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'Dream on, Jordan. People like you only ever clean their floors.'
Tom had never forgotten that hard-nosed teacher or his words, which had eventually driven him to prove that teacher wrong. Prove everyone in Derrybrook wrongwell, almost everyone. Two people hadn't needed convincing because they'd always believed in him.
The penthouse and the Ferrari were his way of giving those bastards from Derrybrook 'the finger'. The long, hard journey to being head of the world-renowned neurosurgery department at Sydney Harbour Hospital was another beast entirelya personal tribute to one of life's special men.
His nostrils twitched as a slight musty aroma mixed in with the sharp citrus of cleaning products, drifted out from inside and lingered on the afternoon air. His cleaning lady had been both liberal and vigorous with their use in meeting the challenge of ridding the apartment of stale airthe legacy of having been closed up for well over a year. A year that had started out like any other, on a day that had been so routine it would have gone unnoticed in the annals of history yet for one tiny moment of mistiming, which had changed everything. Irrevocably. Irreversibly and indelibly.
For twenty-two months he'd stayed away from Sydney, not ever imagining he could return to the
one place that represented everything he'd lost, but, just like that one moment in time, things had once again changed. Two months ago on Cottles-loe beach in Perth, the wind had whipped up in him an urge so strong it had had him contemplating heading east, but to what? A week later he'd received a joint invitation from Eric Frobisher, Medical Director of SHH, and Richard Hewit-son, Dean of Parkes University's School of Medicine, inviting him to give a series of guest lectures over six weeks for staff and medical students. His initial reaction had been to refuse. He wasn't a teacher and lecturing wasn't what he wantedit didn't even come close, but on a scale of necessity it was better than doing nothing at all. Doing nothing had sent him spiralling into a black hole that had threatened to keep him captive.
He gripped the balcony rails so tightly that the skin on his knuckles burned. This past year had been all about 're-education' and was the first step onto the ladder of his new life. Once before he'd dragged himself up by the bootstraps and, by hell, he could do it again. He had to do it again. Only this time, unlike in his childhood, at least he wouldn't see their pity or disdain.
A nip in the air bit into him, making him shiver, and he turned slowly, reaching out his hands to feel the outdoor table. Having made contact, he counted five steps and commenced walking straight until his extended left hand pressed against the slightly open glass door. Running the fingers of his right hand down the pane, he kept them moving until they touched and then gripped the rectangular handle. He pulled the door fully open and stepped inside, barely noticing the change in light.
'And we're done. Good work, everyone. Thank you.' Hayley Grey, final-year surgical registrar, stepped back from the operating table and stripped off her gloves, leaving her patient in the capable hands of the anaesthetist and nursing staff. The surgery would later be described in the report as a routine appendectomy and only she and her night-duty team would know how close it had come to being a full-on disaster of septic shock with a peritoneum full of pus. Kylie Jefferson was an extremely lucky young woman. Another hour and things could have been very different.
Hayley pushed open the theatre swing doors, crossed the now quiet scrub-in area and exited through another set of doors until she was out in the long theatre suite corridor. She rolled back her shoulders as three a.m. fatigue hit her, taunting her with the luxury of sleep. Glorious and tempting sleep, which, she knew, if she gave in to and snuggled down in her bed, would only slap her hard and instantly depart with a bitter laugh. No, after years of experience she knew better than to try. She'd stick to her routinetype up her report on the computer, have something to eat, do an early roundand only then, as dawn was breaking, would she head home.
'Hayley, we've got cake.'
'What sort of cake?'
Jenny, the night-duty theatre nurse manager, rolled her eyes as Hayley walked into an unexpectedly busy staff lounge. Earlier in the night a road trauma case had put everyone on edge and Hayley had seen the tension on their faces when she'd arrived for her case. Two hours later, with the RT patient in ICU, the adrenaline had drained away, and the nursing staff was debriefing in the low-lit room, curled up on the couches and tucked up in warm theatre towels.
She automatically switched on the main bank of lights to make the room reassuringly brighter.
Hands flew to eyes as a chorus of 'It's too bright. Turn them off', deafened her.
Jenny compromised by turning off the set over the couches. 'After a month here, do you really have to ask what type of cake?'
Hayley gave a quiet smile. 'In that case I'll have the mud cake. Lucky I like chocolate.'
Although she'd only been at 'The Harbour' for four weeks, she'd already learned that the night-duty theatre team had an addiction to chocolate and caffeine, which, given their unsociable hours and the types of cases they often dealt with, was completely understandable. They were also an outgoing crew and although Hayley appreciated their friendliness, she often found it a bit daunting. Once she'd had a sister who had been as close a friend as a girl could ever have and, try as she might, she'd never been able to find the same sort of bond with anyone else. Sure, she had friends, but she always felt slightly disconnected. However, she could feel The Harbour staff slowly drawing her in.
'Everyone loves chocolate.' Jenny plated a generous triangle of the rich cake and passed it over.
'Tom Jordan didn't.' Becca, one of the scrub nurses, cradled her mug of coffee in both hands.
An audible sigh rolled around the roomone that combined the bliss of an en masse crush along with regret. This happened every single time someone mentioned the previous head of neuro-surgery. Hayley had never met the man, but apparently he'd left the hospital without warning almost two years ago.
Hayley forked off some cake as she sat down. 'Is a man who doesn't like chocolate worth missing?'
'Hayley! You know not of what you speak.' Becca pressed her mug to her heart. 'Our Tom was divine. Sure, he took no prisoners, was known to reduce the occasional obtuse medical and nursing student to tears, but he never demanded more of you than he demanded of himself.'
'Which was huge, by the way,' added Theo, the only male nurse on the team. 'The man lived and worked here, and patients came ahead of everything and everyone. Still, I learned more from him than any other surgeon I've worked with.'
'Watching Tom operate,' Jenny gave a wistful smile, 'watching the magic he wove with those long fingers of his, you forgave him any gruff words he might have uttered during tense moments. One look from those sea-green eyes and we'd lay down our lives for him.'
'Suzy lay down with him,' Theo teased the nurse sitting next to him. 'But he got away. Who's your man of the moment? Rumour is it's Finn Kennedy.'
Suzy punched Theo hard on the arm. 'At least I experienced him once. You're just jealous.'
'Of Finn Kennedy? Not likely.' But the muscles around Theo's mouth had tightened.
Suzy shot Hayley a cool look. 'Theo quite fancied Tom, and the fact he's an amazing lover just makes Theo even sadder that he doesn't bat for his team.'
Hayley was used to the nurses teasing, but this time it all seemed way over the top. Laughing, she said, 'Gorgeous, talented, dedicated and a lover beyond Valentino? Now I know you're making this up.'
The aura of the room changed instantly and Jenny shot her a reproving look. 'No one could make Tom up. He's one of a kind.'
Hayley let the chocolate float on her tongue before swallowing another bite of the delicious cake. 'If he's so amazing and at the top of his game, why did he leave the prestigious Harbour?'
Becca grimaced. 'That's what we don't know. Tom took leave and then, without warning, management announced that Rupert Davidson would be acting head of Neuro while they searched the world for a new head. Then they clammed up when we asked questions.'
Jenny nodded. 'We've phoned Tom, but his number's no longer in use, we've done online searches, wondering if he took a job in the States or the UK, but the last entry about him was his final operation here. The man's gone to ground and doesn't want to be found.'
'I just hope that, wherever he is, he's working. Talent like that shouldn't be wasted.' Theo rose as the PA called the team into action. 'Oh, and, Hayley, we're competing against ICU to win the "Planet Savers" competition. You're our weak link. Can you please turn off the lights when you leave?'
She bit her lip. 'I'll try.'