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Dr. Tamara St. John was feeling murderous.
It was too bad she'd taken an oath to do no harm. Otherwise, Victor Aguilar Garcia would be a dead man. A gorgeous one, but a corpse nevertheless.
They squared off in the hallway outside the room of a patient who'd been readmitted to the hospital after developing a postoperative wound infection. The two interns had struck combative poses, hands on hips, lab coats spread open as they argued with each other. Tamara hated that Victor's six-two frame forced her to angle her head back to meet his flashing gaze, and she hated that the dark blue color of his eyes reminded her of the most beautiful sapphire she'd ever seen.
"You're not listening to me," he said, the words gritted through straight white teeth. "Naphtomycin"
"is still in the clinical trial stage," Tamara interrupted sharply. "So that means the jury's still out on the drug's safety and effectiveness. Unlike you, I don't like hedging my bets on a wildcard. I think we need to administer another course of antibiotics"
"Because that's been working so well, right?" Victor countered mockingly.
Tamara bristled. "Let's not forget that this is my patient"
"who's been readmitted twice for a postoperative sternal wound that won't heal. It's time to pursue more aggressive treatment options."
"Naphtomycin isn't an option," Tamara said unequivocally.
"Well, it should be."
"I disagree. Until it's been approved by the FDA" Victor interrupted, "German physicians are already using Naphtomycin on their patients, with proven results."
"That doesn't matter," Tamara said obstinately.
"What do you mean it doesn't" He broke off, shaking his head in angry exasperation. "Look, St. John, you have the potential to be a good cardiothoracic surgeon one day, but if you want to be the best, you're gonna have to start thinking outside the damn box."
"How dare you?" Tamara hissed furiously. "I don't need career advice from you! Last I checked, we both graduated from top medical schools, and we're both finalists for the same research grant"
"Me importa un carajo!" Victor swore in Spanish, striking his fist against the wall. "Why does everything have to be a damn competition with you? This isn't about you and your egotistical need to be right"
"My egotistical need?" Tamara sputtered in outrage.
"What about you? Every decision you make is based on the false assumption that you can never be wrong. You take risks with patients' lives like you're rolling dice on a craps table. Don't you dare lecture me about my ego when you're the one with the God complex!"
Victor scowled blackly. "I don't have a"
"Like hell you don't!"
He glared at her another moment, then scrubbed his hands over his face and shook his head at the ceiling, as if he were petitioning God for a flood that would sweep her away. He needed a shave and a haircut, Tamara noted irritably, eyeing his stubble-roughened jaw and the thick dark hair that brushed his collar. He always looked like he'd just rolled out of bed, tossed on some clothes and hopped on to his Harley to ride to work. Tamara supposed that the rumpled, sexy look worked for some women. But not her. Everything about the man grated on her damn nerves.
She felt an unwelcome jolt as his strikingly blue eyes suddenly returned to hers. "Look, St. John," he said in a low, controlled voice, "I don't have time to stand here arguing with you, and the patient sure as hell can't afford any more delays in her treatment. Before you rule out administering Naphtomycin, just ask yourself what you would do if Mrs. Gruener were your mother."
"I wouldn't endanger her life by giving her a drug that hasn't even been approved by the FDA!" Tamara snapped.
"How do you know?" Victor shot back. "Until you're in that situation, you have no idea what measures you'd take to help your mother."
"I don't deal in hypotheticals. I deal with hard, cold facts, which is something you seem incapable of"
"Why am I standing here talking to you?" Victor cut her off. "You're an intern just like me, so ultimately, it's not your call whether or not Mrs. Gruener receives Naphtomycin. And thank God for that!"
Tamara's eyes narrowed. "You wouldn't dare go over my head."
"Think I wouldn't? Let me tell you something. Mrs. Gruener's recovery is more important than your stubborn need to be right."
"You think I don't know that?"
"Sure as hell could have fooled"
Beep, beep, beep!
The two combatants glanced down at the pagers clipped to their waists. When they saw the familiar code that signaled a crisis requiring all available medical personnel, they turned and rushed downstairs to the emergency room.
They were greeted by pandemonium as several stretchers bearing injured victims were wheeled into the hospital, where a triage had been set up to evaluate the new arrivals. Those who were most seriously injured were already being tended to.
Tamara and Victor hurried over to fellow intern Jaclyn Campbell, who was examining the bloody head wound of a teenager who was moaning in pain.
"What happened?" Tamara asked anxiously.
Jaclyn grimaced. "School bus accident. At least thirty students were on board, not to mention the driver and several other motorists involved in the collision."
"Shit," Tamara and Victor swore in unison.
"Let's go, people!" shouted Dr. Lucien De Winter, the new head of the E.R. at Hopewell General. He strode through the bustling emergency room, calling out authoritatively, "All hands on deck!"
Alerted by the wail of an approaching ambulance, Tamara and Victor raced outside to greet the arriving EMTs, who had just removed a stretcher bearing a teenage biracial girl covered with blood and multiple lacerations.
"She's hypotensive," one of the EMTs informed them as he and Victor quickly wheeled the gurney toward the entrance to the hospital. "Blood pressure's eighty-three over forty-two, pulse is one-thirty-six."
Moments after they rolled the new patient into the E.R., she went into cardiac arrest.
"She needs to be opened up!" Victor said urgently.
Tamara was already sprinting ahead, adrenaline pumping through her veins as she frantically searched for an attending physician to assist them. To her dismay, none could be found.
Victor and the EMT had wheeled the patient into an available trauma bay and were using a defibrillator on her. As Tamara raced in after them, Victor called over his shoulder, "We're gonna have to open her up!"
Tamara stared at him. "We can't!"
"Why the hell not?"
"We're interns, Victor! We're not supposed to be operating on patients!"
"If we don't help this girl ASAP," he barked, "she's going to die!"
Tamara knew he was right. The teenager had suffered blunt chest trauma during the traffic accident, so time was of the essence. Surely she and Victor wouldn't be punished for taking matters into their own hands in order to save the girl's life, she reasoned.
After casting one last glance around the chaotic emergency room, Tamara sprang into action, setting up the ultrasound machine as Victor hurriedly unpacked a tray containing the necessary equipment for an emergency resuscitative thoracotomy. They didn't have time to get the patient transported to an operating room. They'd have to perform the procedure right there in the E.R.
After intubating the patient and donning protective equipment, Tamara and Victor went to work cutting open her chest cavity to gain access to her heart. With the hospital's medical staff stretched perilously thin that morning, she and Victor had to rely on each other's training and instincts to ensure a successful operation. Like a precisely choreographed ballet, they passed the scalpel, scissors and forceps back and forth, and moved out of each other's way without being told. As Victor massaged the patient's heart with his gloved hands, Tamara murmured encouragements to him.
Suddenly their personal differences and grievances didn't matter. All that mattered was the single goal they sharedto save a young girl's life.
So that's what they focused on doing until an attending physician arrived to take over.
Later that eveningafter their young patient had been transported to the intensive care unit for recovery, and the other accident victims had been stabilized or dischargedTamara and Victor found themselves alone in the interns' locker room. It had been a long, exhausting day. All Tamara craved was a hot shower and a soft bed, though part of her was so wired from today's events that she wondered whether sleep would elude her tonight.
She was tying her sneakers when the deep, masculine timbre of Victor's voice came to her from the other side of the lockers. "You did a great job today."
Tamara straightened slowly from the floor. She was surprised by the unexpected compliment. And undeniably pleased.
"Thanks," she said. "So did you."
"Gracias." Victor paused for a moment. "We make a good team."
Something foreign fluttered in her belly. "Yeah," she agreed softly, "we do. Shocking, isn't it?"
He gave a low chuckle. "Yeah."
A long silence fell between them.
Tamara found herself holding her breath, waiting for him to say more. When he didn't, she rose from the bench, grabbed her backpack from the locker and swung the door shut. As she started from the room, she tossed over her shoulder, "I'll see you tom"
"Wait up. I'll walk you outside."
She turned to watch as Victor emerged from behind the row of lockers. He'd changed into a blue T-shirt and dark jeans that rode low on his hips and clung to his strong, muscular thighs. His duffel bag was slung over his back, while a gleaming black helmet was tucked beneath his arm.
He sauntered toward her, exuding such raw magnetism that Tamara's mouth ran dry.
When he reached her, she noticed two things at once: the color of his T-shirt brought out the piercing blue of his eyes, and his hair had gotten tousled when he'd put on his clothes. She had an overwhelming urge to reach up and slide her fingers through the thick, wavy locks to see if they felt as soft as they looked.
"Ready?" Victor asked her.
She glanced away quickly. "Sure. Let's go."
They left the locker room and headed down the corridor toward the nearest exit. The hospital was so quiet, the chaos from that morning's school bus accident almost seemed like a distant memory. But Tamara knew she'd never forget it. She and Victor had saved a sixteen-year-old girl from dying today. No matter how many years she practiced medicine, or how many more lives she saved, Tamara hoped she'd never take a single miracle for granted.
As she and Victor neared the sliding glass doors that led to the parking lot, they saw that it was raining outside. No, not just raining. Pouring.
"Oh, no," Tamara groaned, dreading the fifteen-minute walk to her studio apartment in the torrential downpour. "I didn't bring my umbrella to work this morning."
"I don't think it'd do you much good," Victor muttered grimly, his heavy brows furrowed as he observed the slanted sheets of rain falling from the night sky. "You'd be soaked to the bone by the time you got halfway home."
"I know." Tamara frowned, eyeing the helmet under his arm. "You probably wouldn't fare much better on your bike."
"Probably not." But he looked like he wanted to try anyway.
She heaved a sigh. "This really sucks. I don't even remember the forecast calling for rain."
"I wouldn't know. I never listen to weather forecasts."
Tamara's mouth curved wryly. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"
Victor cocked a brow at her. "Meaning?"
"Meaning that you" The rest of her reply was drowned out by a sharp clap of thunder that rattled the building and made the overhead lights flicker.
She and Victor stared at each other.
"Looks like we're gonna have to wait out the storm," he said.
Tamara nodded reluctantly. "Looks like."
Victor glanced around the quiet reception area, then said abruptly, "Come on."
Tamara frowned at him. "Where?"
"Just follow me." He started off down the hallway.
When she remained where she was, he glanced over his shoulder at her. "If anyone sees that we're still hanging around the hospital, we're gonna get drafted into pulling another shift."
He was right.
"Say no more," Tamara muttered, hurrying after him.