Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart, page 6
“Does he know about his father?”
“I called him this evening. Francesca was too rattled to make sense and I knew Emilio would have a lot of questions.” Suddenly he yawned. “Sorry about that.”
Immediately, she felt guilty for keeping him from his well-deserved and much-needed sleep. “I’m the one who’s sorry. If I hadn’t stayed up to ask about Jose, you’d already be in bed asleep. So, go on.” She made a shooing motion. “I’ll get the lights and lock up.”
“Okay, but in the morning you and I need to sort out a few details,” he began.
“I’ll be here,” she promised. Then, looking around, she asked, “Where’s your suitcase?”
He snapped his fingers. “I left my duffel bag in the car.”
“I’ll get it while you hop in the shower.”
She expected him to argue, but he simply
nodded. “Thanks. It’s on the back seat.”
When she returned with his bag in hand, she was surprised to hear dead silence. She knocked softly on the master bedroom’s door and when she didn’t hear an answer, she assumed it was safe to enter.
However, as she peeked inside, she found him lying fully clothed on top of the king-sized bed.
She wanted to wake him so he could change into something more comfortable than his dress clothes and crawl under the covers, but the lines of exhaustion on his face stopped her. The medical residents she’d encountered during her nursing career had learned to fall asleep as soon as they were horizontal, regardless of what they were wearing, and Linc obviously hadn’t given up those old habits.
Knowing she couldn’t leave him as he was, she tugged off his shoes and placed them side by side on the floor beside his bag. Determined to protect his rest as much as she could, she reassured herself the curtains were tightly pulled and the alarm clock was turned off. By the time she tiptoed to the door and flicked off the overhead light, an occasional soft snore punctuated the silence.
She smiled. Until now, she would have sworn that a man as tightly in control as Linc was wouldn’t allow his body to do anything as ordinary as snore. It would be interesting to see how many of her other preconceived opinions he’d disprove over the coming weeks, although she hoped he wouldn’t.
Learning that Lincoln Maguire was a great guy underneath his staid exterior would only lead to heartbreak.
* * *
Linc woke to the most delicious aroma—coffee. He sniffed the air again, trying to catalog the other scent that mingled with his beloved caffeinated breakfast blend. It reminded him of…
Waffles. His eyes popped open and it took him a few seconds to realize he wasn’t in his own bed. Memories of last night crashed down and he immediately checked the bedside alarm clock.
Eleven-thirty. No wonder the sun was peeking around the edges of the heavy drapes. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept that late, although he vaguely remembered waking at one point to use the bathroom and shed his clothes before he crawled between cool, fresh-smelling sheets.
He also didn’t recall the last time he’d awakened to the aroma of a delicious meal. Although he didn’t expect her to prepare his breakfast, he hoped she’d prepared extra for him this morning. As he swung his bare legs over the bed’s edge, his stomach rumbled in agreement.
Raking a hand through his hair, he rose, stepped into his previously discarded pants, and followed his nose.
Derek and Emma were seated at the kitchen table and Christy stood in front of the stove, clad in a pair of above-the-knee light blue plaid cotton shorts that showed off her delightfully long legs and a matching blue button-down shirt. Both children had powdered sugar dusting their faces, syrup smeared around their mouths and milk mustaches.
Emma saw him and her eyes lit up. “Christy?” she asked in a loud whisper. “Can we use our regular voices now?”
“Not until you’re uncle is awake,” she whispered back.
“But he is,” she declared in a normal tone. “Morning, Unca Linc.”
Christy turned, spatula in hand, and her eyes widened before a big smile crossed her face. “Good morning,” she said as her gaze pointedly remained above his neck. “The coffee’s ready if you are.”
He nearly smiled at her discomfiture, then decided it wouldn’t win him any brownie points. “You read my mind. Thanks. Can I pour you a cup, too?”
She shook her head. “I’m not a coffee drinker.”
“Really?” he asked as he poured his own mug. “I thought everyone who worked in the medical profession mainlined the stuff.”
“I used to, but I switched to herbal tea. It’s better for you.”
“Probably, but you can’t beat a bracing cup of coffee to jump-start the day.” He watched her flip a perfectly made waffle out of the iron and dust it with powdered sugar. “That smells good.”
She chuckled. “Are you hinting you’d like one?”
He was practically drooling, but he was too conscious of his morning scruffiness to agree. His face itched, he needed a shave and a shower, and his teeth felt furry. He definitely wasn’t presentable for the dining table.
“I should clean up first.”
“Probably,” she agreed, “but this waffle is ready and the griddle’s still hot if you’d like seconds.” Her gaze traveled up and down his full length, making him even more aware of his half-dressed appearance. “Judging from the way you look, the kitchen will be closed before you come back, so I suggest you eat first and shower later.”
He got the sneaking impression that once she unplugged the waffle iron she wouldn’t plug it in again. How had he ever thought her easygoing and malleable? She had a steely spine that he’d never seen and certainly hadn’t expected.
“I should put on a shirt,” he began.
Once again, she avoided his gaze. “Suit yourself, but, whatever you do, I promise to sit downwind.”
“Mom never lets Dad eat at the table without a shirt,” Derek said, “but if Uncle Linc can, can I?”
This time Christy looked at him helplessly, her gaze sliding from his pectorals to his face and back again. “Well,” she began, “these are extenuating circumstances—”
“If those are your mom’s rules, then they’ll be ours, too,” Linc said firmly. “I’ll be right back.”
The lure of the waffle was too great and the slices of ham too appetizing to do more than grab yesterday’s wrinkled shirt and slip it on. He’d only buttoned the middle two buttons before he was back in the kitchen and sliding into an empty chair.
If Christy noticed his speedy return, she didn’t comment. Instead, she simply set his plate in front of him, passed the meat platter and returned to the stove.
Linc dug in. He was hungry enough to be grateful for the hospital’s bland cafeteria food, but he was pleasantly surprised to discover Christy’s meal actually melted in his mouth. When she delivered a second waffle as perfect as the first one, he could only utter a long sigh of appreciation.
“These are delicious,” he said as he drenched it with maple syrup.
“Surprised?” She took the chair beside him and began sectioning her grapefruit.
“A little,” he admitted. “Where did you learn to cook like this?”
“My mom. She owns an exclusive little gourmet restaurant in Seattle and she sends recipes for me to try before she adds them to her menu.”
“Then that explains all the fancy food in the fridge.”
Confusion spread across her face. “Fancy food?”
“You know. The organic milk, the fruit and vegetables I can’t identify.”
She smiled. “I don’t consider organic food as being fancy. As for the unidentifiable stuff, I try new things to see if I’ll like them.” She motioned to his plate. “Speaking of new things, how would you rate this recipe?”
“We’ve been up for hours.” Derek drained his milk glass and wiped his mouth with his forearm until Christy cleared her throat and he sheepishly swiped at it with his napkin.
“Hours and hours,” Emma added. “Christy said we had to be quiet, so we ate our breakfast on the patio.”
“Isn’t this breakfast?” he asked.
“This is lunch,” Christy corrected. “Breakfast was at eight and consisted of cold cereal, fresh strawberries, pineapple, and toast.”
“Whole wheat,” Derek mumbled with disgust.
She chuckled and Linc was entranced by the sound. “With all the jelly you slathered on, you couldn’t taste or see that I didn’t use white bread.”
Emma obviously didn’t care because she continued her play-by-play account of the morning. “Then we took Ria for a walk around the block so he could get ’quainted with the dog smells in the neighborhood. After that, we watered Mama’s flowers and weeded and before we knew it, Christy said it was time to eat again. I think she’s almost as good a cook as Mama is, don’t you?”
He’d been put on the spot by a mere six-year-old. No matter how he answered, he was going to have one female in the household unhappy. Christy obviously saw his dilemma because her eyes twinkled with humor. He wouldn’t receive any help from that quarter… .
“Almost,” he agreed loyally, as he exchanged a smile with Christy that said otherwise.
* * *
“We’ll wait for you in the cafeteria,” Christy told Linc a few hours later as he parked in the physicians’ parking lot. They’d decided to spend the afternoon running errands, including driving to his house to pick up a few of what he referred
to as “necessities”, but on the way he’d wanted to run in and check on Jose.
“I won’t be long, I promise.”
“Yeah, right,” she said, unable to hide her skepticism.
“You don’t believe I can get away in a reasonable amount of time?”
“Only if you went incognito,” she said.
“I thought I was,” he said. “No one will expect to see me looking like this.”
“Like this” meant dressed in a polo shirt, cargo shorts, and a pair of sandals. It wasn’t his usual garb, so he’d cause quite a stir when the staff saw him. She spoke from experience because she still couldn’t believe this was the same man who’d sat at the kitchen table a few hours ago looking scruffy and bleary-eyed.
A little water and a shave could do amazing things.
As great as he looked now, though, her first image of him was indelibly etched in her brain. His muscles had flexed and rippled under his skin just from the simple act of pouring his own cup of coffee. As much as she’d enjoyed seeing those wide shoulders as nature intended, it was a good thing Derek had piped up when he had. She might have done something really stupid, like set off the smoke alarm or drool in her grapefruit.
Nope, if more women saw the sight she’d been privileged to see, cardiology offices would be standing room only.
“They won’t, but if you’re going to be longer than thirty minutes, give me a call, will you?”
“Okay, but, whatever you do, don’t load them up with a bunch of sugar and junk food.”
She paused, momentarily hurt by his remark. “Do you honestly think I’ll turn them loose at the candy machine?”
He shifted uncomfortably in the seat. “I think you’d spoil them if you had the chance,” he began slowly.
“And you wouldn’t, I suppose.”
“Once in a while, I do,” he admitted, “but—”
Aware of two sets of little ears in the back seat, she lowered her voice and clenched her fingers into a tight fist as she interrupted, “But you think I’ll do it all the time.”
“Maybe not all—”
“Why else would you remind me?”
He shut off the engine, then gripped the steering wheel with both hands. “I only meant—”
She cut him off once again. “I know what you meant.” She didn’t know why his lack of faith bothered her, but it did. Yes, they’d only been joint parents for less than twenty-four hours, but where had he gotten the idea she’d let Emma and Derek run amok, nutrition-wise? And if he thought she’d turn a blind eye to their eating habits, what did he think she’d do when making other decisions?
“All I can say is, if you’re that worried, you’d better finish your business as quickly as possible so you can supervise what they choose for a snack,” she said stiffly.
“I am not worried,” he said.
“You are, so you may as well admit it.” As she turned to face the children, she pasted on a smile and injected a lighter note into her voice. “Okay, gang. Let’s go!”
While the two scrambled out of their seat belts, he grabbed her arm. “I’m not worried,” he repeated.
“Of course not,” she said politely. “My mistake.” Then, shaking free, she hopped out of the car and herded her two charges into the hospital like an overprotective mother hen.
When she directed them to the stairwell, Derek complained, “Can’t we take the elevator? Uncle Linc is.”
“We’ll take it on the way up,” she prevaricated, unwilling to see for herself or admit that sharing such close confines at the moment was more than she could handle.
With luck, an hour or so of mindlessly watching the fish swim around the aquarium would restore her good mood.
* * *
Linc had major damage control facing him. For a man who was normally efficient at stating his thoughts, he’d missed the mark today. He’d hurt Christy with his thoughtless remark—that had been evident and he deeply regretted doing so.
To make matters worse, in trying to explain, he’d practically told her that she was a pushover when it came to Derek and Emma and he knew she wasn’t. Christy’s mere glance this morning had convinced Derek to use his napkin instead of his sleeve and if she could do that, she’d be immune to any cajolery they might try.
He checked Jose’s chart and slipped into his room to visit for about fifteen minutes. Satisfied by his progress, he strode toward the bank of elevators, ready to leave. As he punched the “Down” button, he wondered if he should kill time elsewhere in the hospital. If he arrived in the cafeteria too soon, Christy would assume he’d hurried to check on her.
The point was he was in a hurry, but not for that particular reason. If anyone saw him, he could easily get embroiled in a patient case and he had too many other things to do this afternoon—family things—that wouldn’t allow it. His objective also included getting to know Gail’s best friend because there seemed to be more to her than had previously met his eye.
On the other hand, Christy seemed like a forgiving sort, so perhaps during their time apart she’d decided to cut him some slack.
He strode into the near-empty cafeteria and saw Emma and Derek peering into the giant aquarium in the far corner of the dining hall.
“Hi, guys. Are you enjoying the fish?” he asked.
“I like the spotted ones,” Emma declared as she pointed to one. “Do you know what kind of fish he is?”
Linc referred to the chart posted above the aquarium. “A Dalmation Molly.”
Emma giggled. “She looks like a fire-truck dog, doesn’t she?”
“She does,” he agreed, then asked, “Where’s Christy?”
“She’s over there with that guy.” Derek inclined his head in her direction.
Linc glanced at the corner in question and saw her with a fellow he recognized as one of the physical therapists. From their wide smiles and the laughter drifting across the room, both appeared entirely too comfortable with each other for Linc’s taste
“He’s got the hots for her,” Derek said with a typical eight-year-old boy’s disgust.
Linc had arrived at the same conclusion and was instantly envious. His reaction was completely illogical, but when he saw the guy scoot his chair closer and fling his arm over her shoulder to draw her close enough to whisper in her ear, he felt an envy he hadn’t noticed before.
“See?” Derek said with satisfaction. “Maybe we should warn Christy that he wants to get in her—”
Derek’s blunt description finally registered and Linc cut off the boy’s sentence. “Whoa there, buddy. Does your mother know you’re a teenager in an eight-year-old body?”
A blush crept across Derek’s face, which suggested his mother probably didn’t know the extent of her son’s education. “I watch TV,” he defended.
“Really?” Linc raised an eyebrow. “Before I ask what sort of programs you’re viewing and if your mother knows you are, we aren’t going to say a word to Christy. We don’t want to embarrass her.”
He, on the other hand, was jealous.
The boy shrugged. “If you say so, but it’s still true. He held out her chair for her, got her a refill, and keeps putting his arm around the back of her chair and leaning in close. I think he might be her boyfriend.”
A boyfriend. Linc hadn’t considered the possibility that Christy might have her own reasons for not wanting to share the house with him. Living under someone else’s roof with another guy, no matter how innocent it might be, could certainly strain a relationship.
On the other hand, although he didn’t socialize with the staff, he’d picked up enough tidbits from conversations around him to know the gossip currently circulating on the grapevine. He’d never heard her name linked to anyone else’s. If he had, he would have remembered.
On the other hand, her relationship might be new enough that it hadn’t become the latest news yet. Or, as Derek had said, this Masterson fellow might still be trying—
“He isn’t,” Emma interrupted with childlike certainty.
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