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Unlocking the surgeons h.., p.5

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart, page 5

 

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart
 


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  They made a dejected picture, which was only understandable. They’d just driven home from the airport after saying goodbye to their parents and the reality of the situation had hit them hard.

  “I agree they’re down in the dumps, but a fast-food hamburger won’t make them feel better.”

  “You might be surprised.” She clapped her hands. “Hey, kids, how does a picnic sound? Ria needs a spin around the dog park and while she’s running around with her buddies, we’ll enjoy our dinner in the great outdoors.”

  A picnic, at seven o’clock at night, with dark clouds rolling in and rain in the forecast, wasn’t Linc’s idea of fun. While the kids didn’t seem overly enthusiastic with her suggestion, interest flickered in Derek’s eyes and Emma’s shoulders stopped shaking as she gazed expectantly at Christy. Apparently Ria recognized the word park because her ears suddenly perked and her tail wagged.

  “Then it’s settled,” she declared, although as far as Linc was concerned she’d simply made an executive decision. Because he knew they had to do something drastic or the entire evening would remain miserable for everyone, he let it stand. “Everyone can make his or her own sandwich and then we’re off.”

  Before Linc could wonder where the dog park actually was, Christy had emptied the refrigerator and created an assembly line of fixings. “Who wants to be first?” she asked.

  The two children rushed to her side and began assembling their sandwiches with her help. Linc hovered in the background, ready to kill the idea if the kids gave him the slightest bit of encouragement.

  They didn’t. In fact, he would never have thought the idea of a picnic would have turned the mood around so quickly. Ordinary sandwiches suddenly became gourmet delights under Christy’s tutelage. Every now and then a tasty nugget would fall and an ever-vigilant Ria would snap up the evidence.

  He noticed Derek had made himself a man-sized meal while Emma’s dinner was a dainty mix of meat, cheese, and pickles sliced into four perfect triangles. Christy, he’d noticed, used a special roll and included lots of lettuce and tomato as well as thinly sliced cucumbers, avocado, and black olives on a thin layer of slivered turkey.

  She glanced at him with a raised eyebrow. “You’d better start assembling or you’ll end up without.”

  “Yours looks so good, maybe you can make an extra,” he said hopefully.

  “Sorry. Dinner tonight is self-service.” She slid the package of rolls in his direction. “He who doesn’t fix his own doesn’t eat.”

  “Yeah, Unca Linc,” Emma said as she speared olives onto her fingers and began eating them. “You have to get in the spirit. Ria and I are gonna play catch with her Frisbee. Wanna play with us?”

  “We’ll see,” he said as he opened a roll and piled on his ingredients. Just before he was ready to position the top part of the bun, Christy held up a shaker.

  “What’s that?” he asked.

  “A little extra flavor,” she said. “Garlic, onion, and few other spices. Want to try some?”

  Three people’s gazes rested on him and each one reflected open curiosity, as if they were expecting him to refuse. Was he that predictable?

  “Sure, why not?” he said. “Tonight’s a night to throw caution to the wind and have fun. Who cares about bad breath? Right, kids?”

  “Right,” they echoed.

  Yet as he watched Christy pop a slice of avocado into her kissable mouth, he realized there was an advantage to having garlic breath. He wouldn’t be tempted to do something immensely stupid on their first night together.

  Soon they were on their way with food and bottled drinks in the ice chest, a few blankets, Ria’s toys and water bowl. By the time they’d arrived at the dog park, Christy had led them in a noisy rendition of “B-I-N-G-O” that made his ears hurt.

  “Aren’t you going to sing?” Christy asked him when the group stopped momentarily for breath.

  He couldn’t stop a smile, neither did he want to because the excitement had become infectious. “First you roped me into dancing, and now you expect me to become a vocalist? A man has to draw the line somewhere,” he said, pretending affront.

  “Spoilsport.” She obviously didn’t take offense because she chuckled, then immediately led them in the next stanza.

  As he looked into the back seat in the rearview mirror, hearing Emma and Derek’s laughter was far better than seeing them with sad faces, so he didn’t have the heart to tell them to tone down the noise level.

  He also didn’t have the heart to scold them for eating only half of their food because they were in such a rush to play with Ria before the rain fell.

  “They’re going to be starving later,” he said as Christy wrapped up their sandwiches.

  “Probably,” she agreed, “but their sandwiches will keep. How’s your dinner?”

  He polished off his last bite before grabbing a bunch of red grapes. “Delicious.”

  “Then we should do this more often.”

  “Maybe,” he said, unwilling to commit.

  “Food always tastes better eaten outside.”

  He glanced around the park, noting that several other families had taken advantage of the picnic tables. “Oh, I don’t know,” he mused, thinking of ants and flies and a host of other associated nuisances, not to mention spilled drinks and sticky hands. “It isn’t always a great experience.”

  She chuckled. “Let me guess. Your idea of eating outside is gobbling down a bagel or a burger while you’re stuck in traffic.”

  It was uncanny how accurately she could read him and they’d hardly spent any time together. How much of his soul would she see by the end of two months? “Yeah,” he admitted.

  “That doesn’t count. You have to soak up the ambience of your surroundings. Allow nature’s scents of pine and honeysuckle and lavender to mingle with the aroma of the food.” She inhaled. “That’s what dining outdoors is all about.”

  As she closed her eyes, he had the strangest urge to trace the line of her jaw with his fingertips and kiss away the fleck of avocado on the corner of her mouth. He also wanted to see if her strawberry-blonde hair was as soft as it looked, discover if she’d fit against his body as perfectly as he imagined.

  Giving in to temptation wasn’t a wise thing to do. He simply had to deny that sudden attraction because if he didn’t, it would only create more problems in the long run. They were only two people who shared the responsibility of two kids for a few weeks. Nothing more, nothing less.

  And yet her soft skin beckoned and his fingers itched to explore…

  A sudden crack of thunder told him the storm would arrive soon. Immediately, he rose. “Come on, kids. Time to load up and head for home.”

  As the children scampered back to their picnic table, with Ria keeping pace, he was once again grateful to see smiles on their faces.

  “They really needed this, didn’t they?” he mused as he helped Christy pack up the ice chest.

  “Of course they did. Otherwise they would have moped all evening.”

  “Bedtime still could be rocky,” he warned.

  “Probably,” she admitted, “but why do you think I wanted them to chase Ria? I predict they’ll be too tired to think much about their parents being gone.”

  “And if they do?”

  “Then we give them something to look forward to tomorrow. Before they know it, one day will slide into another and the weeks will fly by.”

  She was right. His whole life had been about staying busy and the years had blended together. Other than a few milestones to mark the passage of time, including his birthday, one month wasn’t any different than the next.

  “I hope you’re right. In any case, your picnic idea was brilliant.”

  She laughed. “Oh, my. Two compliments in one day. You aren’t feverish, are you?”

  As s
he placed her palm on his forehead, his heart immediately pounded to a double-time beat. He was hot all right, but it had nothing to do a virus and everything to do with her.

  CHAPTER THREE

  “TELL me the story of the princess again, Unca Linc,” Emma demanded.

  “We read Penelope’s tale already,” he told her.

  “Not hers. I want to hear the one you have in your head.”

  Christy smiled at the sight of the six-year-old, wearing her frilly pink nightgown, snuggled under Linc’s left arm, while Derek, clad in camouflage pj’s, lounged on the chair’s opposite arm.

  What struck her most with the scene was how comfortable Linc appeared. His smiles were wide and his touch gentle as he tousled Derek’s damp hair and tickled Emma’s ear.

  How had she ever thought him cold and unfeeling?

  “Aw, Emma, not again,” Derek moaned. “I want to hear the knight story and how he killed the dragon and slept under the stars with his trusty steed, Thunder.”

  “Trusty steed?” Christy chimed in as she perched on the edge of the sofa. “Oh, I want to hear about him, too.”

  Linc cast an exasperated glance at her. “It’s late and you know the rule, one make-believe story per night. Which story did I tell last time?”

  “Emma’s,” Derek said.

  “Mine,” Emma reluctantly admitted.

  “Then it’s Derek’s turn.” He gave Emma a hug meant to console her. “I’ll tell the princess story tomorrow.”

  “Okay,” she said in a long-suffering tone. “I’ll wait until then.”

  “That’s my girl,” he praised. “Let’s see, how does it start again?”

  “Once upon a time,” Derek prompted.

  “Ah, yes. Once upon a time there was a young knight who was left in charge of his parents’ castle while they went to visit the king. It would be a long journey so to help the knight, the baron and his wife left behind two trusty advisors to guide the young man in case problems should arise.”

  Christy listened to the story unfold, finding herself as riveted as the children. He’d just reached the part about the baron’s son finding a wounded doe when his cell phone jangled.

  His warm tone disappeared as he took the call and his professional persona became fully evident. She hoped the reason for the interruption was minor, but when he clicked off his phone, she sensed their family interlude had ended.

  “I have to go, kiddos,” he apologized affectionately. “So I’ll finish the story with ‘To be continued’.”

  Apparently this wasn’t the first time a story had been cut short under similar circumstances because the children didn’t argue. They simply flung their arms around his neck and kissed him. “’Night, Uncle Linc,” they chimed in unison before they slid off his lap. “See you in the morning.”

  As soon as the two disappeared down the hall, Christy asked, “Problems, I take it?”

  He nodded. “Jose is having severe pain in his other leg. I don’t know how long I’ll be.”

  That wasn’t good news. In spite of being heavily dosed on blood thinners, Jose could still be developing blood clots.

  “I didn’t realize you were on call.”

  “I’m not, but Jose asked for me.”

  Which meant he wouldn’t refuse to go to the hospital, she realized. “I hope everything goes okay for him.”

  His eyes seemed uncommonly tired as he paused in his path to the door. “Me, too.”

  Christy hated that his already long day had just been extended. She made a mental note to keep the children as quiet as mice tomorrow morning so he could sleep late. In any case, who would have thought Gail’s scenario would have played out so soon? As much as she would have liked to split the parenting duties, sharing them was turning out to be for the best.

  As she’d predicted earlier, both Derek and Emma had fallen asleep almost immediately after she’d tucked them in and kissed them goodnight.

  She was ready for bed herself, but she and Linc hadn’t discussed their sleeping arrangements. Commandeering the master bedroom on her own seemed presumptuous on her part. Although the luxury of Gail and Ty’s king-sized bed was enticing, her sense of fair play dictated that Linc deserved the perk. His tall frame would fit so much better there than on the daybed in the guest bedroom. His late and/or early comings and goings would disrupt the household less if he had immediate access to a private bathroom.

  Christy turned down her bed, unpacked her clothes, lined her bottles of pills and vitamins on the top of her dresser next to her doctors’ appointments cards, tidied the kitchen and let Ria out for her last toilet break of the evening. An hour had passed and Linc still hadn’t returned.

  She patted on her weekly facial mask, took a long, leisurely shower, slipped on her pink breast cancer awareness Minnie Mouse sleep shirt, then slathered on body moisturizer while Ria watched from her spot on the floor.

  Still no Linc.

  Afraid that poor Jose was in serious shape, she decided to wait for news. She convinced Ria to lie on her pallet in the living room, then curled up in the easy chair Linc had vacated earlier with one of the paperback books she’d brought from her personal library.

  She didn’t realize she’d begun dozing until Ria’s low grumble startled her awake. As soon as the back door opened, her pet bolted upright and dashed into the kitchen like an enthusiastic puppy rather than a fierce protector.

  Clearly, Linc was home.

  She padded after her to find Linc rummaging in freezer for ice. Stifling her yawn, she asked, “How did things go?”

  “Good.” He filled his plastic tumbler with water and took a long swig of his drink.

  “What happened?”

  “Jose developed a DVT in his other leg.”

  She translated his shorthand into “deep vein thrombosis”, which shouldn’t have happened given all the medication they’d given him earlier in the day. “And?”

  “I called in Howard Manning and he inserted a Greenfield filter into his vena cave to stop the clot from entering his lung.”

  “How’s he doing?”

  “Fine for now. He’ll be monitored closely for a while.”

  Christy noted the lines of exhaustion on his face and his weary-looking gaze when he glanced at her. While her shirt was perfectly modest and covered as much of her body as regular clothing, she was quite aware they were still only pajamas.

  “You should be asleep,” he said as he finished off the drink.

  “I think I was.”

  “You didn’t have to stay up.”

  “I wanted to hear about Jose. I also didn’t want Ria to think you were a burglar and sound the alarm, but she obviously knew who you were because she didn’t.”

  As if aware of the hour and disappointed by the lack of attention his humans were paying her, the dog gave a wide, noisy yawn, then turned around and headed for her rug.

  “I also couldn’t go to bed because we hadn’t worked out our sleeping arrangements. I was afraid you’d either stumble around and wake everyone or spend the night in a chair.”

  “Right now, a chair sounds like heaven.”

  “Well, there’s a bed waiting for you.” Aware of how suggestive her comment sounded, she hurried to explain. “I took the spare room. The master bedroom is all yours.”

  He rubbed his eyes as he nodded. “I should be chivalrous and argue, but maybe tomorrow when I’m not beat.”

  “Argue all you want, but I’ve already unpacked my stuff. Do you have to go in early or can you sleep late?”

  His smile was small and lopsided. “It’s my weekend off, so I don’t need an alarm clock.”

  “Then I’ll keep the kids extra-quiet while we eat breakfast.”

  “It’s not necessary. A few hours and I’ll be good as new. Wake me in
time to help.”

  “Okay,” she said, only because she didn’t want to argue with him at two a.m. At some point they would have to discuss job duties and meal planning, but not now. “Will you go to the hospital this weekend to check on Jose?”

  He nodded. “I’ll drop by late morning or early afternoon.”

  She knew he wasn’t on call this weekend, which made her curious about his plans. “Do you give all of your patients the royal treatment? I don’t think any of them would fault you for taking a night or a weekend off and passing their care off to one of your partners.”

  He refilled his tumbler and drank deeply again. “Probably not, but Jose isn’t just a patient. I’ve known him and his wife for about five years.”

  “As a patient?”

  He shook his head. “I met him when I hired him to build an outdoor fireplace. Because he was eager for the job, he’d work on evenings and weekends when I was at home, and his wife sent along some of her cooking.” He grinned. “I think she used me to clean out her leftovers, but I didn’t mind. Everything was delicious. Eventually, I got to know their family and when the oldest son expressed an interest in medicine, Jose asked if Emilio could job-shadow me for a week before he started college.”

  “And you did,” she guessed.

  He chuckled. “Yeah. Now he’s in his final year of medical school.” A note of pride filled his voice.

  She was half-surprised by his story, and yet, after seeing him interact with his niece and nephew, she wasn’t. Obviously he was a completely different person around the people who’d been lucky enough to enter his charmed circle of friends and family. Oddly enough, she realized that she wanted to be included.

  Not because she had any romantic designs on him, she hastened to tell herself. Even if her ex, Jon, hadn’t blasted the stars out of her eyes, getting that close to a guy wouldn’t happen before she got the all-clear on her five-year check-up. It would take someone special to deal with the baggage she carried and she honestly didn’t think there was a man alive who could.

 
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