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Unlocking the surgeons h.., p.8

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart, page 8


Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart

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  Maybe he did, but he’d certainly go about achieving it in a different way, and he certainly wouldn’t do so by placing an unreasonable burden on his children. Surely there was a happy medium? He simply had to find it.

  In the meantime, though, he’d solve the riddle of the “pet” comment Emma had overheard because his instincts said there was more to that particular story than Christy had divulged.

  To his surprise, the pieces which hadn’t fit suddenly slid into place later that evening.

  “Unca Linc, I need you.”

  Emma’s loud whisper pulled his attention away from his latest Lancet journal as he sat in the recliner with his feet raised. “What’s up, Em?” he asked in a normal voice.

  “Shh,” she whispered, holding a finger to her lips. “I don’t want Christy to hear. I need you. Now.” She motioned frantically for him to join her.

  The worry on her elfin features convinced him to follow. As soon as he reached her side, she pulled him into the hallway that led to the bedrooms.

  “What’s up?” he whispered back.

  “I’m in a bit of a pickle,” she admitted, “but I can’t ’splain yet. Christy will hear.”

  He smiled at her turn of a phrase because it sounded like something his sister-in-law frequently said. “She’s outside.”

  Emma’s shoulders heaved. “Oh, good.”

  “So what’s this pickle you’re in?” he asked, trying to not smile when Emma was clearly distressed.

  She stopped outside Christy’s room and the story poured out of her. “I know we’re not s’posed to go into rooms when we’re not invited, but Ria and I were playing and Ria ran in here and I came after her. She was jumping and I was trying to stay out of her way but we both bumped into the dresser and Christy’s stuff rolled off and some of the bottles fell off the back and I can’t get them out!” Her voice rose. “Now Christy’s going to be mad at us and she won’t let me play with Ria or talk to Mama and Daddy when they call tonight and I just gotta talk to them! Please, Unca Linc. You hafta help me.”

  With that, she burst into tears.

  Linc’s mouth twitched with a smile, but laughing at Emma’s worries wouldn’t allay his niece’s fears. Instead, he crouched down and hugged her.

  “None of this is as bad as you think,” he consoled, wiping away her tears with his thumbs. “We’ll get the bottles and set them back on top of the dresser. No harm done.”

  Emma sniffled.

  “Were they big bottles or little ones?” he asked.

  “Little. Mama gets the same ones when she’s sick.”

  She must have knocked over prescription bottles. “Okay. Give me two minutes and everything will be just like it was.”

  “But she’ll know I came into her room without her permission,” she hiccupped, “and then I’ll be punished. So will Ria.”

  The Labrador sat on her haunches next to the bed, her usual doggy smile absent, as if she recognized the gravity of the situation.

  “You may get scolded, but Christy wouldn’t stop you from talking to your mom and dad.”

  “You don’t think so?” Her watery blue-gray eyes stared into his. “What we did was wrong.”

  “Yes, it was, but not allowing you to talk to your mom and dad would be mean, and deep down you know she isn’t mean.” He paused. “Am I right?”

  She nodded and the worried wrinkle between her eyes lessened.

  “I’ll move the dresser, we’ll find her things and put them back the way they were. Now, don’t cry. Okay?”

  She swiped her nose and nodded. “Okay.”

  Linc pivoted the dresser far enough to locate the missing prescription containers. After retrieving them, he moved the furniture so the legs matched the same carpet depressions as they had previously. Satisfied he’d hidden the evidence of the mishap, he placed the two he’d rescued at the end of the row of her other medications and neatly stacked the appointment cards.

  Noticing that she’d positioned each bottle so the labels faced outward, he lined his in the same manner, half-surprised that someone as young and obviously healthy as Christy required so much medication. As he turned away, he caught one drug name out of the corner of his eye and his blood immediately ran cold.


  Although he didn’t prescribe it for his patients, he knew exactly what it was used for—the treatment of certain types of breast cancer.

  The books on her shelf now made sense, as did the row of pill bottles and vitamins, her organic hormone-free milk, and the refrigerator full of fresh vegetables and low-fat dairy products.

  It also made her guiding philosophy of life understandable. After battling cancer, there weren’t many other problems too big to face and definitely not many worth getting upset over.

  But, oh, how he hated to think of what she’d gone through, both physically and emotionally.

  “Unca Linc.” Emma tugged on his pants. “Are you done? We should go.”

  “You’re right, we should.” He ushered her out of the room and closed the door firmly behind him, wishing he could block off his new-found knowledge as easily.

  * * *

  “There you two are,” Christy said with relief as she and Derek met Linc and Emma in the living room. “It’s almost time for Gail and Ty to call. Linc, can you power up the laptop?”

  While he obeyed, she addressed the children. “Let me look at you and make sure you’re both presentable.”

  She stood them side by side and cast a critical eye on them. The clean clothes they’d changed into an hour ago were still clean. Emma’s hair was neatly combed, but Derek’s definitely needed a bit of straightening. She couldn’t do it properly so she simply smoothed the unruly locks with her fingers.

  “Gail and Ty aren’t expecting them to look their Sunday best,” Linc teased her. “They know these two. If they’re too neat, Gail will accuse us of replacing her kids with someone else’s.”

  “I don’t want them to think we’re neglecting—”

  “Trust me, they won’t. As long as they’re not bleeding, a little dirt and stray hair won’t faze Gail and Ty.” He pushed a few keys, then set the laptop on the coffee table in front of the youngest Maguires, who were bouncing with excitement on the sofa. “Here we go.”

  At seven o’clock on the dot, thanks to a wireless internet connection and a webcam, Gail and Ty appeared on the computer screen and the conversation began.

  Christy moved into the background and listened as the children talked about their recent activities and Gail mentioned a few of the sights they’d seen. She and Linc gave a short statement about how well things were going and eventually, after a promise for a follow-up call on Thursday and a tearful goodbye, he closed the connection.

  “Can we do that again?” Emma asked.

  “On Thursday,” Christy told her.

  “I want to talk before then.”

  Arranging a time to coordinate with school events, homework, dance lessons, and soccer practice had been tough, so everyone had agreed to plan their calls near the children’s bedtime. Unfortunately, with the seven-hour time difference, it meant Gail and Ty they had to call at three a.m. local time, which explained why they’d looked a little bleary-eyed.

  “I know you do, but your mom and dad have to wake up in the middle of the night to talk to us. They can’t do that every day.”

  “But I didn’t tell Mama about the caterpillar I saw and Daddy doesn’t know about my loose tooth.”

  “I’ll help you email them,” Linc offered. “How does that sound?”

  Emma frowned, her bottom lip quivering as if she wouldn’t need much encouragement to break into a wail.

  He tugged on the little girl’s earlobe. “Did you lose your smile? You’d better find it quick because you’ll need it for school tomorrow. Yo
u don’t want your teacher calling me and saying that Emma Maguire is being grumpy today, do you?”


  “Good. Now, run and get ready for bed.” He glanced at Christy. “Whose turn is it tonight? The princess or the knight?”

  “The princess,” Emma stated firmly. With Linc’s one, innocently phrased question, eagerness replaced her downcast expression.

  Christy was impressed by the way he’d turned his niece’s ill-humor completely around. Was his success born out of experience or did he have an innate gift for handling children? Given his past, she suspected a combination of both were responsible.

  “Okay, then. Off you go. The longer it takes you to get ready for bed, the shorter the story will be.”

  The two dashed off and Christy felt Linc’s gaze. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

  “Nothing. I just wondered if you felt better now.”

  “I’ve felt fine all evening,” she said, puzzled. “Why?”

  “You were as fidgety as the kids. I assumed you were nervous.”

  She sank onto the sofa, surprised he’d noticed. “I was. I wanted everything perfect so Gail wouldn’t worry about them or wonder if they’d made the right decision when they asked me, us, to watch them.”

  “Trust me, she saw two happy, healthy kids who were coping with their parents’ absence quite well.”

  “I’m glad you think so.”

  “I do.”

  “Unca Linc!” Derek called from his bedroom. “We’re ready!”

  Laughing, he rose. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, my fans await.”

  For a few minutes Christy listened to Linc’s deep voice as he began his story. She couldn’t hear the words, but she heard the tone and it touched her in ways she hadn’t expected.

  Idly, she wondered how Linc would deal with a diagnosis such as hers if delivered to his wife or girlfriend. Would he decide, as Jon had, that he hadn’t bought a ticket for that particular movie and wasn’t interested in doing so? Or would he see her through the entire process—the surgery, the chemo, more surgery, the endless waiting for test results?

  She suspected he wouldn’t leave his significant other hanging in similar circumstances. A man who’d taken on the care of his younger siblings as well as his grandmother while barely in his twenties wouldn’t walk away from a woman he loved.

  On the other hand, after taking on so many responsibilities at such a young age, he obviously wasn’t interested in tying himself down because he was in his late thirties and didn’t seem interested in changing his marital status. His career was both wife and mistress, so imagining him in Jon’s place was pointless.

  Life was what it was and fate had given her a fellow whose love hadn’t been strong enough to face the challenges that had presented themselves. In hindsight, she was grateful to have discovered his character flaws before their relationship had become legal.

  As for the future, self-preservation ruled the day. She wouldn’t allow any man to get close until she received her five-year all-clear report. Without that medical reassurance, it wouldn’t be fair to dump such a heavy burden on a guy. Waiting until then would also save her the trouble of dealing with heartache in addition to cancer, round two.

  Aware of the hour, Christy tidied the living room, sent Ria outside for her last trip outdoors, then delivered her own share of goodnight hugs and kisses to Derek and Emma. For some reason, though, when they both turned away to leave Emma’s bedside, the little girl clung to Linc and whispered in his ear.

  “You should tell her,” she heard him say.

  “Please?” the little girl begged.

  “Okay. I’ll do it, but next time you have to ’fess up yourself.”

  “Thanks, Unca Linc.”

  Curious about what Emma considered so terrible that her uncle had to divulge it on her behalf, Christy held her questions until she’d called in Ria and they were both relaxing on the living-room sofa with the television volume turned low.

  “What couldn’t Emma tell me about?” she asked as she sipped on her cup of herbal tea.

  “She went into your room today.”

  Considering all of her medications, vitamins, and supplements, which might pique a child’s

  curiosity, Christy panicked. “She didn’t swallow anything, did she? Ria didn’t eat—”

  “No, nothing like that.”

  She relaxed. “Good.”

  “Apparently Emma has this horrible fear you’d be furious if you knew she went into your room. She believes she’s facing a fate worse than death and asked me to beg for mercy on her behalf.”

  Christy smiled at Linc’s wry tone. “I told them I had things in my room that could make them or Ria sick, so it would be best if they didn’t go inside unless I gave them permission.” She didn’t intend to explain what those things were; she simply hoped Linc would accept her simplified explanation as the kids had.

  “Emma understands that, which was why she was worried.”

  “Out of curiosity, how did she end up there, anyway?”

  “She and Ria were playing and somehow the two of them ended up in your room. In their exuberance, some of the bottles on your dresser rolled off. Nothing broke, so you shouldn’t worry about that.”

  “Then no harm done, I’m sure,” she said lightly.

  “The problem was,” he continued, “a few vials rolled behind and she couldn’t reach them.”

  “Thanks for telling me. I would have wondered why some had disappeared. Before I go to bed I’ll—”

  “The lost have been found. I put the vials on top of your dresser with the others.”

  She swallowed hard. “You…did?” Then she plastered a wide smile on her face and pretended nonchalance. “How nice of you. Thanks.”

  “You’re welcome.”

  At first, she believed she’d skated through that awkward moment with ease, but the compassion she saw on his face said otherwise. He might not ask questions—it would be rather forward of him to do so—but whether he did or didn’t, his eyes held a knowing look that hadn’t been present before.

  Of the pills he’d retrieved, only one would have generated the curiosity and sympathy in his gaze—the one easily recognizable as a cancer treatment.

  If she didn’t say a word, she sensed he’d drop the subject, but it seemed cowardly not to address the obvious. It would become the elephant in the room they both tried to ignore and she would analyze his every remark and every glance for a hidden meaning.

  She could handle anything from him except pity.

  No, she didn’t want that. Better to face the situation head-on.

  “You know, don’t you?” she asked.


  YOU know, don’t you? Christy’s question echoed in Linc’s head and he paused to debate the merits of pretending ignorance. However easy it might seem in the moment, honesty had been and always would be the best policy.

  Her eyes held resignation, as if she hated that her secret had been revealed, and he softened his own gaze. “I wasn’t being curious. I didn’t intend to read the label, it just happened.”

  From the way Christy visibly hunched her shoulders in an effort to draw inside herself, Linc knew he’d thrown her off balance. He had plenty of questions, but there were times to speak and times to listen. At the moment, listening seemed to be the most appropriate course of action.

  Had anyone else told him news of this sort, he would have reacted in a most clinical, detached manner. With Christy, however, his detachment had flown out the window.

  Sensing her mental turmoil, he scooted closer to lend his comfort and encouragement. She stiffened in his one-armed hug as if she didn’t want to accept his support, but gradually the tension in her body eased.

  Silence hung in the air as she continued t
o cradle her teacup, but Linc waited.

  “You’re probably wondering why I never told you,” she began.

  “Not really.” At her startled glance, he explained. “I’m not your physician or…” He wanted to say your lover but caught himself. “Or more than a casual acquaintance, so I understand why you haven’t shared your personal issues with me. I assume Gail knows?”

  “We hadn’t shared too many yoga classes before I told her. One doesn’t keep many secrets from the ladies at the gym,” she said wryly. “For the record, though, my having breast cancer doesn’t diminish my ability to look after Derek and Emma.”

  “Of course not,” he answered quickly, to soothe her obvious fears that somehow he’d find her lacking. It also made sense as to why she’d been so worried about the children’s appearance for tonight’s internet call and had driven herself frantic to make everything perfect. She wanted to prove she could handle the job.

  “Good, because for the time being I’m perfectly healthy.”

  His mental cogs clicked together. “Then Emma wasn’t far off the mark, was she? The pet she’d heard you mention was a PET scan, not a four-legged animal.”

  She nodded, a small smile curving her vulnerable mouth. “Yes. My five-year check-up is due a few days after Gail and Ty return, so you don’t have to worry about—”

  He snagged onto the time frame she’d divulged. “Five years?”

  “I was twenty-four when I was diagnosed, which gives me the dubious honor of being one of those rare young people who develop breast cancer. Mine was a particularly aggressive type, so I opted for a double mastectomy.”

  Knowing what he did about the drug she was taking, her tumor had also been estrogen-receptor positive, which meant estrogen fueled the cancer. Tamoxifen would stop production of the hormone so the abnormal cells couldn’t multiply.

  “Speaking from a medical standpoint, you made a wise decision.”

  She shrugged. “It was the only one I could make. Because you’re curious, as are most men, all this…” she motioned to her chest “…is courtesy of a skilled plastic surgeon and reconstruction.”

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