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'So. It is you.'
Sean Booke's deep voice vibrated through Jane's body, causing her insides to tremble. She closed her eyes for a split second and forced herself to remain calm, at least on the outside. It wouldn't do to allow her ex-brother-in-law to rile her. Pasting on a polite smile, she turned to look at him, unconsciously shifting her glasses and straightening her shoulders, tugging at the sleeves of her top to ensure they covered her wrists. It was a defence mechanism, developed over many years to hide the scars which were a permanent reminder of the darkest time in her life.
Sean Booke stood before her, more vibrant, more handsome, more intimidating than he'd been the last time she'd seen him, which had been three years ago at her sister's funeral. Back then he'd been dressed in a black suit, which had perfectly matched his mood, and at the wake she'd had little chance to speak to him as he'd somehow managed to manoeuvre his way around to the opposite side of the room to wherever she'd been.
Eventually she'd received the message. Sean hadn't wanted to speak to her and it appeared, given the gruffness of his tone, that nothing had changed. He carried a small, slim computer tablet as well as two sets of patient files. Jane cleared her throat.
'How are you, Sean?' She silently congratulated herself on her polite, impersonal tone as she headed into the paediatric ward conference room ahead of him, wishing she hadn't been adamant about being early for her first scheduled ward round. She was nervous enough, not only about starting her new job but about Sean's reaction to her presence at his hospital.
He ignored her question, his brow deeply furrowed as he followed her. 'You're the new paediatrician?'
She turned and looked at him, pleased they were alone for this conversation. It had been inevitable, especially when she'd accepted the position at Adelaide's Children's Hospital. There was no coincidence about it. She'd decided it was time for her to return to Adelaide, to work at this particular hospital, the hospital where, at the age of thirteen, she'd been a patient. It was time she made the effort to put her ghosts to rest but she had to admit that Sean Booke was far from a ghost, especially with the way his spicy scent seemed to wind itself around her.
'I couldn't believe it when I read the interoffice memo announcing your arrival. Specialist paediatrician in juvenile eating disorders.' He put his bundle of notes and computer tablet onto the table then stared at her, as though he really could not believe it. Jane tried not to tug on her baggy top, which hung rather low over her ankle-length skirt. Fashion had never been her thing; instead, she'd focused on studying and getting good grades.
'I mean, how many Jane Diamonds are there in the world?' Sean shook his head, his words still filled with an angry bitterness that was simmering just below the surface. He turned and walked over to the window. 'How long is your contract?'
'Twelve months.' She wanted to tell him she hadn't meant to cause him any pain but she didn't think he'd believe her. As far as Sean was concerned, he'd tarred her with the same brush as Daina. The fact that Jane had always been the polar opposite of her older sister clearly was of little concern to him.
'And you chose to come here? You knew this was my hospital.'
'I was invited to come and work here, Sean. I just didn't turn it down.'
'You?' He glanced at her over his shoulder, frown still in place. 'You were head-hunted? By whom?'
'Luc Bourgeois.' Jane tried to be brave, tried to hold his piercing blue gaze. She pushed her glasses onto her nose and nodded. 'I guess my past experience working with Professor Edna Robe has finally paid off.'
'Robe? World-leading specialist in the field of paediatric eating disorders?'
Jane raised her chin, telling herself she had no reason to hide her successes. 'I've co-authored five papers with her and presented our findings two months ago at an eating disorder conference in Argentina.'
He turned from the window, arms still crossed, and looked at her more closely. 'Huh!' was all he said, leaving Jane to ponder what on earth that might mean.
They remained silent for a minute, Jane wondering whether she should say something else, anything else, rather than stand here and not speak a word. Sean was the man who had been married to her sister, he was the father of her only living blood relative-six-year-old Spencer. She was desperate to ask him about her nephew but wasn't sure, given the reception she'd just received, whether that was a good idea. Then again, perhaps he might think her strange if she didn't ask.
'You need more confidence in yourself, Jane,' Professor Robe had said to her late last year, hence why Jane had been the one presenting the paper in Argentina. Confidence? She had confidence in spades when it came to treating and caring for her young patients but a one-on-one confrontation with the man who had the power to refuse her request was bringing her inner doubts to the fore. She had to get past it.
'How's Spencer?' The words were out of her mouth before she could stop and analyse them any further.
Sean's frown returned but it wasn't as deep as it had previously been. 'He's fine.'
'How's he doing in school?' Now that she'd opened the discussion, she really did want to know more. She had so many questions about her nephew, along with the wish that Sean would grant her access to him.
'Does he have any plans for his birthday? A present list? I'd rather get him something he really wants than have to guess.' Good heavens. She was starting to babble now.
The arms tightened defensively over his chest and Jane found herself momentarily distracted by the way his crisp white shirt pulled around his biceps. She tried to school her senses. Of course Sean was a dynamic, good-looking man. It was the reason her wayward sister had been attracted to him in the first place.
'Why do you want to know about Spencer? You've never shown more than a passing interest in him before now.'
Jane felt as though he'd slapped her as that clearly wasn't true. 'I've sent Christmas and birthday presents every year,' she defended, feeling her temper beginning to rise. Usually, she was quite a calm and controlled woman but when she thought about facing her future, one of only work and loneliness, she was filled with desperation desperation to make sure that didn't happen. Now she was desperate to make sure Sean realised just how much she loved her nephew, even though she didn't know him as well as she would have liked.
'And you've always been more than generous with your gifts. Still, you've never made any effort to see him.'
'Any effor-' She broke off her incredulous reply as two paediatric nurses walked into the conference room, greeting Sean with bright smiles. Jane boxed up her simmering anger at
Sean and put it aside, pulling on her professionalism. When Sean made no effort to introduce Jane, instead immersing himself in setting up his computer and connecting it to the equipment in the room, Jane forced herself to step forward and hold out her hand. 'Hi. I'm Jane Diamond.'
'Oh the new paediatrician, the eating disorder specialist,' one of the women stated, shaking Jane's hand. 'Welcome. I'm Anthea. This is Romana. We're really glad you're here. Such a necessary sub-speciality you cover.' Anthea was still nodding as she spoke. 'Let us know if you need help settling in or finding your way about the hospital.'
Jane smiled, ignoring Sean's presence completely. 'I was actually a patient here, in this very ward, when I was thirteen.'
'It doesn't seem like the general hospital layout has changed all that much since then.'
'Sad but true,' Romana said with a laugh.
'At least the equipment's been updated,' Anthea added, smiling. As more people came into the conference room, Anthea made sure Jane was introduced. Sean had moved to the corner of the room and she could almost feel him watching her, but every time she glanced in his direction he was either deeply engrossed in conversation with someone else or looking at a set of scans that were due to be discussed during the short prelude before the ward round.
The pre-ward round began with head of unit, Luc Bourgeois, introducing her. 'Jane and I worked together in Paris for twelve months and I have to say, when she finally agreed to my constant pleading to come and work here, I was relieved. Eating disorders, especially amongst children under the age of eight, have gone unchecked for too long. This hospital plans to change that. Jane will be undertaking a research project whilst she's here and I'm expecting everyone to afford her every professional courtesy with regard to patient care and participating with the project if required.'
'Absolutely,' Anthea agreed, and a few people even gave Jane a smattering round of applause. She felt highly self-conscious standing in front of everyone but forced herself to smile and nod. Standing in front of a lecture room full of people wasn't her favourite thing to do but she was forcing herself to get used to it. What made today's experience even more unnerving was the fact that she was so highly aware of Sean's presence.
He was standing at the front of the room as well, waiting to present an interesting case for discussion before they all headed out to begin the ward round. When Luc had finished successfully embarrassing her by listing all her accomplishments, as well as sharing one or two small anecdotes of the time they'd worked together in Paris several years ago, Jane went to move to the side of the room but somehow managed to trip over her own feet and slam straight into Sean.
His hands immediately came around her waist, steadying her. Jane was minutely aware of the way his warmth seemed to surround her, of the way his firm muscled torso pressed against her shoulder, of the way his scent danced about her senses, creating a heady combination and one she was far from immune to.
A few of the people in the room chuckled, not unkindly, and Jane quickly collected herself, shifting awkwardly, wanting to put distance between them, but instead she ended up staring directly into Sean's eyes. Everything in the room seemed to freeze. She could hear the flutter of her eyelashes as she blinked once, then twice, the pounding of her heart against her chest and the way his breath seemed to mingle with hers.
'Steady on.' His deep voice was filled with concern, or so it seemed, but that couldn't be right. Sean didn't like her. Sean had never liked her. During the course of his marriage to her sister, they'd rarely spoken.
'Er sorry,' Jane muttered, the world around her returning to normal speed. It felt as though she'd been pressed up against Sean's warm body for quite some time, although only a few seconds had passed. She jerked from his hands and he dropped them instantly, mildly surprised, as though he hadn't even realised he'd been touching her.
'And now Sean's going to present us with a few case studies, which I'd like everyone to pay close attention to during the ward round,' Luc announced, as Jane shifted towards the rear of the room, leaning against the wall, desperate to hide herself away in an attempt to recover her equilibrium.
She watched as Sean stepped forward to talk, using a small remote to produce a radiographic image on the audio-visual screen that was linked to his computer tablet. How could she have tripped like that? Fallen against him? She tried to swallow over her dry throat, surprised to find she was actually trembling from the encounter with him. He was Sean, for goodness' sake, and he didn't like her.
She breathed in, needing to gain some level of control over her senses, needing to concentrate on what Sean was saying, but all she was conscious of when she breathed in was the lingering spicy scent she'd always equated with him. It was the same cologne he'd worn all those years ago when they'd first met. She'd been nothing more than a braces-wearing student of seventeen, studying furiously for her final school exams, when Sean had married her sister.
The two had met in the emergency department at a hospital in Sydney. Daina had been holidaying with friends, partying too hard, and had badly twisted her ankle. Sean had been the intern who had treated her. Daina had left the hospital with a perfectly bandaged foot, a pair of crutches and a date.
After a whirlwind romance Daina had eventually told Jane that she wasn't coming back to live in Adelaide because she was married. Sean had accompanied his new wife back to Adelaide, met his new sister-in-law for the first time and casually suggested that with the subjects she was studying she could definitely get into medical school.
Even though Jane had been six months shy of her eighteenth birthday, Daina, who was her legal guardian, had upped and left, returning to Sydney with her new, handsome prize of a husband. Jane had seriously hoped that Sean would be able to fix Daina, that he'd realise she was suffering from some sort of multiple personality disorder, that he'd be able to get her the help she needed. But, almost six years later, after giving birth to a child she hadn't wanted, Daina had abandoned him and taken off. Three years after that, she was dead.
Jane was unable to believe the pain Daina had caused her, not only after their parents' death but prior to it as well. In fact, it had been Daina who had caused the car accident that had robbed Jane of her parents at the age of thirteen. For years Jane had bottled up the resentment she'd felt towards her older sibling and she'd thought that coming home to Adelaide, making an effort to get to know Spencer as much as Sean would allow, she'd hopefully be able to put her past pain to rest.
Her eyes snapped open to find Sean standing before her, the rest of the medical staff who had been attending the pre-ward round meeting filing out of the small conference room.
'Would you care to join us?' His tone was filled with derision but she watched his eyes widen slightly as she carefully lifted her glasses and dabbed at her eyes, annoyed with herself for not paying closer attention during the meeting and for tearing up in front of him.
'Are you all right?' His tone was still gruff but there was also a hint of confused concern.
Jane sniffed and settled her glasses on her nose. 'I'm fine.'
'You're not. I can hear it in your voice.'
'Leave it.' She went to step around him but he moved and blocked her way.
'You look like Daina when you do that. That "don't mess with me" look.'
Jane tilted her head and glared at him. 'Then remind me not to do it again.' She moved quickly, effectively sidestepping him, and followed the last of the staff out of the room.
It wasn't exactly the beginning she'd hoped for but, really, had she honestly expected Sean to accept her presence, especially when she clearly did remind him, in small ways, of his deceased wife?