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Straight From The Heart
By Josie Metcalfe
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Business as usual."
Finn groaned and sighed with a combination of weariness and contentment when he caught sight of the clock above the lockers, only then realising that he'd come to the end of his shift. He raked one hand through hair that had been plastered to his skull by one of those dratted disposable hats while the other massaged the sore muscles in his back.
At least it had been worth getting backache today, he reflected with a glow of satisfaction. His efforts had been enough to stabilise the victims cut from their crushed car so that they'd survived long enough to be transferred up to the operating theatre. Not only that, but they actually stood a very good chance of recovery, albeit with a few scars they hadn't had before.
"Age starting to get to you, Finn?" challenged a husky voice from the doorway behind him and he had to fight the grin that wanted to answer the taunt. This teasing was business as usual, too, and had been ever since he'd been introduced to Freya Innes.
"In your dreams," he retorted, turning to face the diminutive sprite standing by the partly open door, her slender curves all but hidden under the oversized green scrubs. He also had to fight his body's natural reaction to wide grey eyes filled with mischief and the heart-shaped face framed by long dark spirals that had escaped from the tyranny of a French plait - as usual.
"You haven't been at St David's a year. You're going to have to wait a lot longer if you want to step into my shoes," he growled as he slumped onto the bench to one side of the row of lockers and leant back against the wall.
Freya gazed disdainfully down at the shoes in question, still lying higgledy-piggledy where he'd kicked them off just inside the door.
"They're not shoes ... they're boats," she declared, nudging one with a foot that was barely half the size.
"Just remember to say 'Aye, Aye' when you call me Captain," he teased, then reached automatically for the hem of his top, stripping it off in one practised move.
He paused in the act of lobbing it into the open laundry bin, surprised by the wash of colour deepening over Freya's cheeks.
Freya? Embarrassed by the sight of his semi-naked body? No way, not after all those years of medical training, he thought dismissively and completed the throw.
"So, was there some special reason you wanted to see me?" he asked, a wicked demon in the back of his mind still wondering what sort of colour she would go if he stripped off the other half of his scrubs. She'd been so easy to tease right from their first introduction, and that hadn't changed even though they'd known each other for several years now.
"Oh, nothing special," she said with a slightly unconvincing air of nonchalance. "I was just wondering how your weekend went. We've been so busy that I haven't had a chance to speak to you, and I wanted to catch you before you went off duty."
"It was great." He knew the broad smile on his face told its own story. He always enjoyed spending time with his nephews, even if it did leave him with a lingering feeling that his own frantically busy life was somehow empty in comparison to his brother's.
"Those kids are growing up so fast," he said with a disbelieving shake of his head. "It's one thing to learn about it in a textbook, but to see it happening in front of your own eyes ... Do you know what they did this time? They waited until I dozed off in the deckchair, then tied the laces of my trainers together. Then they shouted for help!"
He scowled when he remembered the ignominious heap he'd landed in, but couldn't hold onto it in the face of her delighted laughter.
"I wish I'd seen that," she chuckled. "Uncle Finn felled by two five-year-olds."
"You should have been there," he pointed out, suddenly serious. "Astrid said she'd invited you weeks ago."
"You know what work's like around here," she said with a shrug. "Especially when you're one of the lowly juniors."
"Surely you could have swapped shifts with someone - it was your sister's birthday after all. Your mother said it's been weeks since any of them have seen you." He couldn't help the censure in his voice. Since his brother had married Freya's sister it had been a true joining of families, with all celebrations shared. He hadn't liked to hear the concern in her parents' voices when they'd said how long it had been since they'd seen their youngest. Now it was going to be up to him to break their news, and he wasn't looking forward to it. He'd decided it wasn't a good idea to speak to her at the beginning of their shift and had forced himself to tuck the information in the back of his mind while he worked.
"It's just the way my shifts have worked out recently," she continued, but something in her voice didn't ring quite true and he noticed that she wasn't meeting his eyes.
Now that he thought about it, she'd been doing that for a while now, and it was something unusual in this straight-talking woman. Was she hiding something?
With a sudden pang he wondered if there was a reason why all her free time might be taken up with interests other than visiting her family. He'd been keeping a brotherly eye on her when he wanted so much more. After all this time - more than six years, and counting - was there a man in her life?
If there was, she didn't look particularly happy about it. In fact, she looked even more exhausted than he felt coming to the end of the same busy shift, and they'd both been working the same long hours for weeks. Now that he really looked at her, he could see that she looked completely bone-weary, almost as if she hadn't slept well for a very long time.
Mind you, that sort of exhaustion could have an entirely sexual reason if she was in the early throes of a passionate affair ... but that was a speculation that didn't sit very easily on him in relation to the woman he'd had to force himself to think of as nothing more than his sister-inlaw's sister. Somehow, he didn't want to picture the little half-pint-sized sprite in bed with any of the overgrown schoolboys and lecherous Lotharios that surrounded her in such a busy hospital.
They might not be related by blood, but they were part of the same family after all, he reminded himself hastily, totally ignoring the little voice at the back of his brain that insisted that wasn't why he was concerned.
Excerpted from Straight From The Heart by Josie Metcalfe Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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