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If someone had pressed him to elaborate on his feelings he would not have been able to put it into words, but there was no denying the rush of anxiety that clutched his stomach and held fast when he gazed upon her.
"Details," Tyler demanded of the eager young emergency room intern following at his heels.
"Jane Doe. MVA. Rollover. Found unconscious at the scene. BP seventy-two over forty-eight," the earnest physician-in-training reeled off. "X ray reveals hairline fracture of the right femur. Minor facial lacerations. Possible ruptured spleen. Neuro signs intact."
The woman's eyes were shuttered closed, her dark blond hair fanned across the pillowcase. Tyler placed her age somewhere between late twenties and early thirties. There was a superficial cut over one eyebrow and another along her jaw. Those wounds wouldn't even require stitches.
She was a beautiful woman with a proud aquiline nose that at the moment played host to green plastic oxygen tubing. Her lips were salmon-colored, her cheeks pale. Her face was slender, her complexion as flawless as a cosmetics model's.
Tyler snapped on a pair of rubber latex gloves, slipped a yellow barrier gown over his starched white lab jacket and tied a surgical mask over his clean-shaven face. He had just stepped from the shower after a twelve-hour workday when he had gotten the phone call. He'd been preparing for dinner out with friends, but as usual, the hospital had changed his plans at the last minute. Tyler couldn't say he minded too much. He was happiest when working and this case promised to be more intriguing than most.
And there was nothing he liked more than a complicated medical puzzle to solve.
"Go on," he prompted the intern, his eyes focused intently on the inert woman lying so still beneath the crisp green sheet.
A strange sensation slithered over him. Something he couldn't name. Not trepidation, but something similar. Apprehension?
But why should he feel apprehensive?
"She has what appears to be mild chemical burns scattered over her arms and legs."
"Chemical burns?" Tyler repeated, frowning.
The intern shrugged. "The paramedics found shattered glass vials throughout her car and an empty lockbox with a biohazard sticker on it. Apparently, she was transporting some volatile drug or chemical, and during the course of the accident the lockbox clasp was damaged and the vials tumbled out."
"Do we know what we're dealing with here?"
The intern shook his head. "The vials weren't labeled but the paramedics were able to retrieve a small sample."
"You're saying the paramedics were exposed?"
Tyler swung his gaze to the younger man. "We could have toxic contamination."
The intern nodded.
"Dammit, where's the Hazardous Materials team?"
"I want this side of the E.R. evacuated and this room sealed off. Immediately."
"And anyone else who came in contact with this patient needs to be examined. Have those paramedics admitted for observation."
He could tell the intern thought he was going overboard, but the young pup was wet behind the ears. The man had no idea what lingering effects chemical substances could have on the human body, nor did he have a clue how serious this could be for the young woman. He hadn't seen the dark things Tyler had seen. Hadn't experienced the devastation of chemical warfare firsthand.
"Hop to it," Tyler commanded.
The intern spun on his heels and hurried out the door, pulling it tightly closed behind him.
"Well now, Jane," Tyler crooned, stepping up to the gurney.
"Just what have you gotten yourself into?"
Jane Doe did not respond.
He studied the heart monitor attached by electrical wires leading to conductive gel pads on her chest. Normal sinus rhythm. A good sign. Apparently the mystery chemical hadn't affected her cardiac functioning.
Hang in there, Jane. He mentally willed her; determination a solid fist in his gut. I'll take care of you.
The emotional intensity of his thoughts startled him. He wanted to help all of his patients, but there was something special about this woman and he did not know what it was or why. He just knew that he felt committed to her case in a way he hadn't experienced in a very long time.
Peeling back the covers, he allowed his gaze to rove over her while his fingers investigated. A smattering of first-degree contact burns carpeted her arms and legs. Tyler sucked in his breath and shook his head.
Her chest rose and fell in a shallow rhythm. Her body was lithe, supple. Her firm musculature told him that she worked out often and her lack of a tan meant she was either conscientious about the use of sunscreen or spent most of her time indoors. Her breasts were high and firm. Her abdomen was flat.
Tyler registered these things and tried hard not to be moved by them. He was a professional. A doctor. He'd seen thousands of unclothed women and had never been aroused. He was a surgeon, and because of his stint in the first Gulf War, also something of an expert on chemical exposure. Apparently, that was why the intern had called him in to consult on the case.
Curiously enough, considering she'd been exposed to a potentially harmful chemical, her respirations were deep and unlabored. Color good. Her blood pressure was low but he could put that down to the internal bleeding from her spleen, not from the chemical.
Tyler made a mental note to get her lab analysis as soon as possible. Until he knew what he was up against he was not taking any unnecessary chances. She needed surgery but anesthesia at this juncture might be risky. He would not operate until he knew what he was dealing with or until her physical circumstances deteriorated, forcing his hand.
She moaned when he pressed the right-upper quadrant of her abdomen where her spleen was located. He glanced up and saw her eyelids flutter open.
Their gazes met.
The woman looked like a delicate doe startled in the woods by the sound of a hunter's gun.
Something stirred inside him. Her vulnerability reached out to him, strumming a chord that was far too familiar. In a flash, he saw a loneliness inside her that matched his own, a sense of desolation that ran as deep as the pain he had harbored for so long.
The connection was instantaneous and frightening in its power.
For God's sakes, Fresno, stop it.
She was his patient, he was her doctor and even if she weren't his patient, she deserved much more than a damaged man who'd lost his ability to love.
"Miss?" he said, purposefully denying the heavy thump, thump, thump of his heart. "Can you hear me?"
"Marcus," she mumbled.
"I'm Dr. Tyler Fresno, and you're in the emergency room at Saint Madeline's Hospital in Houston, Texas. You were involved in a motor vehicle accident." Tyler leaned closer and touched her shoulder. "Can you tell me your name?"
She shifted away.
"Are you in pain?"
She didn't answer or meet his gaze again.
Tyler pressed the button on the electronic blood pressure cuff - 88/62. Her BP was up. Excellent news. Perhaps her spleen wasn't bleeding as profusely as he had feared.
"Can you tell me your name?" he repeated.
"Your name is Marcus?"
"Marcus." Her lips puckered in a whisper. She stirred. "Where are you?"
Excerpted from Racing Against The Clock by Lori Wilde Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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