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Dr Sutton, we have a problem."
In the process of jotting down a script and mentally calculating a drug dosage for her patient, Gina Sutton answered absent-mindedly, "I'll be right there."
"This can't wait too long," Nurse Lucy Fields urged.
A warning note in her tone pulled Gina's attention away from her task. She glanced at the normally unflappable woman and saw the distress written all over her face. While the unusual was the norm in Belmont Memorial's Emergency Department, something had upset their nursing supervisor.
"Noted," she said calmly, before turning back to her patient, forty-year-old Jim Pearce. "According to the X-rays, you've sprained, not broken, your wrist. You'll need to keep it immobilized for several weeks to give the muscles time to recover. Here's a prescription " she tore off the sheet " for an anti-inflammatory. Take as directed. And if your wrist isn't better in a few weeks, either come back or visit your family doctor. Any questions?"
Jim shook his head.
"Just remember, no more hammering or heavy lifting in the meantime," she cautioned. "Wearing a splint for support doesn't mean you can do everything you did before. If you don't give yourself time to heal, you'll have worse problems."
His face colored slightly, as if she'd read his mind and knew his intent. "OK. A few weeks is all, right?"
"At least three, maybe more."
"Doctor," Lucy urged from the door.
Telling her patient goodbye, Gina followed Lucy into the hallway. "What's the big problem that couldn't wait two more minutes?"
"It's Dr Nevins. He's gone crazy!"
"What's he done now?" Gina asked tiredly, already wondering what mistake she'd have to correct this time. BillNevins may be the Director of Emergency Services, but an intern could do a better job. On the few occasions when he assisted with a trauma, he was usually more hindrance than help. If he didn't have connections, she believed, he wouldn't have been hired in the first place.
"The man has completely lost his sanity," Lucy declared. "He's storming around his office and when I tried to go inside, he threw his glass paperweight at me!"
"He's always been high-strung," Gina soothed. "What upset him today?"
"I don't know, but he was fine until he got a phone call. You have to talk to him, Gina. You're the only one in the entire department he'll listen to."
For some reason, during the two years she'd been in Belmont's ER, she'd always been able to reason with the man, even when he was at his most unreasonable. When he'd wanted to fire a nurse for dropping a syringe during a code blue, she'd convinced him to give the poor girl a second chance. When he refused to spend the money to replace their defibrillator, she'd calmly reminded him of how costly a potential lawsuit would be, not to mention how his reputation would suffer.
Now, apparently, her negotiation skills would be needed once again to deal with his latest temper tantrum.
"All right," Gina said resignedly, as she handed over Jim Pearson's chart and tucked her pen into the breast pocket of her lab coat. "Let's beard the lion in his den."
To her surprise, his door stood open and she cautiously walked in, noticing how the normally neat office now looked as if a tornado had whirled through. Papers and medical books covered the floor, boxes stood on top of Bill's desk, and file drawers were yanked off their tracks. Even the philodendron she'd brought to soften the stark white walls lay on its side, dirt spilling out of the pot across the top of the filing cabinet.
"What's up?" she asked calmly as she righted the plant.
Bill paused from riffling through the papers on his desk. "I've been fired, that's what."
It's about time, she thought. "Really?" she asked, trying to sound horrified but certain she failed miserably. "Whatever for?"
He waved aside her question. "The reasons don't matter. The point is, I've given my all to this place, and this is how they repay me."
Privately, Gina wondered how a man who worked three, maybe four hours a day could claim "he'd given his all", but it wasn't her place to argue. Her goal now was to bring calm to a potentially unstable situation.
"What happens now?" she asked, more concerned about the repercussions to their department rather than to Bill's professional life.
He waved furiously at the wall clock. "Who knows? I have thirty minutes to pack up and get out. Thirty minutes," he ranted. "After ten years of unfailing service, struggling to operate on the shoestring budget they gave me well, it's unthinkable and insulting!" He grabbed his coffee-mug, then hefted it in his hand. In the next breath, he heaved it at the metal filing cabinet.
Gina didn't have time to dodge before the ceramic cup shattered into a hundred pieces. A sharp sting bit into her cheek and she instinctively touched her face. No real damage as far as she could tell. Although she was somewhat disconcerted because Bill had never injured anyone before during one of his tirades, the burden of restoring his reason clearly fell to her.
She ignored the lingering discomfort and began in her most placating tone, "Now, Bill"
She didn't get past his name before a tall, dark-haired man burst into the office, wearing an expensively tailored dark gray suit and a grim expression.
"Throw one more thing and you'll be flying through the air, too," he snarled as he moved in front of her, effectively blocking her from her irate superior. In the next instant, he whipped out a snowy white handkerchief and pressed it into her hand. "You'd better take care of that, Gina."
Too curious about the scene unfolding, especially when two more men arrived who were more stocky and not quite as tall or as handsome, she didn't ask how this stranger knew her name. She simply nodded and did as she was told.
To her surprise, a large smear of bloodher bloodstained the expensive cotton square. Quickly, she pressed it to her cheek again, more curious about the drama than about her scratch, especially when her rescuer approached Bill behind his desk.
"You, Dr Nevins," the authoritative man accused in a deep, stern voice, "have forfeited your right to collect your things. Leave the premises immediately."
Bill straightened to his full five feet five inches and his beady little eyes narrowed. "Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do?"
"I'm your replacement," the fellow stated calmly and firmly. "Goodbye, Dr Nevins."
He raised one hand and in the blink of an eye the two men moved round the desk from opposite directions to grab Bill's arms and lead him toward the door.
"But I didn't hurt her on purpose," Bill screeched. "Tell him, Gina."
Everyone's gaze landed on Gina. "Bill wouldn't hurt me," Gina responded. "Not intentionally."
Her handsome knight folded his arms and regarded her cooly. "A man with such an obvious lack of control can't be trusted."
"You can't do this," Bill shouted. "I have thirty minutes left."
Bill's replacement, with his regal bearing and handsomely aristocratic features, looked down his aquiline nose. "You now have none. Take him away."
"But my things," Bill wailed over his shoulder as the two henchmen literally lifted him off the ground.
"Dr Sutton will ship your personal possessions to you." And with that, the two apparent security guards carried him out, kicking and screaming.
Gina stared at the now empty doorway. "At the risk of sounding completely ridiculous, what just happened?"
"Changing of the guard," the man said as he stood in front of her. "Let me look at that." Without waiting for her permission, he tipped her chin upward, pulled away the handkerchief and peered at her face.
Strangely enough, an attack of self-consciousness swept over Gina. The most handsome man she'd seen in ages had burst into her department like an avenging angel and now was studying her face as if he'd never seen a scratch before.
"It's nothing," she said inanely, extremely conscious of two thingshis six-foot-plus frame, which made her feel petite at five foot eight, and a delightfully masculine scent that made her appreciate being a female.
He pressed on her cheekbone and frowned. "You need a stitch."
"I don't think so."
He raised both eyebrows, eyebrows framing chocolate brown eyes that were deep, dark pools. "Are you questioning my medical judgement?"
"I believe so. Yes."
A huge grin spread across his face. The dazzling brilliance of his smile made him seem younger, more approachable, and less formidable.
"At least you're honest," he said.
"It's the best policy," she answered.
"Have a seat," he ordered. "I'll be right back."
She might have obeyed, but it wasn't in her nature to ignore the obvious. Because she weighed her problems more easily if she was busy, she carefully picked up the shattered remnants of Bill's mug while she contemplated the sharp turn that the morning had taken.
Bill was gone. While she took a few seconds to rejoice, she knew life in Belmont's ER might not turn out better than it had been under Bill's administration. Clearly, his successor whoever he washad a definite take-charge attitude. Once he'd plotted his course of action, he followed it, which was a good thing provided he based his decisions upon facts and logic. But if he didn' t, they would be in trouble, because she doubted if she'd be as successful at negotiating with him as she had been with Bill.
No matter. She'd learned the art of persuasion at a young age and had developed it fully as she had taken care of her father near the end of his too-short life. She hadn' t met a man yet who came close to Arthur John Sutton in stubbornness.
With any luck, however, the new ED Director would be more reasonable than Bill, although after watching him mercilessly throw Bill out of the department, she hoped he didn't normally manage his subordinates with the same dictatorial style.
"I see you're a person who doesn't follow orders," he said behind her a minute later.
"I follow them when they're rational," she replied pertly.
"Do I detect shades of a warning?"
"If the shoe fits." She dumped the last shard of china in the trash can. "I thought I'd get a head start on cleaning up the mess."
"I appreciate the offer, but someone can take care of it later."
She eyed the piles of papers and hesitated, but when he added, "Please," she couldn't disobey.
He cleared off a corner of the desk with one swipe of his hand, then placed a bottle of alcohol, several sterile gauze squares and a suture kit on the surface before he faced her. "Don't worry. Rational is my middle name. Are you ready?"
She eyed his supplies. "You don't stitch a scratch. It's hardly bleeding now anyway."
He whipped a small mirror out of his pocket. "See for yourself."
Her reflection revealed a large drop of blood that welled up in the cut which was dangerously close to her right eye. "No stitches," she insisted.
"If you're worried about my sewing ability "
"Your abilities aren't in question. I simply don't think it's necessary."
He perched on the edge of the desk. "I'll call a plastic surgeon, then. We'll get his opinion."
"You will do no such thing," she stated firmly. "A butterfly bandage will do the job. You're overreacting. So the cut is a little deep. One stitch isn't worth the trouble."
"You'll have a scar," he warned.
She eyed the cut before she dabbed the blood away. "Probably, but it won't be so big that make-up won't cover it." She grinned as she handed the mirror back. "It will blend in with the normal wrinkles. No one will ever notice."
"Your significant other might."
"If he can't look past a hairline scar, then he won't be my significant other, will he?" she asked lightly. "Would it bother you if your significant other had a scar on her face?"
"Of course not." He appeared affronted.
She smiled. "Then I rest my case."
He hesitated for a heartbeat. "I can't talk you into this, can I?"
"Nope. Not a chance. As a patient, I have the right to refuse or accept treatment."
"OK. Butterfly bandage it is." He rose to shrug off his jacket, revealing a white shirt that covered deliciously wide shoulders.
"And I'll take care of it myself."
He poured alcohol on a gauze pad. "I'm sure you can, but you aren't. This is going to sting a bit."
She nearly howled as he pressed the saturated pad to her face and disinfected the wound, but she bit back her yelp. To take her mind off the burning sensation, she concentrated on him.
Whoever he was, he was too handsome, too well built, too everything for words. His short hair was the color of dark molasses and seemed just as thick. His features reflected an aristocratic heritage and his long eyelashes were every woman's dream.
As he probed and prodded, she noticed his long fingers and light touch. Idly, she wondered how he'd look in a scrub suit, and if they could find any lab coats that would fit.
"The man should be drawn and quartered," he muttered as he ripped open another package of gauze.
"He's harmless. Incompetent but, overall, harmless."
"From where I'm standing, I'd disagree."
Perhaps he was right. The room was a mess, and he had thrown a paperweight at Lucy before he'd pitched his coffee-mug in a fit of pique.
"You shouldn't have gotten in the way," he chided.
"Someone had to talk to him, calm him down. I've done it before. Given a few more minutes, I would have again."
She hadn't ever described herself with that term before, but it fit. "At times."
He pulled the butterfly bandage tight to hold the cut edges of her skin together. "Don't get it wet," he informed her.
"Yes, I know. Thank you." She straightened in her chair. "Now, if you don't mind, I'd like a few answers."
He perched against the edge of the desk in front of her. "What do you want to know?"
"Your name, for starters."
His perfect smile was sheepish. "In all the excitement, I left out the formalities, didn't I?"
"Given the circumstances, it was understandable."
"I'm Dr Ruark Thomas, at your service."
She held out her hand. "Pleased to meet you, Dr Thomas. Welcome to Belmont Memorial."
Gina became instantly aware of two things, the touch of his fingers against hers and his deep voice. Both caused her nerve endings to tingle pleasantly and create a surprisingly powerful attraction that tugged at her middle. She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt more than a glimmer of interest in someone she'd met, but this was certainly not the time for her hormones to kick in or her subconscious to get caught up in the moment. Yet, in spite of her mental scolding, she reluctantly withdrew her hand and forced herself to concentrate.
"You have a lot of ER experience?" she asked.
"Some. I moved here from California, thinking it would be nice to try life in the Great Midwest," he said smoothly. "I trained in Great Britain, specialized in emergency medicine in New York, and spent most of my time over the years with a number of relief agencies.