quite right.”

  He wanted to argue that it was just the four of them and no one would notice much less care if her sandals coordinated with her dress, but she’d already disappeared down the hallway, leaving him to obey.

  “Okay, Ria,” he said to the Lab, “where’s your favorite hiding place?”

  Ria stared at him with a dopey grin on her face.

  “No help from you, I see.” Linc raised his voice. “Where does she normally hide her treasures?”

  “Under the furniture,” she called back, “or in her toy box.”

  Linc glanced around the great room and decided that Christy lived a relatively spartan existence. She didn’t own a lot of furniture and other than a few silk flower arrangements scattered around, the surfaces were free of what he called dust-collectors, although none would pass the white-glove treatment.

  Spartan or not, however, the room had that cluttered, lived-in feel. Decorative pillows were thrown haphazardly, a fuzzy Southwestern print afghan was tossed carelessly over one armchair, and women’s magazines were gathered in untidy heaps on the floor.

  Dutifully, he peeked under the floral-print sofa and found a few mismatched but brightly colored socks. Some were knee-length and others were just footies, but each one sported varying sizes of chew holes. Next, he moved to the matching side chair where he unearthed two pairs of silk panties—one black and one fire-engine-red—that couldn’t claim more than a dollar’s worth of fabric between them.

  After adding the lingerie to his pile, he pinched the bridge of his nose and told himself to forget what he’d just seen and touched. Knowing her tastes ran along those kinds of lines, when he saw her on duty again, he’d have a difficult time keeping his mind off what might be underneath her scrub suit.

  Shoot, why wait until then? His imagination was already running wild over what color underwear she was wearing under her sundress.

  He carefully glanced around the room in search of something resembl
ing a doggie toy box and found a wicker basket tucked on the bottom shelf of the bookcase in the corner filled with playthings that a canine would love. Resting on his haunches, he rummaged through a pile of half-chewed dog bones, several balls and Frisbees, a short rope, and an assortment of stuffed animals before he struck bottom.

  “No shoes in here,” he called out as he rose.

  “Thanks for checking,” she answered back.

  His watch chimed the quarter-hour. “We really should be going.”

  “Just a few more minutes. I promise.”

  Because he had so little time for leisure reading, the books on her shelves drew his gaze next, and he took a few minutes to glance at the titles. Most of her paperbacks were romances with a few adventure novels sprinkled among them. He also ran across several cookbooks and a few exercise DVDs, but tucked among them were a few books that piqued his curiosity.

  Chicken Soup for the Survivor’s Soul. Life after Cancer. Foods that Fight. Staying Fit after Chemo.

  Before he could wonder what had caused her interest in such topics, she returned to the living room, wearing a pair of strappy red high-heeled sandals that emphasized her shapely legs. “Sorry about the wait,” she said breathlessly. “I found them in my laundry basket.”

  “Great. By the way, I ran across a few things you might have lost.” He plucked his pile of treasures off the coffee table and handed them to her.

  Her face turned a lovely shade of pink as she eyed the scraps on top. “I wondered where those had gone,” she said, her chuckle quite pleasing to his ears. “I’ve blamed the washing machine all this time. Ria, you’ve been a bad girl.”

  Ria sank onto her belly and placed her head on her front paws.

  “But I love you anyway,” she said as she crouched down to scratch behind the dog’s ears. “Now, behave while we’re gone.”

  As she rubbed, Ria responded with a contented sigh and a blissful doggy smile before rolling over onto her back for a tummy rub. Obviously Christy had The Touch, and immediately he wanted to feel her fingers working their magic on his sore spots.

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