Under The Mistletoe With John Doe, page 4
It might put John at ease, Betsy realized. But the thought of John Doe living so close to her was doing a real number on her.
As one day stretched into a second, and then into a third, John still couldn’t remember who he was or what he was doing in Brighton Valley.
His injury had been serious, and doctors were monitoring the contusion to make sure it didn’t worsen. If it did, he would need surgery.
There were a lot of things he didn’t know these days, but he was certain that he didn’t want anyone operating on his brain. And so far, so good. He hadn’t needed surgery.
Dr. Kelso had mentioned something about releasing him in the next day or so, which was great. But he had no idea where he’d go.
He’d figure out something, he supposed. He certainly couldn’t lie around in a hospital bed for the rest of his life. But God only knew what he’d do to support himself.
Footsteps sounded, and he looked up to see a dark-haired teenage girl wearing a pink-striped apron. She poked her head into his doorway and smiled. “Would you like a magazine or a book to read?”
John hadn’t felt up to doing much of anything for the past couple of days, but it was much easier to concentrate now. His headaches weren’t as intense and he was feeling more like himself.
Well, whatever “himself” meant.
So he said, “Sure, I’ll take one. What’ve you got?”
She wheeled a small cart into his room, and he scanned the offerings: Ladies’ Home Journal, Psychology Today, People, Field & Stream…
Golf Digest? For some reason, that particular periodical, with a head shot of Phil Mickelson on the cover, seemed to be the most appealing in the stack, so he took it.
When the candy striper left the room, he began to thumb through the pages, wondering if he’d been a golfer before the mugging.
If so, did he play regularly? Or had he just taken up the sport?
That answer, like all the others he’d been asking himself over the past two days, evaded him.
He had, of course, picked up a few clues to his identity. He knew the USC fight song, had an appreciation for college football and didn’t much care for poached eggs.
According to one of the nurses, he had an imperious tone at times, as if he was used to giving orders, rather than taking them.
And he might play golf.
But that wasn’t much to go on.
As he continued to gloss over the pages in the magazine, he paused to scan an ad for a new TaylorMade putter that was gaining popularity. It looked familiar. Did he have one in a golf bag somewhere?
His musing was interrupted by a silver-haired, pink-smocked hospital volunteer who entered the room and announced that it was dinnertime.
She carried in his tray, and when she set it on the portable table, he studied his meal: grilled chicken, a side of pasta, green beans, a roll and a little tub of chocolate ice cream.
“Thanks,” he said.
“You’re welcome.” She offered him a sweet, grandmotherly smile. “Can I bring you anything else?”
“No, I’m set.” He paid special attention to his attitude with her, offering a smile-no need for her to think he was bossy-and waiting to pick up the fork until after she’d left the room.
Hospital food was supposed to be lousy, which was one more piece of useless information he’d managed to recall hearing at another time and place, but the food here wasn’t too bad.
As he speared a piece of lightly seasoned rigatoni, he glanced at the clock. Dr. Nielson would be stopping by soon-at least he hoped she would. He was getting tired of watching TV, and her visits were the only thing he had to look forward to.
Something told him that she didn’t have a professional reason to stop and see him. And if that were the case, he wondered whether it was a personal one.
He sure hoped so. Her visits had become the highlight of his day. Of course, he figured that even if he was back in his real world, her smile would be a welcome sight.
His first postmugging memory was of her pretty face, those vibrant green eyes and that wild auburn hair that she kept tied back by a barrette or a rubber band.
The night of the accident, he’d wondered for a nanosecond if she was an angel. If she had been, he would have run to the light. Gladly.
After finishing his meal, he reached for the tub of low-fat chocolate ice cream and pulled off the circular cardboard top.
Before he could dig in, her voice sounded in the doorway. “Good evening.”
John turned to his personal Florence Nightingale and smiled. “Hey. Come in.”
He wasn’t sure when he’d stopped thinking of her as a doctor. Pretty much the night he’d first laid eyes on her in the E.R., he guessed. He’d asked one of the nurses about her yesterday and had learned her name was Betsy. He’d also heard that she was one of the hardest working and most dedicated physicians on staff.
As she entered the room, she asked, “How’s it going?”
“Fine.” Did he dare tell her he was bored, that he wanted to get out of here, even if he didn’t have any place to go?
When she reached his bedside, her petite frame hiding behind a pair of pale teal scrubs that made her eyes appear to be an even deeper shade of green, he studied her.
She wore very little makeup-not that she needed it-but she downplayed her beauty, which was a shame. He bet she’d look damn good in a sexy black dress with a low neckline, spiked high heels, her cheeks slightly flushed, a light coat of pink lipstick over lips that had a natural pout-a mouth he’d been paying a lot of attention to.
Her shoulder-length curls were pulled back into a simple ponytail, which was probably a logical style for a busy E.R. doctor. But John couldn’t help imagining those locks hanging wild and free. Or envisioning her in an upscale jazz club, a lone saxophone playing a sultry tune in the background.
She placed her hand on the bedrail, her nails plain and neatly manicured. Her grip was light and tentative, though, as if she was a bit hesitant. A little nervous, even.
“I talked to Dr. Kelso,” she said. “He’s probably going to discharge you in the next day or so.”
“He said something about that to me this morning. So I guess that means I’m almost back to fighting weight.” John tried to toss her a carefree smile, but it probably fell short. He was as uneasy about the future as he was about the past, and it was a real stretch to pretend otherwise.
“Do you have any idea where you might like to go when you get out of here?” she asked.
If her gaze wasn’t so damn sympathetic, if her eyes weren’t so green, he might have popped off with something sarcastic. As it was, he shrugged. “Not yet. I keep hoping that I’ll wake up and my memory will come rushing back. But it looks like I’d better give my options some thought.”
“I have one for you,” she said.
“An option?” He pushed the portable table aside, clearly interested. “What’s that?”
“I talked to Dr. Graham. He needs some help on his ranch, if you don’t mind doing some of the heavier chores for him. He’s agreed to pay you a small salary and provide you with room and board. Of course, not until you’re feeling up to it and Dr. Kelso has released you to go to work.”
At the same ranch where Betsy lived? Had she gone to bat for him? It certainly seemed that way, and he could hardly wrap his mind around the fact that she’d done so for a stranger.
“Thanks for orchestrating things. I probably ought to stick around in Brighton Valley until… Well, until my life comes together for me again.”
“It’ll happen,” she said. “Your memory will come back to you.”
He wanted to believe her, but that’s not exactly what Dr. Kelso had said. He’d used words like probably and eventually. But no one knew if or when John’s memory would return. Or to what extent.
“For what it’s worth,” he told her with a grin, “things could change at any time. But for right now, you’re the best friend I’ve got in the world.”
The best friend he had.
So she tried to downplay his comment or thoughts about any kind of relationship with him. “I’m sure you have a lot of friends, family and acquaintances who would be here to visit you if they could.”
“You might be right, but I’d be happy just to see my driver’s license and to know my name.” His gaze locked on hers, and she felt his frustration, his uneasiness.
She’d give anything to know more about him, too.
What kind of person was he? Honest and trustworthy? Loyal and caring?
Or was he a liar and a cheat?
She wished she could say that she had a sixth sense about that sort of thing, but she’d completely misread Doug, the man she’d once married.
They’d met at Baylor University, when he’d been a graduate student trying to earn an MBA and she’d been in medical school. She’d found him to be handsome and charming, the kind of man who could have had any woman on campus.
Looking back-and knowing what she did about his cheating nature-she realized he could have slept with the entire female student body and she never would have guessed.
She’d been naive back then, and if there were signs she should have picked up on, she’d missed seeing them. All she’d had to rely on were her feelings about him and her hormones. And boy, had they been wrong.
So how could she trust her instincts about John now, when she had even less to go on about him?
“A couple of police officers came by today,” he said, drawing her from her musing. “They asked about the robbery, but I couldn’t provide them with any information.”
She wished she could promise him that everything would come back to him someday, but there was a strong possibility that he wouldn’t ever remember anything about the assault, just the things leading up to it and afterward.
“Were the officers able to give you any clues to your identity?” she asked.
“They told me that I’d had a little run-in at the bar with two local thugs who were harassing a cocktail waitress. They might have resented my interference and waited for me in the parking lot.”
So John had a heroic nature? Betsy hoped that was the case. She’d hate to think she was drawn to another loser.
Time and again she’d promised herself she wouldn’t let Doug’s deceit completely shatter her ability to trust a man in the future. And each time her father showed a kindness to her ailing mother, each time he’d kissed her cheek or patted her frail knee, Betsy was reminded that good men did exist, that they honored their marriage vows. That they stuck by their women through sickness and health and through thick and thin.
But was John Doe one of them?
She couldn’t be sure. And she feared falling for the wrong man again. That’s why she’d focused on her medical practice after her divorce. And it’s why she’d poured her heart and soul into her patients and the hospital.
After all, she had a skill and a responsibility to heal. And she wasn’t going to let anyone or anything interfere with her calling again.
But now here she was, visiting a man she knew nothing about, thinking about him in a purely feminine way. And while she’d tried to convince herself that her interest in him was influenced by a desire to see him heal and get on with his life, she knew better than that.
She was attracted to her patient.
Or rather, to a patient. John Doe was no longer hers, so she could easily nullify the rule, at least in her mind. But her attraction to him was increasing by leaps and bounds, and that was unsettling.
He reached over and tapped the top of her hand, which was resting on the bedrail. His fingertips lingered on her skin for only a second or two, but the heat of his touch sent her nerve endings helter-skelter, her blood racing.
“What’s the matter?” he asked. “What’s bothering you?”
“Nothing.” She tried to smile, to shake it off. “Why do you ask?”
“Because you’re wearing a pensive expression, one that tells me you’re a thousand miles away.”
“No, I’m still here.” She forced her smile to deepen, her gaze to zero in on his.
He’d obviously picked up on the fact that she was distracted-but it wasn’t because of another case or dilemma that worried her. It was clearly him causing her mind and thoughts to wander.
And she couldn’t risk letting that happen. Whatever was going on between them had to be one-sided. And even if it wasn’t, she couldn’t stay at his bedside a moment longer. Not when her body was going whacky, just being around him.
So she glanced at her wristwatch, then back at him. “I have a meeting with a colleague before my shift starts, which means I need to go.”
Honesty was always her policy, so even little white lies never sat easy with her. But she couldn’t think of another excuse to leave.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said, as if her visits had become a ritual they both could count on-and look forward to.
She wanted to remind him that it wasn’t a done deal, but she’d already tossed out Doc’s offer for him to stay on the ranch. And John had agreed.
So she stepped away from his bed. “Have a good evening.”
As she turned and walked out of his room, she picked up her pace as though she could outrun all she’d been feeling back there, but reality dogged her down the corridor and into the elevator.
John had only touched her-and just briefly at that. But the fact that she’d reacted so strongly to something so minor left her unbalanced and skittish.
She did her best to regain control of her senses, but it wasn’t easy.
When the elevator doors opened on the second floor and she stepped into the corridor that led to the cafeteria, she tried another tack.
Okay, so she was sexually attracted to John Doe. What was wrong with that? It’s not as though she had to actually act upon that attraction.
And there was probably a very good reason for it, too-one that went beyond the man’s looks and the intoxicating sound of his voice.
She’d sworn off men and sex ever since she’d told Doug to pack his things and move out of the house they’d shared when they’d been together. She’d been determined to focus on her career, on her patients. And she wouldn’t let a relationship get in the way of that again.
But she was only human, with sexual needs and desires that had been dormant for too long. So it was just her hormones at play. Her body was merely reacting to its basic need for sex and zooming in on a possible candidate.
That’s all it was.
She just needed a sexual release. But where did she find a potential partner, especially in Brighton Valley? And what about the hours she kept?
It was going to be tough. Especially when John Doe was the first sexual interest she’d had since she and Doug had split.
But there was no way she’d sleep with a patient. Especially one who had no idea where he’d come from or where he was going next.
Of course, with John Doe living only a couple of yards away from her house, she feared she was fighting a losing battle.
After her shift ended the next morning, Betsy once again took the elevator up to the third floor. But this time she was going to stop by John’s room for practical reasons.
When she reached his doorway, she found him standing at the window, looking toward a copse of trees and scanning the hills that surrounded the medical center.
He was wearing a hospital gown, which was tied in back, and she couldn’t help but smile. Those ugly, frumpy garments weren’t the least bit flattering on patients, but the one he had on looked pretty darn good on him.
She had to admit that that was because his loose-fitting gown gaped open a bit, revealing a stretch o
As if sensing her presence, he turned and met her gaze.
“Good morning,” she said. “It’s nice to see you up and around.”
He shot her a smile that nearly took her breath away. “I was just checking out the view.”
She’d been doing the same thing, only not on the rolling hills and the stark bushes that had been full of colorful blooms a few months earlier.
He made his way back toward the bed, but instead of throwing back the blanket and climbing between the sheets, he took a seat in the chair next to it. “I’m really looking forward to getting out of here. I keep sensing that I have something to do, someplace to be.”
She was sure that he did. But his other life had been temporarily denied him.
“That may be a good sign,” she said.
“Me wanting to get out of here? Or feeling like I’ve dropped the ball?”
“Both. Your injuries are healing, and you’re a healthy man. Lying around all day has got to be boring.” She entered his room and took a seat at the edge of his bed. “You had a life prior to the accident. There must be a lot of things that need doing. And if you feel pressed about something, then one day soon it will all come back to you.”
“I hope you’re right.”
She nodded at the built-in wardrobe where patients could keep their personal property. “Do you mind if I take a look in there?”
“Because the clothes you were wearing the other night are in there. And because they’re dirty and bloody. I thought I’d wash them for you so you don’t have to wear a hospital gown home-not that it doesn’t look dashing.”
He glanced down at his chest, then tugged at the cotton fabric. “I guess this isn’t what all the ranch hands are wearing this year.”
“No, I’m afraid you’d get a couple of laughs. Especially if you add a pair of cowboy boots to round out your ensemble.”
A grin tugged at the side of his mouth, and his eyes glimmered. “Now that’s a lousy visual.”
“On you? I’d have to see it,” she began, then reeled in her thoughts. What in the world was she doing? Flirting with him?
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