Read an Excerpt
'We need you, Anne. I wouldn't ask but this is a real emergency.'
'What's up, Jeff? I thought you were in Theatre with a complicated valve replacement case.'
'I am. Got to scrub back in in a sec. We've got a theatre free up here but no surgeon. Six-year-old kid coming up from Emergency that I don't want to give to a registrar.'
'Hit by a car. Chest injuries, possible tamponade. There's an ED team coming up with him.'
'I'm onto it. Which theatre?'
'Three. They're setting up now. Are you sure, Annie? Your back all right?'
A wry chuckle came down the phone line. As long as you can still reach the table. I'll come in to assist as soon as I can leave my reg to close up.'
'I'll be fine, Jeff.'
Anne hit the 'save' button for the paper she'd been working on and pushed her chair back. It hadn't been so long since she would have leapt to her feet to respond to a call like this. Her brain was still fast enough but her body had somewhat different ideas.
Almost eight months pregnant. With twins, and her bump was impressive by anyone's standards. Her feet were swollen as well and she had permanent backache these days. Due to start a sabbatical break in just a week, Anne was using these last days to catch up on things there was never enough time for. Like journal reading to keep up with new developments in her field and departmental administration tasks, and her favourite—writing up papers to submit to specialist paediatric cardiovascular surgical journals. Already, her list of peer-reviewed papers was something to be proud of and the main goal of the upcoming break in her full on career was to recapture the joy of producing something to interest, if not challenge, like minds.
She couldn't turn away from this call, however. Not when the life of a six-year-old child was at stake.
The route from her office to the theatre suite only involved one flight of stairs so there was no point waiting for the elevator. Annoying to be so out of breath by the time she pushed open the fire-stop door in the stairwell but at least she was here before her patient.
A 'ping' announcing the arrival of an elevator sounded as Anne stepped through the swing door of the stairwell. The metal doors of the lift slid open by the time she was directly in front of them and there could be no doubt that this was the emergency she had been called upstairs for. The small space behind those doors was crowded.
A bed with a small person on it. A nurse holding bags of fluid steady on an IV pole. A doctor at the head of the bed holding an ambu-bag to assist breathing if necessary. A frame over the bed supported a defibril-lator and other monitoring equipment. Another nurse was wedged in, carrying an oxygen cylinder, and leading the team was a consultant from the emergency department.
That consultant was someone Anne knew very well indeed but had never expected to see again. For just a heartbeat, she totally forgot what she was here for.
He'd left St Patrick's hospital almost a year ago. He'd made no bones about being prepared to give up his senior position in the emergency department because it was the easiest way to end their relationship. Probably the only way they could finally tear apart a connection that was strong enough to be irresistible, but they had both known it was going nowhere.
How ironic that they should meet again like this.
For David to see her pregnant.
And in that same heartbeat, as his gaze lifted to meet hers, Anne tried desperately to signal a message.
It's not what you think.
Oh, my God!
The shock was a physical thing. A kind of detonation somewhere behind his ribs that sent shockwaves rippling through his body. Unpleasant, electrical sort of jolts.
Anne was pregnant.
Glowing with it. Looking more beautiful than he ever remembered, with her rich, dark hair flowing over her shoulders and a loose, soft cotton top that caressed the huge bump of her stomach.
So it hadn't been that she hadn't ever wanted a family.
She just hadn't wanted one with him.
David didn't need to catch the flash of guilt in her eyes to confirm what was so blindingly obvious. Shock morphed instantly into a pain that he knew would become anger.
But not now.
'Keiran Burroughs, aged six,' he snapped. 'Hit by a car going approximately forty-five kilometres an hour. Flail chest, tension pneumothorax. Three-fifty mils drained so far. Cardiac arrhythmia—runs of VPBs. Arrested in ED prior to chest drain insertion and pericardiocentesis.'
The bed was moving forward as he spoke, underlying the urgency of getting this child into Theatre. Anne was assessing the boy visually, noting his lack of consciousness and pallor. She was also trying to read the figures on the monitor screens.
'I'll put them up while you get scrubbed.' He could see the anaesthetist waiting at the entrance to the theatre anteroom. As the bed was manoeuvred through the doorway, an alarm sounded from the life pack monitoring the heart rhythm. He was turning away from the surgeon as he spoke again.
'My shift has finished,' he said. 'I'd like to stay in Theatre if that's okay with you.'
Anne was also turning away, heading at speed towards the locker room.
'Of course,' was all she said. 'Fine by me.'
The bristles of the small, soap-impregnated brush were tough enough to make her skin sting. Or perhaps that was because she was scrubbing so hard and fast. Under her nails. Over and between her fingers. All the way up to her elbows.
Thank goodness she had something so automatic to do and something to think about that was so urgent it could override her reactions to seeing David again and knowing that he would be somewhere amongst the gowned and masked figures in Theatre with her.
Anne began rinsing her hands, angling them so that the water went from fingertip to elbow. Okay, maybe she wasn't being quite as successful as she thought. Had it only been this morning when she'd had coffee with her sister, Julia, and they'd been laughing? Excited about the imminent birth of these babies. Discussing names. Planning and dreaming for what lay ahead as they came so close to the culmination of a long-awaited dream.
Life could turn on a sixpence, couldn't it?
Happiness could be twisted and become unrecognisable. Get replaced with sadness and guilt and a tension she couldn't begin to analyse because there was someone far more important that David or herself or even her babies to consider right now. A small boy and his family whose lives had been derailed far more dangerously than her own.
This time, her success was complete. As a nurse tied the strings of her gown—not without difficulty given her new size—Anne Bennett had nothing on her mind other than the task that lay immediately ahead of her. Saving the life of little Keiran.
It was unusual enough to have a woman who was only in her mid-thirties holding a senior position in a specialty as tough as this one. Even more unusual to see one working around the challenges presented by advanced pregnancy.
So advanced, it looked as if Anne might need to put her scalpel down and give birth at any moment.
David had only been gone for a year. Not quite a year, in fact, which meant that she must have become pregnant within weeks of him leaving the country.
Oh, anger was there all right. When he thought back to the sheer torment of uprooting himself. Trying to settle in a new place and a new job with the background misery of mourning a relationship that had died. Wishing it could have been different. Feeling displaced and… downright lonely.
And what had Anne been doing? Starting again. Sleeping with some other guy. Planning a family and a future. Disgust mixed with anger and hardened the stare David had fixed on the surgeon. Not that Anne was remotely aware of it, of course, and something else got mixed into that nasty emotional brew.
Jealousy. Not just for the fact that she'd been enjoying life while he'd been suffering. Or for the man she had chosen to be the father of her child. Right now, it was for her focus. Her career. The way she could be so totally absorbed in what she was doing that anything personal ceased to exist. Anne was completely free of the turbulent, painful thoughts David couldn't quite distract himself from. But it had always been like that, hadn't it? That focus. The passion that was more important than anything else in life.
If he was scrubbed in and right alongside the table he could have emptied his head and heart of anything other than this case. Even where he was, close to the anaesthetist at the head of the table where he was getting the best view without being in anyone's way, he could lose himself often enough to keep him from walking out of the operating theatre.
The tension was contagious. The difficulty in controlling the bleeding enough to see what damage lay inside that small chest. The time-critical period of starting cardiac bypass to allow repairs to the heart itself. David had to wait long enough to see what he'd been trying to deal with in the emergency department. The damage that the sharp ends of fractured ribs had caused to the vital organs they were supposed to protect. And then he had to see it though.
He was here because he had worked so hard already to stabilise this child and get him to Theatre. His determination to save the boy was still there and however irrelevant it now was, it was compelling to still be part of this equation. As though he could still make a contribution to the outcome. Staying long enough to know what that outcome was going to be was important. David had to wait and see if the heart could be restarted and whether the patchwork of repairs would be up to the job of supplying blood and oxygen under sufficient pressure to sustain life.
In between the dramatic start and finding out how this story would end was a lull as far as David was concerned, however. It was too hard to see into the chest cavity clearly enough to admire the tiny, neat sutures the surgeon was making. He could watch the monitors and follow any deterioration or improvement in the little boy's condition and he could listen to the verbal exchanges between the surgical team members and watch the instruments and equipment being used, but too much of his own head was free to wander. To stand back, like the observer he was physically. And how could he stay completely focused when he could hear Anne's voice giving quiet but clear instructions to her scrub nurse or registrar or asking for information on what the monitors were recording?
When he could see the shape of her body every time he looked up from the open square in the sterile, green drapes.
This was just so… wrong!
It had been him who'd wanted a family so much it had begun to poison what had been the love affair of his life.
Anne had been so adamant she couldn't give him what he wanted.
She'd been there and done that. Effectively been a mother from when she was still a child herself to her younger sister, Julia, when their mother had died shortly after Julia's birth.
They'd lived with a series of nannies in the household and she'd said she'd never wish that on a child of her own.
She'd fought hard to win the career of her dreams and no matter how much she loved David she couldn't give that up because she would be giving up too much of who she was.
But here she was. About to have a baby and, if she intended to keep her career, that child would be raised, to quite a large extent, by nannies. Or had she found a lover whose ambition was to be a house-husband?
Surely not. With a mind as sharp as Anne's, she needed someone she could talk to. Discuss her career with and medicine in general. The fascination she had with research and the ethical issues involved. The kind of animated, satisfying conversations she had always had with him.
When they hadn't been in each others arms, that was, indulging in a physical passion so powerful they had both known that being with anyone else could only be a compromise.
A compromise Anne had only too clearly been willing to make.
For someone else. Perhaps she'd planned it even before he'd made that final, excruciatingly painful decision to leave? Had the father of that baby already been waiting in the wings?
'Looking good,' he heard Anne say. 'I think we've done all we can. Let's start getting this lad off bypass.'
She sounded confident.She'd done all she could and, knowing Anne, it was probably enough.
David had done all he could as well, and not just for this little boy when he'd been under his care in the emergency department.
He'd done all he could to make their relationship work, hadn't he? And it hadn't been enough.
Suddenly sickened, David had to turn away. He didn't want to be here any longer. If he met Keiran's parents on the way out he would be able to tell them honestly that everything was going as well as they could hope for and that their son was in the best possible hands. He could go into Recovery in a little while and catch up with what was happening to this small patient.
And, in the meantime, he could spare himself the agony of seeing what had been going on in the life of the woman he loved since he'd removed himself from it. Spare himself the pain of hearing her voice.
Why on earth had he come back? Had he really thought that a three-month locum position here until he started a new posting overseas would be a good idea? It had seemed like a sensible punctuation mark in his life. He had loose ends to tie up that had been left. Just in case. Part of him hadn't been able to give up hoping that the separation might be all that had been needed to change Anne's mind.
If it hadn't, he'd be able to tick the box that said he'd done the right thing in leaving in the first place. That the misery of the last year had been worthwhile. He had achieved knowing he'd been right to leave in one fell swoop by simply catching sight of Anne. Killed that 'just in case' scenario stone dead. Now the problem was that he'd been through hell for no good reason whatsoever.
He'd given his heart to a woman who hadn't been honest with him. Hadn't actually been the woman he'd fallen in love with at all.
He could hate her for that. Hopefully.