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Dr Julie McKenzie wrapped her fingers gratefully around her coffee-cup and sank back in her chair in the doctors' mess and closed her eyes briefly. What she wouldn't do for a couple of hours' sleep. She had been up all night. Just as she had been about to go home and crawl into bed for a couple of hours of much-needed sleep, the head of surgeryMr Crawford had asked her to stay on.
'The new locum consultant is starting today,' he had told Julie. 'And since you'll be working under him for your rotation on Plastics, I think it's a good idea if you stay on and meet him.'
His tone had made it clear that it wasn't optional. Besides, Julie was curious, even a little anxious, to meet her new boss. She had enjoyed working with Mr Crawford for the last six months in General Surgery, but as part of her training she was scheduled to spend the next three months attached to Plastic Surgery.
She lifted a hand and touched the scar that ran from the corner of her eye to her jawbone, feeling its raised surface under her fingertips. It was ironic, really, her working in Plastic Surgery. On the other hand, her own disfigurement meant she was drawn to the specialty. At least she would have no difficulty empathising with patients who sought help.
A polite cough aroused her from her reverie. Grief! She realised she had been on the point of dropping off. She jumped to her feet, knocking over her half-drunk cup of coffee. A hand shot out, catching the mug just in time to prevent the hot liquid from spilling over the carpet. In front of her stood Mr Crawford and, holding the errant mug, a blue-eyed man with thick black wavy hair, who was looking at her a half-smile playing on his lips.
Her heart gave an odd erratic beat. He was, by far, the most gorgeous man Julie had ever seen outside the movies. He was tall, a couple of inches over six feet at least, with eyes that glinted like diamonds. Only a slightly hooked nose prevented high cheekbones and a sensuous mouth from looking feminine in their beauty. He was lean but well built, his theatre greens sat low on narrow hips. Julie felt her mouth go dry. She couldn't ever remember having such an immediate and powerful attraction to a man before. Julie swallowed a groan. She was acutely conscious that her scrubs were crumpled and that she looked a mess after having been on her feet for twelve hours straight.
'Dr McKenzie, I'd like to introduce you to Dr Pierre Favatier, our new consultant plastic surgeon. He will be with us for the next couple of months.'
Dazed, Julie held out her hand and felt it engulfed. She looked down. He really did have the most beautiful hands, she thought, the long elegant fingers of a piano player or a surgeon.
'So this is Dr McKenzie,' he said in a deep husky voice that made her think of late nights in smoky bars.
'I'm pleased to meet you,' Julie said, mortifyingly aware that she sounded breathless.
'And I am pleased to meet you too,' he said formally echoing her greeting, and then added, 'I hope you hold a scalpel more firmly than a coffee-cup.'
She could detect a glint of humour in his eyes. God, was he aware of the effect he was having on her?
'Of course. You startled methat's all!' she said defensively.
'Well, that's a relief,' he said politely, and, despite the gleam in his eye, Julie wasn't sure whether he was joking.
'I understand that you will be my junior while I am here? Mr Crawford speaks well of you.' He was French. That much was clear from his accent, although it was faint and only evident in the way he pronounced the h's at the beginning of words.
'Mr Crawford is right.' She cast a grateful look at her chief. 'I am an excellent surgeonwhatever first impression I gave you there.' Well, she was. In whatever other area she lacked confidence, it wasn't in her surgical ability, and although she knew she ran the risk of appearing arrogant, she wanted this man to know that she was good at what she did.
He laughed, the sound low and genuine. 'Ah, confidence. I like that in a doctor. Especially one who works with me.' His eyes narrowed. 'I do not like incompetent doctors. I have no time for them. They can learn with somebody else. I demand perfection. Are you perfect, Dr Mackenzie?' Once again there was a challenge in his ice-blue eyes, although a hint of laughter still lurked in their depths. She had the uneasy feeling he wasn't just referring to her surgical skills.
Julie squared her shoulders and eyed him coolly, striving to get her racing pulse under control. 'I don't think anybody is perfectleast of all me.' She forced a smile. Although, in my work, I do try.'
For a moment as their eyes locked, it was as if there was no one else in the room. His gaze dropped to her mouth then flickered feather-like over the contours of her face, before coming back to her eyes. Now she knew what animals felt when pinned by the stare of a predator. As heat flooded her cheeks, she couldn't prevent herself from raising her hand to her scar. Damn it! She hadn't meant to do that. He tilted his head and regarded her intently, speculation darkening his eyes. Her heart continued to beat as if she had just completed a downhill race.
Mr Crawford broke into the silence that seemed to crackle across the room.
'I wouldn't be allocating Julie to your team if I didn't think she was one of the best, if not the best, junior we have on the rotation at the moment,' he said mildly. 'You know, she was once a champion skier,' he added proudly, as if taking personal responsibility for Julie's successes. 'She's driven to excel in everything she does. No one works harder. She's always here at the hospital, and even when she's off duty I find her in the library at all hours, reading up on cases. So, as I said before, Dr Favatier, you can rest assured you have the best working with you.'
Julie felt her blush deepen at the praise. She hadn't been aware until now that Mr Crawford held her in such high regard. Perhaps finally all the extra effort she put in was paying off. Of course, Mr Crawford wasn't to know that a barren social life left plenty of time for work and study. She sneaked a glance at the new consultant. Despite his smile, his forehead was knotted again.
He shook his head as if to clear whatever was puzzling him. 'Bon!' he said. 'Then I am satisfied. Too many young doctors have other distractions.'
Julie's eyebrows rose. With his dark good looks and blatant sex appeal, he struck her as a man who would enjoy many 'distractions', as he so oddly put it. Catching her look, Pierre winked at her. The gesture was so unexpected Julie thought she must have imagined it. He was her boss after all! Nevertheless, she felt her blush extend to the tips of her ears and wished she had managed to find the time to shower and change before Mr Crawford had waylaid her. But, she told herself impatiently, what did it matter what Dr Favatier thought of her appearance? Someone who looked the way he did was hardly the type of man to look twice at hereven if she was dressed up to the nines. Nevertheless, she had to fight against the impulse to release her hair from its ponytail and let it fall across her face and cover the scar.
Dr Crawford turned to Julie. 'And you are extremely fortunate to have the chance to work with Dr Favatier. He's considered a pioneer in reconstructive plastic surgery in his own country. We are very lucky to have him here for the next couple of months so we mustand I know you willmake the most of the time we have with him to learn as much as possible.'
'Of course,' Julie replied, thinking frantically of all the extra reading she'd have squeeze in to make sure she was up to speed. 'Thank you, Mr Crawford. And I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to work with you, Dr Favatier.'
'C'mon, then Pierre, let's leave Dr McKenzie to get herself home for some well-deserved rest. There's a case in Theatre I'd like your opinion on.' Pierre gave Julie one last searching look, before allowing Mr Crawford to usher him out the door.
'Get some rest, Julie, and we'll see you soon,' her chief said over his shoulder.
Once the two men had gone, Julie sank back in her chair.
For some unfathomable reason she felt as if she had just been caught up in the middle of a tornado. A tornado that had only subsided when her new boss had left the room. He was a hunk. There was no denying it. But, Julie reminded herself with an inward grimace that hunks had no place in her life or, more to the point, she in theirs. Just as well, then, that the only thing that mattered to her was whether he would be a good teacher. And from Dr Crawford's introduction, it seemed there was plenty to be learned from Dr Pierre Favatier.
Julie let the beat take over as she relaxed into the rhythm of the music from the DJ. She liked the way the darkness of the club hid her. For once, she felt totally unselfconscious. She rarely ventured out in the evening unless Kim, her best and only friend, persuaded her, but tonight, as a special favour to Richard, she had agreed to come to his eighteenth birthday celebration at the nightclub.
'You don't want me there,' she had protested earlier in the week when he had asked her. 'I'm too oldI'll only spoil the evening for you.'
But he had insisted. 'Please, Julie. My friends will think it's really cool to have you thereyou once being famous and all. And, besides, you're not oldnot really.'
Julie had to laugh, knowing that at twenty-six she probably did seem old to Richard and his friends, plus she'd never really been famous. Eventually she had given in and agreed to go, knowing that tonight was especially important to him. She had met Richard at St Margaret's hospice, where her mother had spent the last few weeks of her life, and had got to know the young lad with the friendly and cheerful personality well. Richard had been suffering from a childhood form of leukaemia, and before he had become ill had liked to ski, and on the occasions he'd felt well enough he'd persuaded Julie to take him to the dry ski slopes on the outskirts of town.
Recently he and his family had been given the news they had so desperately being praying for. Richard's disease was in remission, and tonight was a special celebration of his recovery, as well as a birthday party.
As Julie danced with her young protégé, she had the uncomfortable feeling someone was watching her. Raising her eyes she was disconcerted to see Dr Pierre Favatier on the balcony, his gaze fixed on her. For a moment their eyes locked and Julie felt her world shift. His brow furrowed before he turned his head to scan the room as if searching for someone in the mass. What was he doing there? It was the last place she had expected to see him and she wondered who he was with. He looked out of place in his suit and tie, she thought. Hardly clubbing gear. Had he, not knowing the city too well, wandered in by accident, mistaking the club for some other, more sophisticated venue?
Julie contemplated going over to him and saying hello, but for some reason she felt shy and awkward about approaching him. Instead, when his eyes rested on hers again, she lifted a hand and gave him a small wave of recognition. She only had time to catch a glimpse of his return wave before Richard pulled her around.
'What's happening over there, Julie?' the teenager asked, gesturing with his chin to where a crowd of dancers had stopped moving to the music. People were standing on tiptoe, looking towards the rear of the club.
Then, as the music came to a sudden halt, there was a ripple of unease in the crowd. Someone called out and necks craned to see what the fuss was about. A fire alarm sounded and the agitated voice of the DJ came over the speaker system.
'Could everybody, please, make their way to the nearest exit? Do not panic. Do not stop to collect your belongings. I repeat, could everybody make their way as quickly as possible to the fire exits?'
Now Julie could smell the faint, but distinctive smell of smoke. There was a moment's stillness, as if no one could believe what was happening, then pandemonium broke out. The crowd turned and started pushing and shoving their way to the exits, almost knocking Julie off her feet.
Julie grabbed hold of her dancing companion. 'Richard,' she said urgently, 'I want you to get out of here as fast as you can without panicking. I'm going to see if anyone needs help.'
Frightened eyes looked at her. 'Come, too,' Richard shouted over the noise.
'I'll be all right. Trust me.' She shoved him in the direction of the nearest fire exit. 'Just go. Quickly! But don't panic,' she warned again.
She turned against the heaving tide of bodies. Her heart was pounding. More than anything she would have liked to follow Richard to safety, but she fought against the instinct to save herself. She couldn't. Not until she was sure that everyone was out of the building.
The lights flickered, dimmed and then went out completely. In the sudden darkness, fear turned to terror and the throng surged forward with more determination than ever. Cries of alarm drowned the voice of the DJ pleading for calm. Even when the emergency lighting came on, Julie knew his entreaties were too late. There was widespread panic now as people were pushed to the floor and trampled by fellow clubbers in their driving need to get to the exits. Julie knelt beside a young girl who had fallen in the crush. Julie had to fight hard to stay upright as still more people pushed past. The girl was conscious, but in need of help.
'Are you okay?' she asked. The girl nodded, looking up at Julie with a tear-stained face. 'I think so, but someone stood on my ankle.' She sat up and clutched her right foot, clearly in pain.