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Unlocking the surgeons h.., p.9

Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart, page 9


Unlocking the Surgeon's Heart

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  Admittedly, he enjoyed seeing those curves and fantasizing about them, but he considered himself more of a leg man. Picturing her long legs and those miles of smooth skin wrapped around his waist was one strong image that would keep him awake at night. “I’m not most men.”

  She grew thoughtful. “You’re not, are you?”

  He wasn’t sure if she was paying him a compliment or not. “As for worrying about your ability to look after Derek and Emma, I’m not. I merely wanted to say that whatever you need to do, whenever you need to do it, we’ll handle the logistics.”

  “Thanks, but for now I only need to swallow my pills, eat right, and take care of myself, which is what every other person on the planet should do.”

  “True.” Thinking of his upcoming week, he leaned forward. “About the taking-care-of-yourself part, one of my colleagues is still on vacation. I won’t be able to pull my share of the load until next weekend so unfortunately you’ll have to carry the extra burden. After that, things should settle down considerably.”

  In light of Christy’s revelation, he’d make sure he was available after that. Although he sensed she wouldn’t appreciate being treated as gently as if she were blown glass, he’d make a point to stay alert and step in whenever she needed extra help. Gail and Ty really had been smart to ask them to share parenting duties. They’d obviously foreseen areas of potential problems and had prepared for them. Now it was his turn to do the same.

  “Thanks for the warning,” she said.

  “Meanwhile, I don’t want you to physically do more than you should. You don’t have to be Super-Aunt. No one is holding you to an impossible standard, least of all me.”

  He’d expected her to appreciate his support, but instead she bristled. “I’m quite capable of taking care of the kids, maintaining the house, and doing my job at the hospital. This is precisely why I don’t blurt out my history to everyone I meet. People tend to wrap me in cotton wool and treat me like an invalid, but I’m not.”

  “Of course you aren’t,” he said, realizing she’d misinterpreted his intent. “I was trying to be considerate. That’s all. I don’t want you to be afraid I’ll complain if I come home and find dishes in the sink.”

  Her hackles seemed to drop. “Sorry. I get a little defensive sometimes. It really bugs me when I’m told I can’t or shouldn’t do something because I had cancer.”

  So many things now made sense, from her can-do, full-steam-ahead attitude to the myriad daring activities that most people would shun. “Offends your overdeveloped sense of independence, does it?”

  Color rose in her face. “It does,” she admitted. “That’s why…”

  When she stopped in midsentence, he filled in the blanks. “That’s why you go skydiving, white-water rafting, and all the other physically challenging hobbies you’re known for.”

  Her eyes widened. “How did you know?”

  “It was a logical assumption. Anyone trying to prove themselves usually chooses a task that most people wouldn’t dream of doing.”

  “I haven’t done anything that bizarre or unusual,” she pointed out. “Lots of people go white-water rafting.”

  “Sure, but skydiving?”

  “Okay, so that’s not quite as popular, but my little excursions are my way to celebrate a good medical report. Some people reward themselves with chocolate. I work on my bucket list.”

  He was relieved to know she wasn’t a thrill-seeker, as he’d thought; she was only working her way through a list of experiences. He instantly felt small for misjudging her motives.

  “So what’s on tap for this year?” he asked. “Bungee-jumping? Swimming with sharks? Diving for sunken treasure?”

  “My list consists of things I want to do before I kick the proverbial bucket, not the things that would kill me in the process,” she said wryly. “The first two you mentioned are definitely out, although…” she tapped her mouth with her forefinger “…the sunken treasure idea has possibilities, provided I find time to learn how to scuba dive.”

  He chuckled. “I stand corrected. So what’s left?”

  “A trip to Paris. Walking on a glacier. Yodeling in the Swiss Alps. Watching my nieces and nephews graduate from college. They’re younger than Derek and Emma—my sister has two boys and my brother has two girls and a boy. It’ll be a while until I can cross off that entry and I intend to be around until I do.”

  He smiled at her determination and applauded her for it. “Do they live around here?”

  “They live in the Seattle area near my mom. My family wasn’t happy when I moved to the Midwest, but they understood.”

  He suspected she’d relocated as a way to assert her independence. However, it didn’t take much imagination to picture the resistance Christy had encountered when she’d announced her plans to leave the bosom of her family. He’d spent weeks trying to convince his own sister to accept the promotion her company had offered here in Levitt Springs, but she’d wanted to strike out on her own, too. He would have preferred having her only fifteen minutes away instead of ninety, but she had to live life on her terms, not his. In the grand scheme of things, however, she was relatively close and he could bridge the distance with a mere hop and a skip.

  “Then your family was your support group?” he asked.

  “I don’t think I would have kept going if not for them and my friends. They drove me to doctors’ appointments and chemo sessions when I couldn’t, loaded my refrigerator with chicken soup, and took me shopping at Victoria’s Secret when my reconstruction was completed. They were the greatest. Everyone should have support like I did.”

  That explained the scrappy underwear he’d found. Unfortunately, being reminded of her lingerie made him wonder what color she was wearing today.

  Yanking his mind off that dead-end track, he noticed one significant absence in her list of supportive people. “Assuming you had a boyfriend, where was he in all this?”

  She let out a deep sigh of apparent resignation. As if recognizing her mistress’s inner turmoil, Ria padded to the sofa and rested her jaw on Christy’s knee. She scratched the dog’s ears and met his gaze. “He took off.”

  He wasn’t surprised; he’d seen enough in his own practice to know that some people simply couldn’t handle illness, whether it was their own or their spouse’s, but the idea of leaving someone under those circumstances was beyond his ability to comprehend.

  “What happened?”

  “Jon seemed to accept my diagnosis through the talk of lumpectomies, chemotherapy, losing my hair, et cetera, until the word ‘mastectomy’ was mentioned. When ‘double’ was added to the table as the best course of action, even though he knew I planned to undergo reconstruction so I’d have my figure back by Christmas, he freaked out.”

  “So he left.”

  “Not immediately. The final straw came when he learned I’d need hormone suppression therapy for at least five years and my ovaries might or might not wake up and be ready to work. He wanted kids of his own, through the usual method and not through special medical means, so he wished me luck, kissed me goodbye, and I never saw or heard from him again.”

  In his disgust Linc muttered an expletive that would have shocked the most hardened longshoreman.

  She burst out laughing, clapping her hands over her mouth as her eyes twinkled the entire time. “My, my, Dr Maguire. I’d scold you for your language but those are my sentiments exactly.”

  He grinned. “It’s nice to know we’re on the same page.” After a brief hesitation he spoke again. “He’s the reason you won’t date until your next scan, isn’t he?”

  “I date,” she protested mildly. “Just not often and it’s never serious. I make that plain from the beginning.”

  “Do you explain why?”

  She looked at him with a measure of horror. “Of course not. Actually, that
s not quite true. I’d gone out with someone before I moved to Levitt Springs two years ago.”

  Instinctively, he knew this story wouldn’t have a happy ending either, but knowledge was power and he wanted the facts so he knew exactly what demons she was fighting. “What happened?”

  “Nothing. I shared everything I’ve told you—maybe not quite everything…” her smile was rueful “…but Anthony knew about my cancer and the surgeries. We had a wonderful evening.”

  She paused and he sensed a “but” was coming.

  “After he took me home, I never heard from him again,” she finished.

  He cursed under his breath and she smiled. “It wasn’t that bad,” she told him. “We only went out once. When I realized he wouldn’t call, I was disappointed but not crushed. After that, I moved here and decided to keep my tale to myself. Some women tell everyone they meet about their cancer experience and I understand why they do. The more women realize it could happen to them—at any age—the better, but for me, I want people to see me for who I am, not for what I’ve gone through in the past or might in the future.”

  “Aren’t you selling us short? You shouldn’t assume all men are as weak-willed and lacking in character as those two.”

  “I know,” she admitted, “but I can’t take the risk. If a particular relationship is meant to be, it’ll happen at the right time, under my terms.”

  He hated that she’d lumped all men in the same category, himself included. “When did Ria appear on the scene?”

  “After Jon disappeared to find the new love of his life, my brother brought me a puppy. She was beautiful, happy, and loved the water, so I named her Ria. She also had the biggest paws, which made me afraid she was part horse, but in the end she was my best friend and was there whenever I needed a warm body to hold on to.”

  Once again, he had an uncommon urge to hunt down this Jon character and do him bodily harm. As special as Ria was, Christy should have had a real person holding her during those dark days and nights. In fact, he wished he’d known her at the time because he couldn’t imagine leaving her. A person didn’t desert the one he loved.

  Yet he was glad this guy had decamped, otherwise he might never have met her. The possibility of living the rest of his life without her waltzing into it drove the air out of his lungs like a fist to his solar plexus.

  “Now you know my whole sordid tale,” she said lightly, “and why fundraising for the cancer center and the Relay for Life organization is important to me.”

  “You could be the hospital’s poster child for the event,” he pointed out.

  “I could, but I won’t. I’ll leave that to someone else.” She grinned. “I’m going to be too busy getting my dance partner up to speed for the competition.”

  “Speaking of which, did you have to drag me into your plan?” he said in mock complaint.

  “I did,” she stated innocently, although her eyes sparkled with humor. “You always walk into the unit so completely focused on nursing notes and lab reports that I decided you should get involved on a more personal level.”

  “I’m involved,” he protested mildly. Being conscious of her fragrance and the softness of her skin, he could think of at least one other activity in which he’d like to involve himself. “I write a check and it comes out of my personal bank account.”

  One of her eyebrows arched high. “Writing a check is nice, but it isn’t participation.”

  “Well, thanks to you, I’m participating now,” he complained good-naturedly.

  She giggled. “You are, aren’t you?”

  While his apprehension about sailing around the floor in front of a group of people hadn’t faded, it seemed small and insignificant when compared to Christy’s challenges. Spending an evening in the company of a woman who embraced life to the degree that she did wouldn’t be the royal pain in the backside that he’d first thought. Perish the thought, but, to borrow her phrase, it would probably be…fun.

  “I’m warning you, though. After this week, when I don’t have to cover so many extra shifts, we’re going to start practicing,” he said firmly. “And I do mean practice.”

  A small wrinkle formed between her eyebrows. “I was only teasing about getting my dance partner up to speed.”

  “You have may have been teasing, but I’m not.”

  “Need I remind you this is only a friendly event? No one is expecting you to be Patrick Swayze.”

  “If they are, they’ll be sorely disappointed, but if something is worth doing—and you keep telling me it is,” he added wryly, “then we’re going to do it well.”

  As he saw her smile, he asked, “What’s so funny?”

  The grin disappeared, but the humor remained in her eyes. “Nothing,” she said innocently. “If you want to practice, we’ll practice.”

  The cuckoo suddenly chirped eleven times, which caught Linc by surprise. He wondered where the hours had gone, but he’d been so engrossed in Christy’s story that he hadn’t noticed how quickly the evening had passed.

  “I’d better start the dishwasher before I forget.” She rose out of his loose embrace. “Then I’m turning in.”

  As he followed suit, his arm felt empty and almost unnatural, as if his body sensed what his mind could not—that she belonged there. Not just for a few minutes or over the course of a conversation, but for years and years.

  Perhaps it was time he reconsidered a few points he’d etched in stone. The ideal woman he’d hoped to find—the one with steady, dependable traits—suddenly didn’t seem quite as attractive she had a few weeks ago. Being with Christy had made his nameless, faceless future wife seem so…colorless, so black and white.

  He now wanted color in his life.

  Out of habit, he checked the front door to be sure the deadbolt was thrown, and armed the alarm system.

  It was such a husbandly sort of thing to do, he decided as he waited for her to return so he could turn off the lights. Yes, he knew she could flick the switch as easily as he could, but he’d reverted back to his early days when his family had been together. He had always been the last to go to bed because, as the man of the house, he’d accepted the responsibility of securing their home for the night. Old habits, as he’d told Christy, definitely died hard because he’d fallen back into them as if it were only yesterday.

  He heard the water running into the dishwasher, then the rhythmic swish as it circulated, but she still hadn’t reappeared. Wondering what had delayed her, he meandered into the kitchen and found her with her hands planted on the counter, head down.

  “Is something wrong?” he asked.

  She straightened immediately and turned toward him, but he saw the too-forced smile. “Why do you ask?”

  “You looked as if you were a few hundred miles away.”

  Her smile was small. “I suppose I was,” she said slowly. “For years I haven’t thought about some of the things I shared tonight. I’d pushed Jon and the incident with Anthony completely out of my mind, but remembering the way it was…now my emotions are a little tangled.”

  He didn’t believe she had pushed those two experiences out of her head as much as she thought she had. The fact that she intended to hold any fellow at arm’s length until she passed her magical five-year date proved that both men’s rejections continued to color her relationships.

  “Understandable,” he said, “but I’m honored you opened up to me. For the record, though, if you hadn’t have volunteered the information, I wouldn’t have pressed.”

  “The story was bound to come out sooner or later. You can’t share a house with someone and keep any secrets,” she said ruefully. “I trust, though, you’ll hold everything in confidence? It’s not that I don’t want anyone in Levitt Springs to know, but I’d rather tell people in my own time and in my own way.”

  “I won’t say a word.


  He sensed the absence of her normally confident air and he felt somewhat responsible. If he’d pretended ignorance about the pills, denied any knowledge of what he’d seen, she wouldn’t be reliving the sting of her ex-boyfriend’s rejection.

  Impulsively, feeling as if he needed to comfort her as he would a distraught Emma, he covered the distance and drew her against him. “Jon was, and still is, an ass,” he murmured against her hair. “For that matter, so is Anthony.”

  She shook in his arms and he didn’t know if she was laughing or crying until she spoke. Then he heard the hoarse, tell-tale quiver in her voice. “They are.”

  “You’re better off without them.”

  “I am,” she agreed.

  “Jon definitely didn’t deserve you.”

  “He didn’t.”

  She sounded as if she was repeating the arguments she’d used before. He pulled away just enough so he could tip up her chin and stare into her chocolate-brown eyes. “A fellow with any brains would be happy to call you his, cancer diagnosis or not.”

  She licked her bottom lip before squeezing out a weak smile. “Thanks for the thought.”

  His gaze landed on her mouth and he instantly realized she was definitely not Emma by any stretch of his imagination. He had an uncontrollable urge to determine if her lips would fit his as well as her body did, and if they tasted as delicious as he suspected. Before he could restrain himself, he bent his head and kissed her.

  It was a chaste kiss, one meant to console, but not only did that contact pack a powerful punch, it also ignited a hunger inside him.

  Gradually, he increased the pressure, waiting for her to respond to his lead, and to his utter delight she did. He caressed her back, carefully encouraging her to lean closer until he finally felt her weight settle against him. Little by little, he inched one hand toward her bare shoulder. Entranced by the smooth skin, he trailed his fingers along the bones before stopping at the hollow of her throat.

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