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She buried her nose inside the fragrant petals of "Perfect Moment," a red-orange bloom with a center fold of pure gold and then went on to the "Chicago Peace" behind it, a lush pink that measured no less than five inches across. The bright lemon yellow of "Graceland" farther down the trellised walkway was already producing more flowers than any other bush. And then there was "Unforgettable" - so perfectly named - a robust giant with petals as soft as a baby's cheek.
No gardener could take credit for creating a rose. But when she met their needs, Emily felt as proud as any parent could gazing into their beautiful fresh faces.
"We're going to miss the crane guy," Josh Smithson warned.
She looked up to see her assistant purposely eyeing his wristwatch. Nothing was as impatient as youth.
"Don't you like flowers?" she asked as she straightened, feeling grateful for every one of her thirty-three years.
"They're all right, I guess."
The sweep of Emily's hand encompassed the colorful blooms fluttering in the early afternoon breeze. "All right? What could be more impressive than this?"
"I don't know."
Josh's most frequent answer to any question she asked. Either he knew very little about his own feelings or was hesitant to reveal them.
When Emily was nineteen, she knew exactly how she felt and had no problem sharing it. As her brothers used to complain, getting her to shut up was the real trick. Maybe this was a gender thing. Most of the males she knew refused to acknowledge they even had feelings, much less took the time to examine them.
"You want me to like the flowers, Dr. Barrett?"
If Josh had asked that sarcastically, she would have laughed. But the flat-open sincerity in his words bothered Emily.
"You don't have to like them for me. Or anyone else. Like them for you or not at all."
"You won't be disappointed?"
"Hey, you work hard, and you're dependable. I've never had a better assistant. So if flowers aren't your thing, it's okay."
He greeted her assurance with a bony shoulder shrug.
"What is your thing, Josh?"
"I don't know."
There it was again. And the saddest thing about his words was that Emily believed them. Why did high schools require all kids learn algebra - something which most of them would never use - and yet fail to teach them how important it was to get to know themselves - some-thing they could all use?
"Has taking this year off before going to college helped at all?" she asked.
"Your folks have any suggestions?" she persisted.
"My dad and granddad want me to study science like they did and join the firm. But I suck at that stuff."
"So outside of being a great assistant, what don't you suck at?"
"I don't know."
Emily gave up. Josh was a good worker, but as a conversationalist he left a lot to be desired. Her thoughts were rudely interrupted by the sudden blast of a leaf blower. Oh, no. Not again. She whirled around, trying to determine where he was. Then the breeze blew a faint whiff of gasoline fumes in her face and she knew.
Emily charged up the path through the rose garden, past the swaying beds of fragrant lilacs, and broke into a jog around the lily pond. Turning the corner, she saw Lester inside the greenhouse. He was shuffling to the tune he heard in his headphones, the leaf blower in his hand blasting dirt and debris off the stone path.
She'd asked him repeatedly not to use that polluting piece of crap in the Botanical Gardens, especially not the greenhouse. The toxic fumes were dangerous to the more fragile plant species, not to mention human lungs.
But Lester considered sweeping with a broom to be beneath his manhood. Which was why, every time he thought she wasn't around, he brought out the leaf blower.
Emily waved, trying to get his attention. But he wasn't looking in her direction. She hurried up the cobblestone path toward him, feeling her nostrils burn, trying not to inhale too deeply. She called out to him, but he obviously couldn't hear her above the noise of the leaf blower and whatever he considered music in his ears.
Her temples had begun to throb. She entered the greenhouse, knowing she'd have to grab his arm to get his attention. But before she could, the heat and exhaust hit her full blast.
And she was sinking into a spinning, blinding nothingness.
BRAD WINSLOW OFTEN THOUGHT that working in the E.R. was a lot like going to the theater. It was always high drama with life hanging in the balance. But whether he ultimately found himself part of a mystery, triumph, tragedy or farce sometimes depended less on the skill and dedication of Courage Bay's team of medical professionals than it did on the assortment of characters coming through the door.
Today the E.R. was overflowing with crazy fools bent on tempting fate and the limits of their medical insurance.
Behind curtains one and two were a pair of middle-aged golfers with head wounds - continuing to exchange obscenities while they waited for their CT scans. They'd been so bent on ramming each other's golf carts as they raced to the next green that they never noticed they'd taken a wrong turn.
Fortunately, the driver of the industrial-size lawn mower they'd smashed into had escaped injury. It was the two idiots who had landed on his windshield that needed their heads examined.
Then there was the guy behind curtain three who decided to sail his son's skateboard down his daughter's slide to see how much lift he could get. He lifted over his neighbor's fence and landed in the swimming pool.
Lucky for him the neighbor had filled it that morning or he'd have cracked a lot more than a collarbone.
And behind curtain four was the teenage artist determined to have a butterfly tattoo on her boob no matter how much her parents objected. She'd assembled a sewing needle, candle, some food coloring and had at it - until her swallowtail turned into an infected swirl of blisters.
Sometimes the most difficult part of being an E.R. physician was maintaining the controlled detachment that was a necessity in the face of such human folly.
Brad was passing the base radio station when the para-medic line began to ring. The nurse who generally answered the calls was trying to get a naked seventy-year-old loony balancing a bedpan on his head to return to the examining room.
Yep, it was definitely the day for crazies. Brad stopped to pick up the phone.
"Courage Bay E.R. Winslow."
"It's Paramedic Kellison on Rescue Squad Two. How do you copy?"
"Loud and clear, Kellison."
"We're en route to your location with a Code Red."
Code Red meant they were coming in with red lights and siren - the emergency team's protocol whenever they were faced with a possible life-threatening situation.
"We've got a female, around thirty, fell without warning onto a cobblestone path approximately twenty minutes ago," Kellison continued. "Unconsciousness. No observable wounds. Her pressure is ninety-five over sixty, rate about seventy. She's somewhat pale, but nondiaphoretic at this time. ETA to ambulance bay about three minutes."
"We'll be expecting you," Brad said. "CB clear."
"Number Two clear."
Brad signaled to a passing trauma nurse and went to put on a fresh gown and gloves. With a little luck maybe this patient wouldn't turn out to be a loony.
Excerpted from Father By Choice by M.J. Rodgers Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted June 13, 2011
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