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Unlocking the surgeons h.., p.7

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart, page 7

 

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart
 


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  Linc’s mind was too focused on Derek’s report of Masterson’s activities to follow Emma’s train of thought. “He isn’t what?”

  “Her boyfriend. I heard Mama telling her that she needs to get one, but Christy only laughed and said she’d think about it after her next pet. Do you think she’s going to get another dog? I hope she finds a little one next time. One you can carry in your purse.”

  Linc was totally confused. A boyfriend was contingent on Christy’s new pet? Emma had obviously missed a few important details.

  “How long ago did you hear your Mom and Christy talking?” he asked. If their conversation had taken place months ago, Christy could easily have found someone since then to play that role, new pet or not.

  “A few days before Mama and Daddy left. Oh, look.” Once again, she pointed to the tank. “Those two fish are kissing.” She giggled.

  He glanced at the tank and saw two fish with their mouths pressed together. The fish clearly didn’t spend their days swimming aimlessly around their environment. Once again, he referred to the posted list of names and photos.

  “They’re called Kissing Gourami,” he reported.

  “Do you think they like each other, Unca Linc?” Emma asked.

  “Don’t be silly.” Derek rolled his eyes. “Fish don’t like each other like people do.”

  “How do you know?” Emma’s eyes flashed. “You don’t know everything just ’cause you’re older than me. If it’s a boy fish and a girl fish, they could, too, like each other—”

  “Enough,” Linc said firmly. “We aren’t going to argue here. We’ll research the subject on the internet when we get home.”

  To his surprise and delight, Christy joined them at the tank. “Actually, those two aren’t getting along right now,” she said.

  “They aren’t? But they’re acting like they do,” Emma protested.

  “They’re a peaceful species, but the males fight over their territory like other animals. When they do, they press their mouths together.”

  The little girl frowned as if trying to puzzle over how such a move could be a sign of aggression. “They don’t have much room to fight over,” she remarked, her attention riveted to the pair in question.

  “I don’t know how large they consider their territories,” Christy replied. “Maybe one raced the other to the food and he was a sore loser. Or maybe one cut in front of the other while they were swimming.”

  “I get it,” Linc said, humored by her story. “They’re having the aquatic equivalent of road rage. And I thought I had an active imagination.”

  Emma tugged on his shorts pocket. “What’s road rage?”

  “It’s when one driver gets angry with another driver and they get into an argument.”

  “Oh.”

  “The point is, Em,” Christy interrupted, “it doesn’t take much for guys of any species to find a reason to flex their muscles.”

  He had a feeling she’d directed her last comment to him.

  “Yeah, but they fight by kissing?” Derek shuddered. “Yuck.”

  Christy grinned. “You don’t like the idea of locking lips with the guy you want to punch?”

  “No way.”

  While Derek and Christy discussed the more acceptable forms of dealing with conflict, Linc realized that her former companion had disappeared. “Is Masterson’s coffee break over?”

  “Dan had only stopped in for his usual afternoon soda and ran into us. He’s on the Dancing with the Docs committee and was trying to convince me to volunteer.”

  “Did he? Convince you, that is?”

  She shook her head. “I told him my days were full enough as it is with being a participant, but I’d save him a dance.”

  Linc felt an unreasonable desire to remind her that she would be busy dancing with him, but he didn’t. He did, however, make a mental note to carve out time for lessons the week after next. By then, his partners would have returned from their respective vacations and he could implement a less hectic schedule in the weeks ahead.

  “As enjoyable as it is to stay and chat about the fish or the upcoming festival, we have plenty to see and do today,” she said.

  “You’re right. We should leave,” he agreed. After tossing the empty cracker wrappers and milk cartons into a bin, Linc ushered the group to the elevator. As they were making their ascent, curiosity drove him to ask, “Emma said you might be getting another dog?”

  She smiled. “Afraid not. Ria is all I can handle for now.” She touched her finger to the tip of the little girl’s nose. “Whatever gave you that idea, Em?”

  “We were wondering if that guy you were with was your boyfriend. I said he wasn’t ’cause you told Mama you’d get one after your next pet and you still just have Ria.”

  Linc had expected her to laugh in her usual

  melodic way—the way that made him smile whenever he heard the sound. He wasn’t prepared to see her face turn pale and her hand shake as she touched her throat.

  Something had driven the color out of her face. He didn’t understand what, but he intended to find out.

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHRISTY tried to remember the details of her conversation with Gail and wondered how much Emma had heard. She opted to pretend ignorance. “Trust me. I don’t intend to replace Ria or give her a doggy brother or sister. Okay?”

  “Then you won’t ever have a boyfriend?”

  Emma had no idea how painful her innocent question was. “Someday. If I find the right guy,” Christy answered lightly, although she had her doubts. In her experience, the good ones were already taken.

  Suddenly aware of Linc’s speculative gaze, she wondered why the elevator suddenly slowed to a crawl. “I’m too busy for a fella right now anyway.” She brushed a lock of unruly hair off Emma’s forehead. “I’m looking after my favorite kids, remember?”

  Fortunately, they’d arrived on the main floor at that particular moment. As soon as the stainless-steel doors opened, she edged her way through the space so fast she was the first one out.

  “What’s next on our agenda?” she asked, hoping Linc hadn’t noticed her too-bright tone. A quick glance showed an impassive expression so she relaxed, certain she’d successfully dodged that uncomfortable situation.

  “My place,” he said.

  It came as no surprise that Linc lived in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. His sprawling, ranch-style house stood in the middle of a well-manicured lawn. Hostas and other shade-loving perennials circled the large maple trees and a mixture of petunias, marigolds, and other annuals she didn’t recognize filled the flower bed next to the front entrance.

  “When do you find the time to work outdoors?” she asked as they walked inside.

  “I have a yard service,” he confessed. “I also have a housekeeper who drops in every three weeks, although there isn’t much for her to do.”

  She didn’t expect there would be. The man spent most of his life at the hospital.

  “Can we go to the back yard and play, Uncle Linc?” Derek asked.

  “Sure,” he told them, “but don’t get too involved because we won’t be staying long.”

  “Okay.” The children scampered through the house and a few seconds later an unseen door slammed.

  “What are we getting?” Christy asked, trying not to be awed by his house and failing. The home was built with an open floor plan similar to hers, but his living room also had a gorgeous red-brick fireplace in one corner. His décor included a lot of woodwork and deep accent colors in blues, greens, and browns, which gave a very relaxing atmosphere.

  “My single-cup coffeemaker,” he said as he skirted the island on his way to the end of the counter where the appliance in question was located. “You don’t drink coffee, so it seems a waste to make an entire pot for the one cup I dr
ink on my way to the office.”

  “True.” She glanced around again. “This is absolutely lovely.”

  “You like it?” he asked.

  “Very much. If I lived here, I’d have a tough time leaving to go to work.”

  She heard childish laughter and screams of delight, so she moved to the French doors that opened onto the patio. There, she looked outside into the most beautiful back yard she could imagine.

  An outdoor fireplace and a bricked-in grill formed the wall on the west side of the patio and protected the table and chairs from the setting sun. On the east side, a couple of cushioned lounge chairs were grouped together with a small end table in between.

  Beyond that, a pair of large oak trees stood like sentinels in the fenced yard. A tree house was nestled in one and a tire swing hung from a huge branch in the other. A gym with a climbing rope and a slide stood off to one side and both Emma and Derek were crawling over it like agile monkeys.

  “This is fantastic!” she exclaimed. “Did you or a previous owner create all this?”

  He joined her at the door, his smile wide with well-deserved pride. “Ty and Jose did most of the physical labor, but I helped.”

  “It’s amazing,” she remarked, awed by his thoughtfulness for his niece and nephew. She was also extremely aware of his proximity as she could almost feel the heat radiating off his body and the most delightful masculine scent surrounded her. “I suppose you don’t call this ‘spoiling’ your niece and nephew?”

  He shook his head. “I call it self-preservation. Gail and Ty always designate one night a month as their date night, so I began hosting sleepovers at my place. Sometimes they stretched into a full weekend. After one visit of hearing ‘We’re bored, Unca Linc,’ and ‘Can we go to the park and play on the swings’ every five minutes, I decided it would be easier on all of us if they had something special to play on here. So I commissioned everything you see.”

  “I’m very impressed.” And she was. He might be single-minded about his work, but he didn’t completely ignore his family, as she’d first thought.

  “Impressed enough to forgive me for my comment this afternoon?”

  She had to think a minute to remember. “Oh, that. I’d already forgotten.”

  “Really?” he asked. “You were rather upset.”

  She shrugged. “At the time I was. As a general rule, I try to look at what happened in terms of the big picture and usually nothing is so bad that it’s worth making a fuss about. Although it takes me a bit longer to reach that point when my feelings are hurt, eventually I get there.”

  “That’s a very healthy attitude to have.”

  Facing one’s mortality had a tendency to change one’s perspective. “Thanks.”

  “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

  She fell silent. “I accept your apology, but the question is do you trust me to exercise good judgment with Derek and Emma? If you don’t, I’d like to know now.”

  “I don’t distrust you,” he said slowly. “Old habits simply die hard and as the responsible person in my family, it seemed like I was always reminding my siblings to do one thing or another. My parents left me in charge a lot, and by the time they died, it had become second nature. ‘Don’t forget your lunch money. Pick up a loaf of bread on your way home from school. Start the laundry when you get home.’”

  “Ah, the controlling type.”

  “If by controlling you mean trying to keep everything organized and running smoothly, then yes.”

  “I’m surprised you took on that responsibility by yourself.”

  He grinned. “I did, and I didn’t. My grandmother was still alive and she wanted Ty and Joanie to move in with her, but Gram was already showing signs of senile dementia and had a heart problem. Taking care of two teenagers would have completely done her in. The three of us voted to move her in with us. She felt useful and we unobtrusively kept an eye on her.”

  “That’s amazing.”

  He shrugged. “It was the best solution at the time and in hindsight I’m glad we made that decision because a year later she died in her sleep.”

  “I’m sorry,” she murmured.

  “She was a great gal. She tended to deliver last-minute instructions every time anyone left the house—young or old, it didn’t matter—and I suppose I picked up that habit early on.”

  “How did Ty and your sister handle those little reminders?”

  “We had our moments, but they listened.” His grin was a beautiful sight to see. “Or at least they pretended to listen.”

  “So is that what I should do?” she teased. “Pretend to hang on your every word until your ego can’t fit through doorways?”

  “It’s a pleasant thought, but I’d rather have honesty.”

  “Honesty I can do.”

  As they exchanged a smile, she felt as if they’d reached a milestone. Sharing the responsibility of the children didn’t seem quite as frustrating as she’d once thought. Maybe, just maybe, they could get through the next two months without feeling as if she were tiptoeing through a minefield.

  Oh, they were certain to clash; it was inevitable because he was the type of man who grabbed the horns of leadership. He was used to being the guy with the answers and had been for most of his life. Becoming a surgeon had only reinforced his independence. To him, decisions weren’t by group consensus and consequently he expected people to follow his directives without question.

  She, on the other hand, believed in hearing both sides and weighing all the pros and cons before arriving at a solution. To her, flexibility and family relationships were far more important than schedules and to-do lists. Life was simply too precarious not to enjoy it to the fullest.

  “I’ll try to be more sparing with my reminders,” he added, “but in case I forget, don’t take them personally.”

  “Okay, as long as you understand I don’t handle ‘control’ very easily.”

  He chuckled. “I suspected as much. Now that we’ve cleared the air, we should discuss our free time.”

  “Free time?”

  “Yeah. If you ever want to go out with Masterson—”

  “I don’t,” she said firmly. “He’s a great guy, but…” she wasn’t ready to bare her soul, so she relied on her standby excuse “…the sparks aren’t there.”

  “Are you sure? He certainly has them.”

  “Were you spying on me?”

  He held up his hands. “I’m only repeating what Derek said.”

  The knowledge that an eight-year-old boy saw the very fire she’d been trying to extinguish was disconcerting.

  “The point is, whether you want to go out with him or anyone else, I’m sure Gail and Ty don’t expect either of us to forego dating for the next two months. We need to create a schedule.”

  Another schedule. How in the world did the man keep track of them all? She pictured his daily calendar and imagined a block of time designated as ‘Christy’s date’, and inwardly smiled.

  She didn’t know if he was fishing or being kind, but admitting she didn’t have a romantic interest and only went out with her girlfriends or colleagues for an occasional beer at the end of a long week made her seem…sad and pathetic. She’d endured enough of people’s well-meant sympathy over the past four-plus years and she especially didn’t want any from Lincoln Maguire.

  “Your suggestion is noted,” she said instead. “I’ll give you plenty of notice when I have plans. What about you? Is there a lady friend in your life that I should work around?”

  “Not really. I have met someone, though. No, I take that back. We’ve been passing acquaintances for a while, but lately I’m seeing her a little differently.”

  The idea that another woman had attracted his attention was unsettling, which was a completely illogical response. Just because he
r pulse did that stupid skittery thing when he was around and just because they were living together under the most innocent of terms for the sake of two minors didn’t mean she had a right to be possessive. A man who thrived on control and preferred having everything in its place wouldn’t be interested in a woman who walked a tightrope between being cured of cancer and having a relapse.

  “Anyone I know?” she asked, realizing her off-handed question was as painful as poking herself in the eye.

  “I’d rather not name names at this point.”

  She didn’t know what was worse—knowing the woman’s identity or being left to speculate. “Okay, but if you ever ask her out—”

  “You’ll be the first to know.”

  His promise brought little comfort because the green-eyed monster had perched on her shoulder.

  * * *

  Linc had hoped Christy would be more forthcoming about her personal life when he’d mentioned creating a date-night schedule, but she hadn’t. Hearing she didn’t feel the sparks with Masterson had come as some relief, but Masterson wasn’t the only guy sniffing around her. She attracted single fellows like grape jelly attracted orioles, although, as far as he could tell, she didn’t encourage them.

  No doubt they responded to her ready smile and open friendliness, which he completely understood. He lingered longer on her nursing unit than he did elsewhere in the hospital because lately, even if he only spent a few minutes with her and they never discussed anything except patient care, being with her seemed to rejuvenate him.

  It was an odd observation. She was unconventional and impulsive—two traits he hadn’t been looking for in his ideal significant other because he wasn’t about to have his children live through the same upheaval and uncertainty he had—but apparently, like the other eligible males in the hospital, he was drawn to her because of them.

  For the first time he began to wonder if steady and dependable was really what he wanted. After all, he’d met a multitude of steady, dependable women and yet he hadn’t bothered to get to know any of them. Was it possible that deep down, in spite of his avowal otherwise, he wanted the excitement that his parents had enjoyed as they’d pursued their dream together?

 
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