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It was a shame, really. A man as handsome as Lincoln Maguire should have a personality to match, shouldn't he? The good doctorand he was more than good, he was exceptional when it came to his surgical expertisewas so completely focused on his work that he wouldn't recognize a light-hearted moment if one landed in the middle of his operating field.
Christy Michaels peered sideways at the man in question. His long, lean fingers danced across the keyboard as he clearly ignored the hospital staff's ideas and opinions regarding Mercy Memorial's part in Levitt Springs' upcoming Community Harvest Festival. Apparently, talk of craft booths, food vendors, and a golf tournament to benefit the cancer center and the local Relay for Life chapter didn't interest him enough to join in the conversation.
It wasn't the first time he'd distanced himself from the conversations swirling around him; he was the sort who came in, saw his patients, and left, usually with few people being the wiser. Today, though, his distant demeanoras if these details were too unimportant for his noticecoupled with her own special interest in the center and the treatment it provided, irritated her.
"I have an idea," she blurted out, well aware that she didn't but it hadn't been for lack of trying. She'd been considering optionsand discarding themfor weeks, because none had given her that inner assurance that "this was the one".
Yet as voices stilled and all eyes focused on herexcept for one midnight-blue pairshe had to come up with something unusual, something noteworthy enough to shock Dr Maguire into paying attention. With luck, he might even come out of his own little world and get involved.
"Make it snappy, Michaels," Denise Danton, her shift manager, said as she glanced at her watch. "The festival committee meets in five minutes and it takes at least that long to walk to the conference room."
Acknowledging Denise with a brief nod, she began, "It's something we haven't done before."
One of the nurses groaned. "If you're going to suggest a bachelor auction, it's already been mentioned. Personally, I think we need a newer idea."
Darn it, but that had been her suggestion. Rather than admit defeat, she thought fast. "We could create our own version of Dancing with the Stars. Only we would call it Dancing with the Doctors'"
Instantly, his hands slowed, and she was immensely pleased. And yet he didn't look away from the digital pages in front of him, so maybe he was only thinking about Mrs Halliday's chest tube and her antibiotic regimen.
"How would that work?" someone asked her.
She ad-libbed. "We'd sell tickets for the public to watch the doctors and their partners perform. People could vote for their favorite pairmaking a donation for the privilege, of courseand at the end, one lucky team is crowned the winner and all proceeds benefit the hospital."
Denise looked thoughtful. "Oh, I like that. We'd have to strong-arm enough physicians to participate, though."
"I'm sure any of them would jump at the opportunity to raise money for a good cause. Right, Dr Maguire?" she asked innocently.
If she hadn't taken that moment to glance directly at the side of his face, she might have missed the weary set to his mouth as well as the barely imperceptible shadow on his skin that suggested his day had begun far earlier than hers. The wisps of walnut-brown hair appearing out from under his green cap were damp, and perspiration dotted the bridge of his chiseled nose. His scrub suit was wrinkled and his breast pocket had a frayed edge at the seam.
Funny thing, but she hadn't noticed he'd looked quite so frazzled when he'd sat in the chair.
Instantly, Christy felt guilty for distracting him. In hindsight, she realized it wasn't his scheduled surgery day, which meant he was obviously filling in for one of his partners. It also meant he was rushing to finish the paperwork so he could see his private patients. From the volume of cases he brought to the hospital, his waiting room was probably packed and growing more so by the minute.
"Sure, why not," he answered without any real emotion, his attention still focused on his computer screen.
"Okay, then," she said brightly, ready to leave him to his work. "Denise, you can mention this at your meeting"
"Dr Maguire," the other woman said boldly, "you wouldn't mind participating, would you?"
This time, his hands froze. To Christy's surprise and dismay, his dark blue gaze met hers instead of Denise's and she was sure she saw exasperation in those depths. He clearly held her responsible, not only for being interrupted but also for having to field Denise's request.
However, when he addressed Denise, his tone was as pleasant and even-tempered as ever. "I'll forego the spot to make room for someone who's more capable."
"Ability has nothing to do with it," Denise retorted. "This is all for fun and as Christy said, it's for a good cause."
"But" he began.
"If you sign up, I just know more of the medical staff will be willing to join in," Denise coaxed. "And with you on the program, we'll sell tons of tickets. Just think how much we'll earn for the cancer center."
Christy groaned inwardly. He would be a big draw because she couldn't imagine anyone who wouldn't be willing to fork out money to see the straitlaced, cool, and collected Lincoln Maguire cut loose on the dance floor. More importantly, because it was a known fact that he didn't date, everyone would want to speculate about the lucky woman he'd chosen to be his partner.
His thoughts obviously ran along the same track because he shot a warning glare in her direction before he spoke to Denise. "You're giving me far too much credit"
"Nonsense." She clapped her hands softly in her excitement. "This is going to be great. The committee will love this idea. I can't wait to tell them"
"Stop right there," he ordered in his most authoritative voice.
No one moved. Christy didn't even breathe because she suddenly had a feeling of impending doom as he pinned her with his gaze.
"If you're penciling me on the list," he said firmly, "I have a couple of conditions. One, if you have more volunteers than you can accommodate, my name will be the first to be removed."
Denise frowned, but, apparently recognizing his tone brooked no argument, she nodded. "Okay. Not a problem."
"Second, in the event that doesn't happenand I suspect someone will make sure that it doesn't," he added dryly, "Christy must agree to be my partner."
Everyone's heads turned toward her in a perfectly choreographed motion. Expressions ranged from surprise to curiosity and a few were also speculative.
"You want. .what?" Christy asked hoarsely. He might be her best friend's brother-in-law, but that wasn't a solid connection to warrant such a request. After all, they'd only been at Gail and Tyler's house together on two occasions and they'd hardly spoken to each other.
"To be my partner."
This wasn't supposed to happen. "Why me?" she asked.
He raised an eyebrow. "This was your idea," he reminded her. "It's only fair that you participate, too."
He had a point, although if she had her choice, she'd pick someone who complemented her, not someone who was vinegar to her oil. While in the hospital they'd dealt with each other amicably over the past two yearshe gave orders and she carried them outbut in the private atmosphere of Gail's home their differences had been highlighted. As a man who prided himself on control and self-restraint, she'd seen how he didn't appreciate her outspoken and sometimes impulsive nature.
Neither would she delude herself into believing he'd set his condition with romantic motives in mind. According to Gail, her brother-in-law had mapped out his life so carefully that he wasn't allowing for a wife until he was forty, and as he still had two or three years until then, his work was his mistress.
"Unless, of course, you object," he added smoothly, if not a trifle smugly, as if he expected her to refuse so she could provide his get-out-of-jail-free card.
She didn't blame him for thinking that. It was no secret she wasn't interested in a romance any more than he was, but while his excuse was because his work consumed his life, her reasons were entirely different.
However, he'd issued a challenge and she was living proof that she didn't back down from one. If dusting off her dancing shoes and practicing her two-step meant the workaholic, type A personality Dr Maguire would participate in a night of fun and frivolity, then she'd do it.
She shrugged. "Okay, fine with me."
"Good," Denise said. "It's settled."
"I don't know how settled this is." He sounded doubtful and hopeful at the same time. "Won't the committee, as a whole, have to approve the idea first?"
"Trust me, they're going to love the concept," the older woman assured him. "I can already think of fifty ways to promote the event and guarantee a brilliant turnout. Now, I'm off. Hold the fort while I'm gone, people, so that means everyone back to work!"
The crowd dispersed, but Christy hardly noticed. Dr MaguireLinc, as Gail affectionately called himsat in his chair, arms crossed, as he drilled her with his gaze.
A weaker woman would have quaked under his piercing stare, but she'd stared death in the face and Linc Maguire wasn't nearly as intimidating. Still, she felt a little uncomfortable as she waited for him to speak. From the way he worked his jaw and frowned periodically, he obviously had trouble verbalizing his thoughts.
"Dancing with the Doctors?" he finally asked, his expression so incredulous she wanted to laugh, but knew she shouldn't. "Was that the best you could do?"
She shrugged, relieved that he seemed more stunned than angry, at least at this point. "On short notice, yes. However, from everyone's response, the idea was a hit."
"It was something all right," he grumbled. "If I were you, I'd pray the committee thinks it's ridiculous and dreams up another plan."
"I don't think Dancing with the Docs is so bad," she protested. "You have to admit the concept is unusual. We've never done anything like this before."
"We haven't had an old-fashioned box supper or a kissing booth either," he pointed out. "It doesn't mean we should start now."
Unbidden, her gaze landed on his mouth. To her, it was perfect with the bottom lip just a little wider than the top. No doubt there was a host of other women who'd agree.
Oddly enough, it only seemed natural for her gaze to travel lower, down his neck to a sculpted chest that even the shapeless scrub top and white undershirt didn't disguise. His skin was tan, and dark hair covered his muscular arms, indicating that somewhere in his busy schedule he found time to work out on a regular basis.
Oh, my. And she was going to be in his arms, pressed against that chest, in front of hundreds of people? Maybe she should start praying the committee wouldn't be interested in her idea. Better yet, she could pray for enough physicians to volunteer so the team of Maguire and Michaels would be excused from the lineup.
She swallowed hard. "It's for a good cause," she said lamely.
"Tell yourself that when you're nursing a few broken toes," he mumbled darkly.
His expression reminded her more of a sullen little boy than a confident surgeon and it made her chuckle. "You don't dance?"
He shook his head. "Other than a slow shuffle? No."
She wasn't surprised. In her view, Lincoln Maguire was too controlled and tightly wound to ever do anything as uninhibited as gliding around a dance floor in step to the music. However, she was curious about his reasons.
"You surely practiced a few steps for your senior prom, didn't you?"
He blinked once, as if she'd caught him off guard. "I didn't go. The girl I'd asked turned me down."
Remorse hit her again. She hadn't intended to embarrass him, or trigger bad memories. "I'm sorry."
"I'm not," he said, matter-of-factly. "We were just good friends and she was waiting for a buddy of mine to dredge up the courage to ask her himself. As soon as I knew her feelings leaned in his direction, I told him and the rest, as they say, is history. In fact, they celebrated their twelve-year anniversary this year."
"Talk about being versatile," she teased. "You're a surgeon and a matchmaker."
He grinned. "Don't be too impressed. They were the first and only couple I pushed together."
She was too caught up by the transformation his smile had caused to be embarrassed by her remark. He looked younger than his thirty-seven years and appeared far more approachable. His chiseled-from-granite features softened and he seemed more hot-blooded male than cold-hearted surgeon.
His smile was also too infectious for her not to return it in full measure. However, if she told anyone he had actually softened enough to smile, they'd never believe her.
Neither would anyone believe her if she told them they'd actually discussed something personal instead of a patient. As far as she knew, it was the first time such a thing had happened in the history of the hospital.
"I hate to break this to you," she said, "but a slow shuffle won't cut it when it comes to a competition."
"Only if your Dancing with the Doctors idea takes hold," he pointed out. "With luck, it won't and we'll both be off the hook."
She heard the hopeful note in his voice. "Trust me, the committee will love it. You may as well accept the fact you're going to dance before hundreds of people."