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Marco D'Arvello paused in a pool of sunlight on the suspended walkway and watched the boats in Sydney Harbour. Not your usual view from a hospital corridor. He hoped to do more than just observe this country before he had to leave, but once this last client was seen he was booked up with all the surgery he could manage before he moved on.
That was how he liked it.
His attention returned to the consultant's referral in his hand. 'Foetal urinary obstruction.' Should be a fairly simple scope and shunt, he mused as he pushed open the door to his temporary rooms. The lack of waiting-room chairs meant his patients had to wait in his office. It wasn't really ideal but the view was worth it.
His borrowed secretary blushed. 'Good morning, Dr D'Arvello.'
'Please, you must call me Marco.' He perched on the edge of her desk, oblivious to the flutter he caused, and peered across at her computer screen. 'Has Miss Cooper arrived?'
Marlise sucked in her stomach and pointed one manicured figure at the screen. 'Yes. About ten minutes ago.'
'Bene.' No time for dawdling. He hated tardiness himself.
When Marco strode through his door the view of the harbour and his nebulous thoughts of probable intra-uterine surgery paled into the background as Miss Cooper's smooth bob swung towards him.
Bellissima! The sun danced on the molten highlights of her hair like the boats on the waves outside, and emerald eyes, direct and calm against his suddenly dazed scrutiny, stared back at him as he crossed the room and held out his hand.
She shifted the big handbag on her lap and a smaller one as well, and stood up. Two bags? He forgot the bags, focussed on the slender hand in front of his, and remembered to breathe. Her fingers were cool and firm and he forced himself to let them slide from his grasp.
Her face. Serenity, wisdom, yet vulnerable? How could that be? She was older than he had expected, perhaps late twenties, maybe early thirties, the perfect age, and where she hid her baby he did not know, but she certainly had that gorgeous pregnant glow about her.
Marco consulted his notes to give time to assemble his scattered thoughts but he only grew more confused. Twenty-six weeks' gestation? 'You don't look very um pregnant.' Hell. Say something unprofessional, why don't you?
Emily Cooper blinked. They hadn't told her the new hotshot o and G consultant exuded raw magnetism like a roving gypsy king. Hair too long, too dark, windswept, and gorgeous velvety brown eyes that made her want to melt into the hospital carpet.
Her have another baby? If she could make her mouth work it'd better not laugh. 'I'm not pregnant.' Once was enough, she thought.
She hadn't had a relationship in who knew how long. Her shaky legs suggested she sit, but once safely down she felt like a sex-starved midget with him towering over her. But it wasn't only that, it was the whole broad-shouldered, 'span your waist with his big hands' thing that was happening. A random 'if I was going to have sex it would have to be with someone like him' thought that made her blink. Not her usual fantasythat was more in line with 'wish I could sleep the clock around'.
Thankfully he stepped around the desk and she savoured the relief of increased space between them.
'But you're here for in-utero surgery yes?' Such a delicious Italian accent. Emily tasted the sound like chocolate on her tongue.
Marco stared at the paper in his hand. He could easily grasp the most complicated sequences of micro-surgery but this he could not fathom. Not only the sudden misbehaviour of his rampant sex hormones but the concept of being inexplicably glad Miss Cooper was not pregnant. It was all very strange. Perhaps with the desk between them his brain would function.
Before she could answer, the sound of footsteps and a young woman appeared hurriedly at the door. Things fell quickly into place.
'How could you start without me, Mum?'
Fool. He felt like smacking his forehead. But excellent. He could see the similarities as the still barely pregnant-looking daughter came into his office with a mulish look to her rosebud mouth as she took the other handbag from her mother.
'My apologies, Miss Cooper.' He smiled and held out his hand. 'I am Marco D'Arvello.' reluctantly the young woman shook his hand. 'We have yet to begin.' He extended his apology to Emily. 'And forgive me, too, Mrs Cooper.'
The daughter glowered and glanced at her mother. 'We're both Miss Cooper. Mum's Emily and I'm Annie. Illegitimacy runs in the family.'
Emily. Marco struggled to keep his face neutral when, in fact, he wanted to stand between this little virago and her poor mother. He was slightly relieved to see that Emily had ignored her daughter's outburst. Truly, family dynamics were none of his business, he didn't want them to ever be his business, so why did he feel so discomfited by what was going on here?
He forced himself to concentrate on the younger woman. 'Then let us discuss your child, Annie.' He gestured to the other chair. 'Please, be seated and we will begin.'
Emily held back the sigh along with the need to fan her face. Maybe she could disappear into the carpet until the air-conditioner cooled her cheeks. Why did her daughter's newly emergent evil twin have to appear here? The secretive one she didn't recognise. It was okay. Her daughter was emotional, scared for her baby and angry with the world since Gran had died.
Emily was pretty angry about that herself but really she just longed for the delightful girl child Annie had been up until the last two months.
Illegitimacy runs in the family. Cringe-worthy at the very least. No chance of sex with him now.
The thought brought a reluctant whisper of ironic amusement and suddenly she didn't feel the need to sink into that scratchy hospital carpet; she could focus.
Which was lucky because they'd carried on without her.
'There are three types of foetal surgery. One we do only with a needle. Another is the opposite, and similar to a Caesarean section where we work directly on the anes-thetised foetus, which we remove from the uterus and then return.'
Incredible what they could do. Emily watched his face. So intense and obviously passionate about something he knew so well. She couldn't imagine the tension in an operating theatre for such a procedure. It sounded easy. Too easy for reality.
'The risks of premature labour are greatest the larger the incision into the uterus, of course, until sometimes it is better to wait to deliver the baby and perform the surgery ex utero.'
Annie was chewing her lip. 'So can we wait for my baby?'
'Those cases depend on the foetal problem. Your baby is twenty-six weeks old, too young for the risk of premature labour or delivery, too old to be left much longer before damage cannot be reversed, and so we move on to the next alternative.'
He picked up the large envelope of ultrasounds and crossed to the light projector on the wall to clip up the dark images.
They all moved to fan around the light source. 'Foetoscopy would be my preferred option in your case. Or Fetendolike the child's gamebecause the instruments are controlled while watching a screen and are less than a pencil width in diameter.' 'Neat.'
'Si.' He smiled, the room lit up, and Emily felt like grabbing her sunglasses from her bag. Probably just because working permanent nights made you sensitive to light.
Marco pointed with one longer finger. 'Your baby has a narrowing of the neck of the bladder.' He circled the darkness of the bladder on the film. 'In simple terms, the door to releasing urine from the bladder has closed almost completely and the kidneys are swelling with the retained fluid. I would have wished to perform this surgery at least four weeks ago for maximum protection of your baby's kidneys.'
Emily felt she had to explain. 'We've only just found out about my daughter's pregnancy. This is the first scan she's had. It's all been a bit of a shock.'
Understatement. And not just the pregnancy. Disbelief that her daughter had fallen into the same circumstances as herself had paled when they'd discovered Annie's baby was at risk.
Emily's fierce protective instinct embraced this tiny new member of their family wholeheartedly because already she loved this little dark gnome on the ultrasound films.
'Si. So we will schedule surgery as soon as possible. I believe the repair can be achieved by foetoscopy under ultrasound imaging.'
He smiled at Annie. 'The instruments are fine and require a very small incision.' He glanced at them both under dark brows. 'Tomorrow?'
'Tomorrow?' Annie's squeak made Emily's hand slip across the distance between them to squeeze her daughter's cold fingers.
'It's okay. Better have it done as soon as possible for baby.' She looked at this man they were entrusting Annie and her baby's future to.
His strong profile and unwavering eyes somehow imbued the confidence she needed that these risks were worth it. 'Do you think much damage has been done to baby's kidneys already?'
He tactfully shrugged his broad shoulders and their eyes met and held. She could feel his compassion. His understanding of her fear.
They both glanced at Annie. 'We wait. It will be difficult to tell until after the operation. Hopefully the amniotic fluid volume will increase as the bladder is allowed to empty. That will be a good sign.'
He looked at them both. 'And in a few months, after the birth, there will be tests to give a true indication.'
Marco watched the young woman to see if she realised there was still doubt on the final outcome. They did not intrude on the dark sea of the foetal world without good reason. Annie's eyes, glistening green like her mother's, were glued to his face. 'So the procedure is safe for my baby?'
Ah. She began to comprehend and this part of it he could reassure her on. 'I have performed foetoscopies many times, and while you must be aware of the risksyour own anesthetic, your baby's analgesia, which we administer to prevent the procedure causing pain, and the risk of premature labour I spoke about beforeto not perform this surgery would ensure a poor quality of life for your child, with extremely damaged kidneys.'
Annie gulped and nodded. 'Yes. I see.'
Perhaps he had been too blunt? 'I do not say these things to frighten you, but for you to know I believe this needs to be done, and as soon as possible.' He touched Annie's shoulder reassuringly. 'Do you understand?'
Annie glanced at her mother and nodded her head 'Okay. But I don't want to know any more. Let's just get it over with, then.'
'Si.' He moved to the door and they both stood up. 'I will arrange this now.' He glanced at the notes in his hand. 'I have your mobile phone number and will confirm the time Annie is to arrive tomorrow morning. You live together?'
'Yes.' Emily nodded. 'How long will she be in hospital?'
He pursed those sinfully chiselled lips and Emily diverted her glance quickly away to watch her daughter. 'The risk of premature birth is still present so at least forty-eight hours. My secretary will arrange for Annie to have an injection to help mature her baby's lungs should premature labour occur. This will be repeated tomorrow before surgery. If we have to open the uterus, her stay in hospital would be almost a week.'
Emily glanced back, careful to avoid looking at his face, stared instead at his collar and nodded. 'Thank you, Doctor.'
Marco looked at Annie. 'You are sure you have no other questions?' All mulishness and bravado had fallen away and Annie looked what she was. An apprehensive young woman scared for her baby.
'As long as my baby will be all right, Doctor?'
'Please, call me Marco. And your baby's wellness is our goal. Bene. I will see you tomorrow.'
Annie stiffened her shoulders and lifted her chin. 'Tomorrow.' She nodded, resolute. Now he admired her. No doubt her courage came from her mother. 'Thank you, Marco.'
The mother, Emily, just smiled and followed her daughter. No doubt this woman's whole life revolved around the girl, which would explain why there was an imbalance of power for the teenage years. He watched them walk away and readjusted his thinking. The daughter wasn't too bad. Just stressed. And if his child had required what hers did, he'd be stressed too.
He tried not to think about the mother. Because he really wanted to think about her. A lot.
But she did not look the kind of woman to have an affair, a liaison for just a month, while he worked in Sydney.
Unfortunately, after such brief exposure, her image was burned into his brain. Miss Cooper. Emily. Green eyes and vulnerable wisdom.