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Dr Lucy Patterson heard the call and with a smile, she thrust her hand against the fast-closing elevator doors at Perth city Hospital. They bounced open.
A moment later, Daniel Edgerton, radiographer and her boyfriend, strode over the silver threshold. 'Thanks.' His smile for her wasn't quite as broad as it had been in the past, but if he was as weary as she was, she totally understood.
He slapped the large 'G' button with the heel of his hand. 'You finishing up for the day?'
She bit her lip, knowing he wasn't going to be thrilled with her reply. 'Not quite. I have to admit a late addition to the prof's surgical list and re-site an IV.'
His sigh reverberated around the boxed space, settling over her with cloying disapproval. He worked a roster with a definite start and end time, and he didn't always understand that her day finished when the work was finally complete. With forced brightness and a wide smile, she quickly added, 'But then I'll be done and yours for the night.'
Daniel opened his mouth but an ominous grinding sound drowned out his reply and the smooth descent of the elevator suddenly jerked, throwing Lucy sideways.
She gripped the support rail and righted herself. 'Please, no, not again. I got stuck here last week for twenty minutes.'
'It's not a total disaster.' Daniel reached his arm around her waist, pulling her in close and nuzzling her neck as he ran his hand up her back, his fingers reaching for her bra strap. 'We can do a lot with twenty minutes.'
She laughed, but splayed her fingers against his chest, leaning back and putting some distance between them. 'True, but I'm not risking my senior registrar's application by being caught "in flagrante" in an elevator.'
His blue eyes hardened as he dropped his arms to his sides. 'Jess didn't have a problem with it.'
She blinked at him in surprise. Jess was her house-mate of four years and they got along well, sharing not only a house but gossip, clothes and after a tough day, a glass of wine. 'There's no way Jess would have sex in an elevator.'
He shruggedthe action a total disregard of her reply. 'There's every way and she did.'
A jab of indignation caught Lucy under the ribs and she crossed her arms. 'If Jess had sex in an elevator she'd have told me.'
Daniel's brows rose as his mouth flattened. 'She doesn't have to tell you everything, Luce, and let's face it, just lately you've hardly been around.'
Lucy stifled a flicker of unease that Jess may have confided in Dan rather than her. 'Why are you so certain she did?'
This time Daniel crossed his arms. 'Because I was there.'
'You were there?' Confusion drove the words across her lips and for the briefest moment she thought Daniel meant he'd walked in on Jess and her lover when the elevator doors had opened. Suddenly, her sluggish brain decoded his body languagestiff and defiantand a chill raced through her so hard and fast that she trembled. 'You had sex with Jess?' Her voice rose and cracked. 'Here?'
He met her shocked gaze with a combative glare. 'Yeah.'
Her friend. Her hand flew to her mouth as nausea spun her stomach and threatened to return the chocolate muffin she'd just eaten. Stepping back, she flattened herself against the wall and tried to put as much distance between them as possible. 'When?'
Dan sucked in his lips and finally said, 'Last week.'
She thought back to the sex they'd had last Wednesday after she'd cooked his favourite dinnerthe night she'd been the one making all the moves. At the time it had surprised her because usually Dan initiated sex, but it hadn't taken long before he'd got on board. Her stomach pitched again. Desperately trying to keep her composure, she spoke softly but with an edge of steel. 'When last week?'
For the first time, he dropped his gaze. 'It doesn't matter.'
She gripped the support rail as her knees turned to jelly. 'Yes, it bloody matters.'
He ran his hand over his short-cropped hair. 'Look, Luce, there's no point'
'Tell me!' She heard her tears in the shout as she lost the battle to hold herself together.
It was as if the cable of the elevator snapped right there and then, releasing the silver box into free-fall. Only it was her life that was tumbling and crashing down around her, and taking all the supporting pillars with it. Pillars she'd barely shored up after they'd spectacularly collapsed in on her six months ago, making her question everything she'd ever believed in.
Every part of her was numbher lungs refused to move and tears blurred her eyes. How could this be happening? Why now when everything else in her life, including her career, was so unsettled? A shot of righteous anger suddenly pierced through the numbness giving rise to blessed pain. 'You bastard.'
His head snapped up. 'Oh, that's rich. I'm the bastard, but you've been the one who's been closed off for months. You might be standing next to me, but you're never really here. Jess at least understands me. Jess gives me something. You've given me nothing for way too long, Lucy.'
Her anger swelled, propelled by a hammering heart and utter devastation. 'You're not just a bastard, Dan, you're a selfish bastard. You know what's been going on with me and Da' She stopped herself, not able to finish that particular word. She swallowed and pushed on. 'With William. You know what I've been going through, but that doesn't count for anything, does it? Nothing matters if it's not all about you.'
His mouth tightened giving his boyish face a hard edge. 'It's been all about you for months, Luce, and I've had enough.'
She'd known in her heart things weren't good between them, but she'd never expected such a bitter betrayal. 'Then why didn't you just leave? Why take my friend with you?'
A light came into his eyes. 'I think I love her.'
The simple words plunged into her heart making her double up in pain. Words he'd never voiced to her in all their time together. Her chest rose and fell way too fast and she put her hands around her mouth so she didn't hyperventilate.
Daniel slammed his hands against the 'door open' button. 'Come on.' He hit every other button too, wanting out of this box of torrid emotions as much as she did.
Lucy dug deep and found her voice. 'You say you love Jess and yet you still had sex with me? Oh, that's classy, Dan, really classy.' The combined infidelity of her friends burned through her soul. 'You both deserve each other.'
A trace of contrition played across his cheeks. 'Look, Luce, I'm sorry it ended this way, but it's not all my fault.' utter wretchedness dragged at her and she nodded mutely, not because she agreed with him, but because she couldn't voice even a tenth of her feelings at the utter disloyalty of the two people she'd drawn on for support over most of the year.
A whirring noise sounded, followed by the elevator moving slowly down. Finally the doors opened with a ping and Daniel muttered, 'Thank God,' before stepping out and walking away without a backwards glance.
The doors slid shut and Lucy sank to the floor, closing her eyes. Even in her darkest moments she'd never imagined she would have been part of the conversation that had just taken place. She lurched from one memory to another, searching for clues, hintsanything at all that might have prepared her for Daniel's bombshell. Things had been strained, but there'd been no hint of him and Jess.
None that you noticed. But then again, you haven't noticed much lately, have you?
Her head pounded and resentment burned through her. She felt her smart-phone vibrate and she pulled it out of the deep pocket in her white coat, expecting a message from the ward asking where she was and how much longer she'd be, because her patient was overdue for IV antibiotics. The message wasn't from the ward, but an email from an unfamiliar name.
She squinted through her headache to make the words come into focus.
Ms Patterson, As you know, your father, Dr William Patterson, has fractured his tibia. He is not a man to ask for help so I, as his doctor and the second medical practitioner in Bulla Creek, am asking for you to visit at your earliest convenience. Marco Rodriguez (Dr)
She stared at the email, reading it three times before the words finally sank in. Fractured tibia? She bit her lip as guilt spun around worry. Of course she hadn't known about William's leg. She hadn't communicated with him in months and the emails he'd sent had dealt only with the information she'd requested. None had mentioned his health. Neither had he mentioned a doctor with a Spanish name and a formal writing style, which indicated that English wasn't his native language. What was a Spaniard doing in outback Bulla Creek?
At your earliest convenience. She instinctively shook her head and then, from the tangled mess that was currently her life, she stared up at the ceiling of the elevator absolutely certain about one thing. No way was she going back to Bulla Creek.
You mean home.
'No, I mean Bulla Creek.' Her emphatic voice sounded strident in the confines of the otherwise empty elevator.
Right, so you're ignoring duty, staying in Perth where your boyfriend's just dumped you, and your housemate has utterly betrayed you. That's gonna be cosy. Kinda makes Bulla Creek almost attractive, doesn't it?
Lucy dropped her head in her hands and wished she could wind back the clock one yearback to a time when she knew who she was, knew where she belonged and where she was headed. Instead she now faced a road that stretched way out in front of her that was filled with a pea-soup fog.
Every part of her railed against the idea of going back to Bulla Creek, but the news about William tore at the box she'd shoved all her feelings about him intofeelings she didn't want to revisit. They came back anyway in unsettling waves. No matter what had happened between them and no matter how much she didn't want to see him, she couldn't just ignore the fact he'd broken his leg. Not at his age. The doctor in her knew that only too well. Acknowledging it smoothed out her tangled thoughts.
'I'll take some annual leave, fly up to Bulla Creek for a quick visit and check that William's receiving the correct medical care. Then I'll come back here, find a new place to live and sort out the rest of my life, which won't include disloyal friends and cheating, bastard men.'
You do realise there isn't anyone here listening except me and I don't need to hear you talk to know exactly what you're thinking.
'Shut-up.' The yell propelled Lucy to her feet and she brushed down her white coat. Her life was in tatters, but at least she had a plan. One she was clinging to like a floating log in a choppy sea.