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'Have you seen him yet?'
Harriet Farrell had barely taken her jacket off before the question on everyone's lips was directed at her.
'I assume we're talking about the new consultant,' Harriet responded, rolling pale blue eyes heavenwards. 'I've already had two of the late staff waylay me and tell me how divine he is. And, no,' she added, turning to the mirror and pulling her straight, sandy red hair back into a ponytail. 'I haven't seen him.'
'He's divine,' Charlotte, one of the grad nurses, sighed dreamily. 'Spanish,' she added, as if that information alone was enough to exalt him to sex-idol status.
'Well, with a name like Ciro Delgato, even I'd managed to work that one out,' Harriet responded with a dry note to her voice. 'I just hope he's good at his job. Have you seen how full the waiting room is? Unless Dr Divine is as good as his résumé attests, we could be in for a very long night.'
'Oh, come on, Harriet, don't be such a killjoy. Anyone would think you didn't want to be here tonight.' Susan, one of the more senior nurses on the night shift, grinned. 'I'm as happily married as you are, but it doesn't mean that we can't appreciate a fine specimen when he comes along, particularly one with a dreamy accent! It certainly makes a night shift in Emergency go faster.'
'Ah, but you're not married to Drew Farrell, Susan,' Charlotte teased, not noticing Harriet's flaming cheeks as she rummaged in her bag for red and blue pens. 'I, for one, wouldn't want to leave my famous, good-looking husband alone in bed to do a Saturday night shift in this place, no matter how good-looking the new consultant was.'
It had been meant as a joke, Harriet knew that.
But even as she watched her colleagues head out for handover, even as she smiled and told them she'd be along in a few minutes, her throat was so thick with emotion she thought she might break down at any moment. Charlotte's comment had been so inadvertently near the mark it felt as if Charlotte must have read her diary.
Not that Harriet kept one!
Sitting down on one of the rickety plastic chairs, she allowed herself the indulgence of a few moments alone, letting the bright smile that was so much her nature slip for a while.
And she should have a lot to smile about.
Married to Drew Farrell, living in a gorgeous house in an exclusive beach-side suburb in Sydney, attending A-list events draped in the latest fashions. It was easier to smile and say that life was great than open up to relative strangers and admit the truth, easier to just carry on pretending that she and Drew were the perfect, golden couple.
If only they knew the truth.
Burying her burning cheeks in her hands, she let out a low moan.
If only they knew that 'happy' was the last word she'd use to describe her marriage right now. If only they knew how hard it had been to paint on a smile and come to work tonight because they were desperately short of experienced staff. That just because she was married to a man whose name seemed to be on the tip of every thirteen-year-old's lips, just because the man that adorned teenagers' walls also shared her bed, it didn't automatically mean that life was wonderful. Standing up, Harriet stared into the mirror, every freckle magnified somehow, her snub nose scarlet now from her short emotional lapse. Even though the tiny mirror stuck to the wall with Blu-tack didn't reveal it, she could feel every lardy pound of overweight flesh digging into her waistband, could almost feel the incredulity behind the stares when Drew remembered to introduce her to his new friends. She could still hear the heavy silence that had resounded last night when she'd walked shy and uncertain down the stairs, draped from head to foot in a thousand-dollar dress, and the tiny beat of disappointment that had resonated. Drew's eyes had told her that, despite the best designer, despite two months of mortgage money being spent on shoes, make-up and hair, she still hadn't quite looked the part of a certain actor's wife.
The look in Drew's eyes had told her that she looked every bit the fat night nurse she was
'Stop feeling sorry for yourself.' Harriet said it out loud, forcing herself out of her self-imposed misery. After all, hadn't Drew been nice tonight? Hadn't he made her a coffee when she'd put down the telephone and told him that she'd be working an extra shift? He'd even filled her a hot-water bottle when a griping stomach pain had hit around seven p.m. and she hadn't been sure that she had been up to going in. He had tenderly rubbed her back and told her that she'd feel better soon.
He loved her.
She had to hold onto thathad to believe that the man she'd married, the man she'd believed in all these years, was still there under all the hype. That the dreams they'd built amounted to something.
'Thanks for this!' Judith Kerr, the senior nurse handing over the late shift, gave Harriet an attempt at a smile as she walked over. Having trained and worked in the military for a quarter of a century, Judith clearly couldn't quite come to grips with the rather more relaxed attitudes in civilian nursing and seemed to have a permanent air of disbelief about her. 'We're just so short tonight, not on numbers ' She gestured to the gathered crowd and didn't even bother to lower her voice. 'More on experience.'
'Thanks a lot,' Charlotte moaned, but Judith was unfazed.
'I'm here to run a department, not massage your tender egos. You might have read the textbooks, Charlotte, come top in all your assessments and exams, but until you've walked many miles in Emergency you need someone experienced to oversee the department. Now, Harriet might only have been here for a few months but she's been doing the job for years and, like it or not, that's what this place needs on a Saturday night! Especially when we've got a new doctor on.'
'How is he?' Harriet asked, far more interested in Judith's professional assessment than the dreamy whispers she had heard in the locker room.
'He seemed OK.' Judith sucked in her breath, which effectively meant 'but'.
'He was working his way through the patients beautifully at first, I was hoping to have the place a bit more ordered for you, but he went into cubicle four about an hour ago and has barely moved since.'
'What's the problem?'
'Nothing!' Judith said, clearly exasperated. 'There's a young head injury that needed to be discharged but instead of getting on, he's chatting awayeven the patient's mother is getting impatient and wanting to leave.' Seeing Harriet frown, Judith explained further. 'The young girl studies classical ballet. Apparently she's really talented and, given that Dr Delgato has a "special interest" in sports medicine, he's decided to give her the five-star treatment.'
'Judith!' Even though it was a mere word, a single syllable, Harriet knew without turning her head this must surely be the new consultant. 'I would like to take some blood on this patient.' His thick accent was as deep and delicious as promised, but as Harriet swung around she was mentally knocked sideways at the sheer impact of Ciro close up. For once, the girl talk in the locker room had been woefully inadequate. Sexy didn't come close to describing him. Straight raven hair flopped over a divinely sculptured face, cheekbones razoring his haughty profile, but his delicious mocha-coloured eyes started to darken as Judith's tongue sharpened.
'That patient is a simple head injury who should have been discharged an hour ago,' Judith barked. 'You're not working at the sports institute now, young man. If she wants specialist treatment just because she's a ballerina, then a city emergency room isn't the place to get it.'
You had to know her to love her.
Had to know that behind that rather rigid exterior beat a heart of solid gold.
And even if Harriet had only known Judith a few short months, she'd met many Judiths in her time. Women whose barks were far, far worse than their bites. Old-school nurses who thought anyone under the age of fifty were just babies who needed to be told.
But whatever mould Judith came from must have broken when it hit the Mediterranean because clearly no one had spoken to Ciro like that before. His brown eyes were almost bulging now, his expression utterly incensed, and Harriet almost felt herself bracing for an impact, half expected a tirade of Spanish expletives to fill the emergency corridor. But even if his voice was controlled when it came, even if his stance remained utterly composed, the force of his angry glare, the slight twist of his lips as the staccato words came out had even the formidable Judith withering a touch under his direct stare.
'All my patients get special treatment, Sister. So do not even attempt to insinuate'
'I was merely pointing out' Judith attempted, but Ciro curtly shook his head.
'Are you on duty in the morning?' he demanded, waiting until Judith finally nodded.
'Then you should be very grateful to me. Very grateful that you are not the sister in charge when a fifteen-year-old girl who was discharged from your department the previous night comes in either in a state of collapse or cardiac arrest! I will take care of this by myself.' Stalking off, he left Judith, probably for the first time in her nursing career, standing open-mouthed and blushing.
Handover was rapid. Judith was unusually subdued and the rest of the day staff were no doubt keen to escape for the last few hours of Saturday night. When it was over Harriet took a few moments to allocate the staff beneath her, first asking if anyone had any preferences.
'Resus,' Charlotte immediately asked, and Harriet gave a small grin at her enthusiasm.
'You can work in there, with Susan,' Harriet agreed, keen to give the grad nurse the experience she needed, but ever mindful of staff-patient ratios. 'But when it's quiet, you'll need to give a hand out in A bay.'
'Louise.' Harriet gave an apologetic grimace, knowing that most emergency nurses wanted to be in where the action was, not watching from a glass booth in the waiting room. 'Do you mind covering Triage for the first part of the night? I'll make sure that I rotate staff.'
'Fine,' Louise agreed with a not too thinly disguised sigh, which Harriet chose to ignore. As the senior nurse on duty she needed to be on the floor and needed to delegate the staff appropriately, and Triage was important. As the first port of call for patients it needed a perceptive, experienced nurse to assess the patients and categorise them. As much as most nurses hated being in there, it was one of the most important roles in a well-run emergency department and a leaf or two out of Judith's book wouldn't go amiss.
After a quick check to make sure everything was in order, Harriet headed for the changing room and, sure enough, there Judith was, slowly emptying her locker, filling her wicker basket with her Thermos and sandwich container, her proud face not even looking over as Harriet slipped in quietly.
'I know you are,' Harriet started, not quite sure how to broach this difficult, proud woman but knowing she was hurting. Knowing that, unlike the rest of the mob who had scampered off after handover to the pub or their families, Judith would be going home to an empty house and that the only part of the shift she would remember was the final part. 'Look, in a couple of weeks you two will probably be friends,' Harriet ventured, and Judith gave a tired nod.
'Probably. Oh, Harriet, I didn't mean to imply that he was giving her preferential treatment just because she was a dancer.'
'No, you probably didn't.' Harriet gave a half-smile. 'But that was what you said, Judith, and, given it's his first shift in Emergency in this country and English isn't his first language, and given that your sense of humour doesn't come with a user manual, he'd be forgiven for thinking that you meant it.'
After the longest time Judith nodded, even managed a watery smile. 'Should I apologise?'
'Heavens, no!' Harriet gave a far wider grin this time. 'Never apologise to a doctor, Judith, you know that better than me.'
Heading back to the department, happy that Judith wasn't if exactly cheered at least feeling a bit better, Harriet eyed the whiteboard, planning her next move. She wasn't sure what reached her senses first, the deep voice or the heady scent of his aftershave, but for reasons she couldn't even begin to fathom, every sense was on high alert as an all-too-familiar request met her ears.
'Who is in charge?'
Harriet felt her confident introduction dissipate into a croak.
'That would be me,' she somehow managed, dragging her eyes upwards. Incredibly tall, he was easily a good few inches taller than Drew who stood at six-one, but there was nothing remotely slender about him. Ciro was an absolute brute of a man, impossibly wide shoulders, the short-sleeved theatre blues displaying muscular forearms, dusted with dark hairs. Even his hands, holding out a casualty card towards her, were somehow sexyolive-skinned and long-fingered. Harriet immediately felt incredibly guilty for even noticing they were utterly devoid of a wedding ring.
'The sister who was on before was very dismissive, but I am preocupado ' Ciro hesitated. 'Worried,' he corrected, and even though she'd already guessed what he was alluding to she gave a small appreciative nod when he translated his word effectively. 'Very worried and concerned about this patient.'
Grateful for something to concentrate on other than this divine specimen, she took the casualty card and skimmed through the notes written by the evening doctor Ciro had taken over from, cutting through the medical jargon in a moment and summing up the bare facts. 'Alyssa Harrison, fifteen years old. Fell at a ballet rehearsal, lacerated scalp, sutured, neuro obs stable, ready for discharge. What's concerning you, Doctor?'
'A lot, I think.' His voice was serious, and he gestured to an empty cubicle. 'Can I speak with you for a moment?'
'Of course!' Harriet agreed, but nothing was that simple in Emergency. Before heading off, she flagged down a passing RN with the words, 'I won't be long,' and, handing the drug keys to Susan, she added, 'Dr Delgato wants a word in private.'
'Lucky thing.' Susan grinned. 'Take as long as you needI would.'
Thankfully the short walk allowed her blush to fade. No man had even come close to causing such a reaction in her and Harriet didn't even need to glance at the ring that adorned her own finger to know that whatever she was feeling was inappropriate.