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Half past eight. Sophie groaned inwardly. She'd probably missed the party for Guy's promotion to Director of Surgery, but no way could she have left her patient in the middle of the operating table. And she never, but never, left the ward until her patients had been round from the anaesthetic for at least half an hour. You never knew with surgery: one moment, your patient was fine; the next, all hell could be let loose and you might even need to go back into Theatre.
But when she finally made it into the wine bar opposite the hospital, Guy was on his own. 'Don't tell me that rotten lot went off to get food and gave you the short straw of waiting till I got here, when it's your party?' she asked.
'No.The party's off.'
He shrugged. 'The job went to an external candidate.'
'Oh, Guy. I'm so sorry.' He was a brilliant surgeon and a nice bloke, too. It really wasn't fair. 'I was so sure '
'It means you're stuck where you are, too, Soph.'
Because she'd been in line for promotion to Guy's job. She waved her hand to protest at his bitter tone. 'Hey. My promotion wasn't a given, anyway. They couldn't advertise the job until your promotion had been announcedand I might not even have made it to the interview stage.' She could see in his face that he was brooding. And he'd had more than his share of hassles this year, with an acrimonious divorce. His wife had blamed her affair on Guy spending too much time on his career. Time that clearly hadn't paid off.
'Come on, let's have a commiseration drink instead. I'll shout you a curry. We can put the world to rights, and stick two fingers up at the hospital boardwho clearly can't see talent when it's twomillimetres in front of their noses.'
'You're good for my ego.'
Not as good as Abby would have beenGuy's house officer, who'd admitted to Sophie in the changing rooms a few weeks ago that she had the hots for Guybut Sophie could work on that. A few judiciously dropped hints, and maybe Guy would see what was two millimetres in front of his nose.
When they'd settled themselves comfortably in the local curry house and ordered their meal, Sophie turned the conversation back to Guy's bad news.
'I hate to rub salt in your wounds, Guy, but do you know anything about the new director of surgery?'
'R. C. Radley, you mean?'
The name was familiar, but she couldn't think why. She nodded.
'He's a plastic surgeon.'
'We're going to have a nip-and-tuck merchant in charge of surgery? Oh, great. No prizes for guessing where all the new equipment's going to go, then.' Damn. And she'd raised half the money for the equipment she had her eye on. It looked as if she'd have to raise the other half, too.
'And he went to a certain well-known public school.'
Uh-oh. There was a distinct whiff of fish in the air. 'Eton?'
Like some of the members of the board. Sophie rolled her eyes. Now she understood what had been puzzling herwhy Guy had been passed over. 'So the old-boy network strikes again, then?'
'It sucks, Guy, it really doesbut don't let it get to you. There'll be other chances.' She raised her glass of beer. 'Here's to us. You and me, and a brilliant surgical team.' Though she wasn't going to drink to their new director of surgery. Not until after she'd met him and seen if he was worth drinking to.
'Mr R. C. Radley. Why does his name ring a bell?' she asked.
'He's not a Mr. He's a lord.'
'He's a what?'
'A baron,' Guy told her.
Baron Radley? The board had appointed a baron to run the surgical team? Sophie's mouth tightened. 'So instead of giving the job to someone who can do it blindfolded, the board's made a political appointment. Someone who's got the right name and the right title.' And the right accent. Sharp, braying, coupled with a mocking, hearty guffaw as he She shook herself. No. That had been years ago, and she was over it now. Over it.
'Soph, hang on. You're being a bit'
'No, I'm absolutely right,' she cut in. 'They've gone for something that will bring some press coverage for the hospital, instead of thinking about what's right for the patients. And that stinks.' She frowned again. 'Baron Radley Isn't he the one in all the gossip mags?' The ones her mum read. Now she remembered where she'd heard the name. Celebrity Life. Baron Radley had been photographed with just about every eligible woman in Londonevery woman with a title or who looked like a supermodel. There was a different woman on his arm every time he went somewhere. She shook her head in disbelief. 'Oh, for goodness' sake, what does the board think they're doing? We ought to'
'Leave it, Soph,' Guy warned. 'Like you said, there'll be other chances. None of us can expect to get every job we go for.'
'But it's wrong. It's morally wrong that they've picked someone with a title instead of someone who can do the job.'
'He might be a good surgeon. And there's nothing we can do about it anyway.'
She sighed, knowing that he was right. 'At least, working in general surgery, we won't have to have much to do with him,' she said.
'Let's just forget about it, yeah?' Guy asked.
She nodded as their curry arrived, but the knot of tension at the back of her neck was starting to tighten again. How old was their new director of surgery exactly? Had he been one of the gang who ?
She wasn't going to think about them. It had been years ago. If she let the memories hold her back, they'd win. And she was damned sure they weren't going to grind her into the dust again. The chances were, R. C. Radley hadn't been one of them anyway. He was probably Guy's age, in his mid-to-late thirtieshe'd probably finished med school before Sophie had even finished her A-levels. She certainly couldn't remember being at med school with anybody called Radley. And if he was older than she was, it was unlikely he'd been part of their social set either.
They kept the conversation on more neutral topics for the rest of the mealavoiding hospital politicsbut as they left the restaurant Sophie realised with dismay that Guy must have drunk several glasses of wine while he'd been waiting for her to turn up, as well as several beers during their meal. Not only was he slightly unsteady on his feet but, when Sophie steadied his arm, he put his arms round her and tried to kiss her.
Sophie turned her face away so his lips landed wetly on her cheek. 'Come on, Guy. I'll call a cab to get you home.'
'Come home with me, Soph.'
'Not a good idea. You'd regret it in the morning.'
He smiled. 'Waking up to a gorgeous girl like you? No.'
She shook her head. 'Guy, it's the drink talking. I'm your mate, not your girlfriend. You used to be my boss, remember?'
'Not since you got promoted and moved over to Andy's team.'
Mmm, and she couldn't use the 'we can't mix work and a relationship' argument if she wanted to get him together with Abbynot when he was Abby's boss! 'I'm focusing on my career, Guy,' she said gently yet firmly.
'And because I didn't get the job, you're not interested?'
She narrowed her eyes. 'If I didn't think you're drunk and don't really know what you're saying, I'd slap your face for that. I don't sleep my way up the ladder, Guy. In fact, I don't do relationships at all, and you know thatmy career comes first, last and always. We're friends, and I'd like to keep it that way.'
'Maybe I'd like more.'
The voices grated in her head again. And I'm going to take it.
She forced the memory back where it belonged. 'Not with me, you wouldn't. Guy, you're a nice bloke, but I'm not interested in anything more than friendship from you. From anyone.' She sighed. 'I'm beginning to think you're as shortsighted as the board.'
'Meaning that there are other women in our department. Women who might like you and be interested in having a relationship with you.'
'I'm not telling you when you're drunk! Ask me when you're sober, and I might give you a clue.'
'Soph, you're a tease.'
And teases get what they ask for.
Again, she pushed the words away. 'Guy, just shut up and get in the taxi.' She bundled him into the back of the black cab she'd managed to hail, closed the door, gave Guy's address to the cabbie and paid him to take Guy home. Then she walked back to her own flat, made herself a strong cup of coffee and sifted through her post. Junk mail, more junk mail, a bank statement and a postcard from Sandy in Tokyo.
Sometimes she wished she'd had the nerve to do what her friend Sandy had done and taken a year out to travel. She could have rented her flat out for a year and gone round the world with Sandy. Had adventures. But, no, she'd been too staid and sensible. Surgical jobs weren't as easy to come by as emergency department jobs, so she'd declined Sandy's offer.
Did that make her boring? Maybe. But she'd worked hard to get as far as she had. Taking a year out would have set her back too much. She'd done the right thing.
Her mum had also popped round, found Sophie was out and had scribbled a note on the front cover of her favourite gossip magazine. Missed you. Call me. Sophie grinned. Typical. She'd even written her duty on her mother's kitchen calendar, so her mum would know know exactly when Sophie was likely to be at homeand Fran completely ignored it. Scatty didn't even begin to describe her. And Sophie adored her for it.
Idly, she sipped her coffee and flicked through the magazine. She really didn't understand what her mum saw in this kind of stuff. Who cared where celebs went or what their houses looked like?
Then a name leapt out at her.
Charlie, Baron Radley.
She stared at the photograph. He was dressed up to the ninesexpensive dinner jacket, dress shirt, bow-tie. Tall, dark and handsomeand he looked as if he knew it, too. A woman in a little black dressa dress she must have been poured into, and she was dripping in diamonds as wellwas hanging off his arm. Her blonde hair was cut fashionably, her make-up was flawless and they really looked like the ultimate 'golden couple'.
The caption beneath, gushing about his fabulous wealth and his partner's equally fabulous modelling successes, didn't make Sophie feel any better about it. If anything, it convinced her even more that the board had made a terrible mistake. This manone of the jet set, who went to all the best parties, probably only ever drank champagne and, for all she knew, might join the rest of his crowd in snorting the odd line of cokewas going to be the new director of surgery at the Hampstead General.
'This,' she predicted grimly, 'is going to end in tears.'
'Sammy and I can't wait any longer,' Sophie said. 'We've got a patient prepped for Theatre and a huge list to get through.' It was all very well R.C. Baron Radley wanting to meet the teambut, if he couldn't even be bothered to turn up on time, why should their patients have to suffer?
'Sophie, don't you think you ought to give him another five minutes?' Abby said. 'I mean, Andy's off duty so you're the most senior one here from your firm. He's probably with one of the big cheesesyou know what they're like when they start talking. Give him five more minutes.'
Sophie shook her head. 'My patients come first. And if that gives me a black mark in Baron Radley's book, tough.' She curled her lip. 'I'm a doctor, not a serf who needs to bow down to the nobility.'
Guy whistled. 'Wow, Soph, I never knew you were so against titles.'
'I just don't see why an accident of birth makes one person "better" ' she emphasised the speech marks with two curled fingers on each hand ' than another. I'll just have to catch up with His Lordship later.'
'We'll give your apologies to him, Soph,' Abby said.
'I think,' Sophie said crisply, 'he should be the one apologising to usand to our patientsfor wasting time. See you later. Sammy, let's go scrub up.' Together with her house officer, she left the staffroom and headed for Theatre.
Something didn't look right, Charlie thought. The kid posting something through the neighbour's letterbox didn't have a bike with him or a bag full of newspapers. So just what was he stuffing through it?
Then there was a loud bang, and Charlie realised exactly what the boy had posted. A firework. It looked as if he had just taken another from his pocket. Hadn't anybody told him why it was stupid to play with fireworks? It was an explosive; it could go off in his face. And the one he'd shoved through the door could have done a lot of damage, too, if someone had been close to it when it had gone off. And you never, but never, lit fireworks with an ordinary match.
'Oi! What do you think you're doing?' he yelled.
The boy looked up, curled his lip, flicked a V-sign at Charlie and lit another match.
'Put that match out, you idiot! You'll get h'
But before Charlie could finish, there was a loud bang and the firework in the boy's hand exploded.
Charlie forgot the fact that he was on his way to work his first day in his new role as Director of Surgery, when he really shouldn't be lateand years of training took over. He grabbed his mobile phone and punched in the number for the emergency services as he ran towards the boy. Ambulance, please.' He gave them the location. 'We have a firework injury involving a child. Major burns.' Burns to the hand or feet were always classified as major. 'Better call the fire brigade, too he was stuffing fireworks through a letterbox.'
The boy was screaming, and he'd dropped the match. Luckily the ground was still wet, so the flame would have been extinguishedif any loose powder from the fireworks was lit, the boy could end up with flash burns to his legs as well as the damage to his hand.
Charlie pushed through the open gate just as the door to the neighbouring house opened.
'What's going on?' the elderly man demanded.