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Unlocking the surgeons h.., p.3

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart, page 3


Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart

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  He tore his gaze from the sight, reminding himself that Christy wasn’t his type even if she could engender all sorts of unrealistic thoughts. She was too perky, too lively, and too everything. Women like her weren’t content with the mundane aspects of living. They wanted the constant stimulation of social activities, four-star shopping and exotic vacations. Staying home for popcorn and a movie would be considered slumming.

  “Are we ready now?” he asked, conscious of his peevish tone when all he wanted to do was shake these wicked mental pictures out of his head.

  She straightened. “Of course. Sorry to keep you waiting.”

  To his regret, the warm note in her voice had disappeared and he wondered what it would take to bring it back. If he walked into his brother’s house with icicles hanging in the air, his sister-in-law would read him the Riot Act. He didn’t know why Gail was so protective of Christy, but she was.

  Minutes later, Linc found himself on the sidewalk, accompanying her to his car. He couldn’t explain why he found the need to rest his hand on the small of her back—it wasn’t as if the sidewalk was icy and he intended to keep her from falling—but he did.

  That small, politely ingrained action made him wonder if his plan to concentrate on his career should be revised. He was thirty-seven now and he had to admit that at times he grew weary of his own company. To make matters worse, lately, being around Gail and Ty made him realize just how much he was missing.

  Now was one of those moments. Especially when he caught a glimpse of a well-formed knee and a trim ankle as he helped her into the passenger seat.

  He might be physically attracted to Christy Michaels, but their temperaments made them polar opposites. He had enough drama in his life and when he came home at night, he wanted someone to share his quiet and peaceable existence, not someone who thrived on being the life of a party.

  Opposites or not, though, he wasn’t going to pass the drive in chilly silence. Given how much she obviously loved Ria, he knew exactly how to break the ice.

  “After seeing your dog, I’m wondering if I should get one,” he commented as he slid behind the wheel.

  “They’re a lot of work, but the companionship is worth every minute,” she said. “Did you have a breed in mind?”

  “No, but I’d lean toward a collie or a retriever. We had one when I was a kid. Skipper died of old age, but we didn’t replace him.”

  She nodded. “I can understand that. Bringing a new pet home can make you feel guilty—like you’re replacing them as easily as you replace a worn-out pair of socks—when in actuality, you aren’t replacing them because they’ll always be a part of you, no matter what.”

  Spoken like a true dog lover, he thought, impressed by her insight.

  “Why don’t you have a dog now?” she asked.

  “Isn’t it obvious? A pet doesn’t fit into my lifestyle.”

  “Oh.” He heard a wealth of emotion—mainly disappointment—in the way she uttered that one word. It was almost as if she found him lacking when she should have been impressed by his thoughtfulness. After all, the poor mutt would be the one suffering from inattention.

  “You’re probably right,” she added politely. “They do have a habit of ruining the best-laid plans.”

  The conversation flagged, and he hated that the relaxed mood between them had become strained once again. Wasn’t there anything they could discuss without venturing into rocky territory? If he didn’t do something to lighten the tension, they’d face an uncomfortable evening ahead of them. He’d already promised Gail he’d be on his best behavior, so he had to repair the damage before they arrived.

  Recalling another subject in which she’d seemed quite passionate, he asked, “Any word on the festival fundraiser idea?”

  “According to Denise, it’s a go.” To his relief, the lilt in her voice had returned, although her revelation wasn’t the news he’d wanted to hear.

  “I was afraid of that.”

  “Still worried about dancing in front of people?”

  “Not worried,” he corrected. “Uncomfortable.”

  “As a surgeon, you should be used to being in the spotlight.”

  “Yes, but it isn’t the same spotlight,” he insisted. In the OR, he actually knew what he was doing and was at ease in his own skin. Sailing around a dance floor didn’t compare.

  “The problem is, my schedule for the next month is a killer and lessons are out of the question,” he explained. “My partners are going on vacation and—”

  “No one said you had to take lessons,” she pointed out.

  The motto he’d lived by was simple. Anything worth doing was worth doing well. If he was going to participate in this dancing thing, then he’d put forth his best effort.

  “Whatever we do at the time of the competition will be fine with me,” she added. “If you just want to stand and sway to the music, I’ll be happy.”

  “You told me this morning it wouldn’t be good enough,” he accused.

  She shrugged. “I changed my mind. I’m not participating to win a prize.”

  He didn’t think the possibility of taking first place was her motive. She was simply one of those people who threw herself into whatever project caught her fancy, which was also why he disagreed with her remark about being happy. Christy had too much vim and vigor to be content with a lackluster performance. Even he wasn’t satisfied and he was far less outgoing than she was.

  All of which meant that he was going to have to carve out time in his schedule for lessons—lessons that involved holding this woman with her citrusy scent and skimpy underwear in his arms.

  Merely picturing those moments was enough to send his blood tumbling through his body at a fast and furious rate. The things a man had to do for charity…

  * * *

  Christy had known her evening was off to a bad start when Ria hid her shoes. She’d hoped to find them before Linc arrived but, as luck would have it, she hadn’t. Although he’d been polite about it, clearly the delay had taxed his patience and his perfectly timed schedule.

  Yet she’d enjoyed the little courtesies he’d shown her. Being in the close confines of his vehicle, she’d been painfully aware of his fresh, clean scent to the point her throat went dry.

  Of all the men in her circle of friends and acquaintances, why did he have to be the one who oozed sex appeal? After feeling his hand at her waist, she honestly didn’t know how she’d survive an evening as his dance partner.

  To make matters worse, Gail had seated her next to him at the dinner table and his arm had brushed against hers on several occasions as they’d passed the food.

  Maybe she needed to call an escort service in order to calm those suddenly raging hormones, but her fear of rejection was too strong to risk it. If a man who’d supposedly loved her hadn’t been able to handle her diagnosis and resultant treatment, who else could?

  No, better that she hurry home after dinner, take Ria for a long run at the dog park until they were both too tired to do more than curl up on the sofa with a carton of frozen chocolate yogurt, a handful of dog treats, and a sappy movie on the TV screen.

  Linc’s voice forced her to focus on her surroundings. “Okay, you two. What’s up? And don’t tell me ‘Nothing’ because I know you both too well to believe otherwise.”

  Gail and Ty looked at each other with such an expression of love between them that Christy was half-jealous. Made a little uncomfortable by their silent exchange, she glanced at Linc and immediately noticed the similarities between the brothers.

  They had the same bone structure, the same complexion, and the same shade of brown hair. Both Maguire males were handsome but, to her, Linc’s features were far more interesting—probably because life had left its imprint on them. According to Gail, as the oldest brother, Linc had stepped into his parents’ role after
their deaths in a car accident when he was nineteen and he’d guided his younger siblings through their rocky teenage years. It was only logical that the sudden responsibility had formed him into the driven, purposeful man he was today.

  Christy glanced at her dark-haired friend and saw the gentle smile on her face. “You’re pregnant again?” she guessed.

  Gail patted her husband’s hand as she shook her head. “No. But maybe we can announce that when we get back.”

  “Get back? Where are you going?”

  Ty answered his brother’s question. “Paris.”

  Christy was stunned…and envious. It was one of the cities she’d put on the bucket list she’d

  created during her chemotherapy sessions. “Oh, how fun. I’ve always wanted to go there.”

  Linc didn’t seem to share her excitement. “Paris? As in France? Or Paris, as in Texas?”

  “France,” Ty told him. “My company is opening an overseas branch and they want a computer consultant to be on site. They chose me.”

  Linc reached across the table to shake his brother’s hand. “Congratulations. You’ve worked hard for this. I’m proud of you. How long will you be gone?”

  Ty exchanged a glance with Gail. “Two months, give or take a few weeks, depending on how well the project progresses. Because Gail knows the secretarial ropes of our firm, my boss has offered to send her as my assistant.”

  Theirs had been an office romance and after Derek had arrived, Gail had cut her work status to part time.

  “And the kids?” Christy thought of six-year-old Emma and eight-year-old Derek, who’d already been excused from the table to play outside with their friends. “What about them?”

  Gail’s expression turned hopeful. “That’s why you’re both here tonight. We wanted to ask a favor.”

  “Anything,” she promptly replied.

  “Would you and Linc be their guardians and take care of them while we’re gone?”


  CHRISTY was overwhelmed by their request but in her mind she didn’t have any doubts as to her answer. She loved the Maguire children and she couldn’t wait to step into a temporary mom role. Because of her diagnosis and the resultant treatment, she’d already resigned herself to the possibility that Ria might be the closest thing to ever having a child of her own, so the idea of acting as a fill-in mother was exciting.

  She was also quite aware that Gail had chosen her out of all their friends and family to take on this responsibility. Okay, so they’d asked Linc, too, but he didn’t really count. His work was his life and by his own admission his schedule for the next few weeks was packed. For all intents and purposes, she’d be on her own.

  It was a heady thought.

  It was also quite daunting.

  She started to speak, but Gail forestalled her. “Christy, I know you’ll immediately agree because it’s in your nature to help out a friend. And, Linc, I know you’ll accept because you’re family, but before either of you commit yourselves, I want you to know exactly what you’d be letting yourselves in for. And if either of you have second thoughts, we won’t be hurt or upset.”

  “Okay,” Christy said, certain she wouldn’t change her mind no matter what Gail and Ty told them. “We’re listening.”

  “First, we’d expect you to live here because it will be best if Derek and Emma stick with the familiar.”

  Christy hadn’t considered that, but Gail’s plan made perfect sense. Living in their home wouldn’t pose any hardship whatsoever. What it would require, though, was coordination between her schedule and Linc’s to be sure they covered every hour of every day, and she was curious how Gail had ironed that small but important detail. No doubt, she’d learn the answer shortly.

  “What about Ria?” she asked. “I’d hate to board her for that length of time.”

  “She’s welcome, too,” Ty answered. “In fact, I know the kids would be thrilled. They’ve been asking for a dog for some time, and looking after Ria will give them a taste of what pet ownership is about.”

  Satisfied by how easily that potential problem had been averted, Christy relaxed. She imagined her Labrador and the kids playing Frisbee in the large Maguire back yard and could hear the children’s laughter interspersed with Ria’s excited woofs. They’d have a great time.

  “Second,” Gail continued, “the fall term starts next week so the kids will already be in a routine before we leave the week after that. On the days Christy doesn’t work, you’ll have to take them to school and pick them up at four, which shouldn’t pose a problem.

  “The days you both work are little trickier as there’s a two-hour window when Linc would be on his own. One of the neighborhood high-school girls—Heather—can come by around six-thirty to fix breakfast and take them to school. She’ll come sooner to cover that window if Linc’s on call, but you’ll have to let her know the night before.

  “Then, at the end of the day, the kids can walk across the street to the church’s after-school daycare until Christy’s shift ends at five. The daycare is open until seven, so that works out well.” She smiled. “Repeat as necessary.”

  “It sounds as if you’ve thought of everything,” Christy said.

  “We tried,” Gail answered.

  “Do Emma and Derek know you’re asking me?” As Linc stiffened beside her, she corrected herself. “I mean us?”

  “It was the only way they’d agree to being left behind,” Gail admitted ruefully. “I suspect they think you’ll cater to their every whim. I know what a pushover you are, Christy…” she softened her statement with a smile “…so I’m counting on you to be firm.”

  “Be firm,” she repeated. “Got it.”

  “Don’t kid yourself,” Ty warned. “They’ll push you to the max. You can’t be the benevolent aunt and uncle. This isn’t a weekend vacation.”

  “In other words, you expect us to give them a healthy breakfast, send them to bed on time, and eat dinner before dessert,” Linc said.

  His sidelong glance made Christy wonder if he’d mentioned those things purely for her benefit. Didn’t he think she had an ounce of common sense? He obviously suspected she’d offer cookies and cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and let them stay up as late as they pleased. While she didn’t consider herself a rule-breaker, she also knew that every moment should be lived to its fullest. If a few rules had to be broken on occasion, then so be it.

  Now that she’d raised the question in her mind, she took it a step further. Did he have the same lack of faith in her nursing skills as he obviously did in her parenting abilities? There hadn’t been a single incident when he’d questioned her patient care, but she’d ask him when they were alone.

  “We’re asking a lot from both of you,” Ty added, “but you were first on our list.”

  “I appreciate the vote of confidence,” Christy said. “Count me in.”

  “Me, too,” Linc added. “We only need to choose which days are yours and which are mine.”

  She nodded, although she would have preferred having Linc suggest that she be their sole caretaker while he filled in when his schedule allowed. Clearly, he wanted equal, or as near equal, time as possible.

  Darn the man!

  “Actually, we want you both to stay here,” Gail said. “Together.”

  Christy met Linc’s startled gaze and guessed that her own surprise mirrored his. “At the same time?” she asked redundantly.

  Gail nodded. “That way, if Linc gets called out for a patient in the middle of the night, he won’t have to worry about the kids because you’re just down the hall. You two won’t have to rearrange and juggle your own schedules, so it’ll be less disruptive for everyone.”

  They wanted her to stay here, in their house, with Linc? Christy had a difficult time wrapping her brain around that concept. While t
hey were amicable enough to each other at the hospital, being together twenty-four seven meant they’d drive each other crazy within a week, and then where would the kids be? Most likely in the middle of a war zone.

  What concerned her even more, though, was the simple question of how would she handle being in such close proximity to a guy she found so attractive? If seeing him in a scrub suit and interacting with him on a purely professional basis made her nervous and sent her imagination soaring, how would she manage if she saw that handsome smile, those broad shoulders on a regular, casual basis?

  “This is how we want it,” Gail said, as if she sensed Christy’s reservations. “The kids will handle our absence better if they stay in their normal surroundings. That’s not to say they can’t spend a night or two elsewhere, but we’d feel better knowing they’re in familiar territory and in the same homey, two-parent environment.”

  “We know it won’t be easy for either of you because you’re both so fiercely independent, so if it’s a problem, we can ask someone else,” Ty said.

  Miss the opportunity to pamper Gail’s kids? Not a chance. Yes, Linc would probably drive her crazy with his rigid, no-time-to-stop-and-smell-the-roses attitude, but she was an adult. She could handle the inevitable clashes.

  On the other hand, Linc went to work early and stayed late. Chances were they wouldn’t see each other until the kids went to bed. Afterward, they could each slink into their separate corners.

  It was a workable plan, she decided. If it wasn’t, she’d dream up a Plan B. Emma and Derek’s well-being was what mattered, not her personal preferences.

  “If you can handle the arrangements we’ve outlined—”

  “Piece of cake,” Christy said, although the idea of living under the same roof as Linc gave her some pause.

  “Not a problem,” Linc added. “We can learn to live with each other for a few weeks.”

  “Good. Then it’s settled.” Gail beamed. “You don’t know what a relief this is for us.”

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