Junior doctor Lola Roberts finally has her life back on trackand she's determined not to mess up on her first day at a Belfast hospital. Although she certainly didn't expect her sexy French boss Dr. Henri Benoit to prove her greatest distraction
Henri ruled out forever a long time ago, but surely a six-week fling with pretty, pink-stethoscope-wielding Lola can't hurt? Yet as Lola begins to melt the barriers around his locked-away heart, Henri realizes he never wants to let her go!
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Read an Excerpt
Lola took a sip of sweet tea and did her best to blank out the anxieties vying for space in her head. Am I up to the job? Can I cope with making lifeor-death decisions? Where are the toilets?
Over the rim of her cup she watched a sea of blue scrubs fill up the hospital canteen. The laughter and general chatter of her new colleagues did little to comfort her. They were so at ease, confident in their surroundings. She was sure she was the only first-year doctor here with knots in her stomach. Despite her promise to herself that her placement here in the Belfast Community Hospital would be another step towards independence, she was tempted to run.
Until recently she'd always had her brothers close by, to reassure her and take her by the hand when she needed it. It had been her idea to leave home once she'd graduated from medical school, although she wasn't sure if moving across the city to flat-share with her best friend counted as a particularly bold move.
Right now she needed one of those warm bear hugs only big brothers could give. This sense of isolation wasn't alien to her, but it was still as daunting as it had been at fifteen, when her whole world had fallen apart. Even now, almost ten years later, Lola couldn't shake off the paranoia that everyone was watching her and judging her and that at some point she'd be made to pay for being different.
She jumped as the first dramatic chords of her mobile phone's ringtone blared from her pocket and jolted her back from her nightmarish thoughts. It wouldn't do for her to get lost in those dark thoughts of pain and humiliation when she was due for her induction into the emergency department in fifteen minutes.
She was sure every pair of eyes in the room swivelled towards her as her clammy hands fumbled to retrieve the phone.
Instead of turning it off, she'd managed to accept a call from the eldest of her three big brothers. That protective older sibling intuition was uncanny.
'Er hi, Jake.'
She would have given a sigh of relief if it hadn't have been for the 'No Mobile Phones' signs screaming at her from the walls. If she didn't take the call now the rest of the family would surely hound her all day, since it was they who'd insisted she carry this blasted thing. Tea abandoned, she hurried out into the corridor to avoid further disapproving stares.
'How's it going?' Jake unknowingly provided the virtual arm around her shoulders that told her she wasn't on her own.
'I haven't started yet. I'll phone you when I get home.' Tears pricked Lola's eyes that her siblings knew her well enough to pre-empt her anxiety in an unfamiliar environment. Despite their sometimes overzealous interest in her personal life, she didn't know what she would do without them.
'I'm in the car park. I've got something for you.'
Jake sounded so pleased with himself Lola didn't have the heart to snub him. Besides, an actual hug would surely set her up for the rest of the day.
'In that case I'll see you in a couple of minutes.'
This time she did hang up, and then raced through the gleaming white corridors to meet him, the flat rubber soles of her shoes squeaking on the polished hospital floors.
Jake stood waiting for her in the ambulance bay, his striking features attracting the attention of every passing female. All three of her brothers resembled their father with their swarthy appearance, whilst she was the image of her blonde-haired, green-eyed mother. Sometimes she believed that was the reason her father had distanced himself from her. She was a painful reminder of the woman who'd walked out on him and left him to raise four children alone.
'I came to wish you good luck.'
Jake pulled her into his arms, only releasing her when she was sure she could hear ribs cracking.
He thrust a crumpled parcel into her hands.
'And I got you this.' 'Thank you.'
She ripped off the tatty wrapping to reveal a shiny new stethoscope. The thoughtfulness couldn't fail to make her smile. Although she didn't receive much support from either of her parents, with her mother AWOL and her father more concerned about himself, her brothers more than made up for it.
'We made sure we got you a pink onejust in case.' Jake grinned at the family joke.
In order to keep her brothers from pinching her stuff when they were growing up, Lola had learned at an early age to mark her belongings in boy-proof colours.
'Thank you. It's lovely, Jake. But I really have to run. I don't want to stuff things up on the first day.' She gave him a peck on the cheek and slung the gift around her neck.
'No problem. You've got this.'
Another lung-squeezing embrace emphasised his complete support, but Lola was forced to wriggle away as time marched on. She said her goodbyes and waved him off, waiting until he was out of sight before she started running again.
Out of breath, she slid to a halt behind the group already assembled in A&E.
'How nice of you to join us.'
The cutting French accent of her new superior called to her above the heads of her colleagues. She'd heard tales of all the newbies falling for the Gallic registrar and she could see why. Henri Benoit was the stereotypical tall, dark and handsome dreamboat. It was as well Lola had sworn off men prettier than her, or she'd be devastated on a personal level as well as a professional one at starting off on the wrong foot with him.
'Sorry. My brother wanted to wish me good luck.'
Even to herself she sounded like a five-year-old on her first day at big school. Lola whipped the stethoscope from around her neck and wrung it between her hands. The shine of her gift had been dulled under the scorn of her superior.
'Well, Dr' he scanned her staff pass 'Dr Roberts. In future could you leave your personal life outside the hospital doors?'
'It won't happen again.' Marking a target on her forehead was the last thing a self-confessed wallflower wanted.
'Bien. Now that we're all here I will show you where everything is before we let you loose into the big wide world.'
The use of Benoit's mother tongue didn't make him any less intimidating to Lola, but she could almost see the cartoon love hearts in the eyes of the other new female recruit standing next to her. Even the distinctly masculine members of the group were hanging on to his every word.
In different circumstances Lola too might have sighed at the sexy sound of a real live Frenchman instead of the usual Belfast brogue, but as far as she was concerned a scolding couldn't be considered romantic in any language.
Thankfully the heat was off Lola as the registrar took the lead on a whistlestop tour of the department, with most of his eager new staff members nipping at his heels. All except one thoroughly chastened recruit, who hung back and did her best to fade into obscurity.
'This is the resus room and monitoring station. These are the rooms for the walk-in patients.'
Lola did her best to absorb all the information he shot at them. He didn't seem the type to repeat himself, and she wouldn't draw any further attention to herself by asking questions. The cursed gift she had for bringing out the worst in attractive men always resulted in the highlighting of her own inadequacies.
One of these days she would coast through life like everyone else apparently did, without worrying about how she looked to those around her. But for now those cruel voices still whispered in her ear, sneering at her appearance, telling her she wasn't good enough to be here.
Lost in her own thoughts, she drifted into the hub of A&E behind her colleagues. As they attended the bedside of an elderly man Lola suddenly became all too aware that everyone was watching her with expectation. This time she definitely wasn't imagining it. Henri Benoit folded his arms across his chest and raised an eyebrow, clearly waiting for something from her.
Breath caught in Lola's throat and she stared back blankly, wondering what it was she'd done wrong this time.
'Excusez moi for interrupting your daydream, Doctor. This patient needs bloods to be taken and I was asking if you would kindly oblige.'
This second dressing down from him was well deserved. She'd let her mind drift from the present into the all-consuming memories of the past.
There was no way she'd ever make a success of her medical career if she couldn't get a handle on her personal issues. Something told her Dr Benoit wouldn't wait around for her to get with the programme, and she owed it to the patients to focus on their problems instead of her own.
With sweaty palms and jelly legs, Lola stepped out of her corner. 'Sir, I'm just going to take some blood.'
Following procedure, she kept the patient informed of her intentions as she approached the bed, trying to keep the tremor in her voice at bay. There was no place for uncertainty in the frantic pace of Accident and Emergency, and she would need an air of authority if she hoped to gain any respect around here. Any wavering in her confidence would only serve to alarm those under her care.
Unfortunately, nerves appeared to have completely got the better of her.
'Sorry, I can't seem to find a suitable vein ' A warm flush infused her whole body as she tapped the patient's arm and attempted to insert the needle a second and a third time.
'One of the key things to remember in these early days is to ask for help when it's needed and not let a patient suffer for the sake of your ego. I'll take over from here.'
Every one of Lola's fears were realised as the registrar used her as an example to the rest of the group of how not to be a doctor. The nodding dogs were probably grateful they weren't the ones under the microscope.
Henri Benoit's hand brushed hers when he took the needle from her and the rolling in Lola's stomach reached a crescendo. She backed away for some breathing space, praying she wouldn't embarrass herself any more than she already had by throwing up on his shiny black shoes.
With an ease that Lola envied he finished the job and bagged up the vials for the lab. Once he'd settled the patient again he returned his attention to the group. Although she got the distinct impression he was mainly addressing her.
'The best way to learn is on the job. So get acquainted with the Duty Nurse and assign the patients between you. I'll be around if you need me.'
Lola's shoulders sagged with relief when he left her and her fellow rookies to go it alone.
Naturally, as soon as Dr Suave was out of the picture, she functioned as well as any other member of staff. All further procedures undertaken after that debacle in the morning went as smoothly as they had done in her training. And in any areas where she did need some assistance she turned to the nurses for guidance. They were more than helpful, given that she showed respect for their position and experiencewhich she suspected some new doctors failed to recognise as an asset.
However, she couldn't seem to shake off her disappointment in herself, replaying that monumental cock-up in front of her boss over and over again. At periods during the day she found herself frowning and wincing, which probably looked strange to people not privy to the abject humiliation going on her head.
The end of the day couldn't come quickly enough, and when her shift was over Lola changed into civilian clothes and headed straight for the exit. Her face turned up to the heavens, she let the rain fall and cleanse her weary skin, as though it would somehow wash away everything that had happened back inside those doors.
The umbrella she was eventually forced to put up proved scant protection from the elements. It blew inside out several times as she joined the throng of people heading towards the city centre. She'd agreed to meet Jules, her flatmate, for a night out, and after today she'd earned it.
Most evenings she preferred to study, but Jules had insisted on helping her celebrate her first shift. As an F2, a Foundation Doctor in her second and final year of the training programme between medical school and specialist training, she'd taken it upon herself to instruct Lola in the ways of hospital life inside and outside of the wards.
'We're going to a new place tonight that all the girls in work are talking about. Somewhere you can really let your hair down,' Jules had told her when she'd given her the address of the venue.
For Lola, that was even more terrifying than facing another shift with her French Fancy.
'In burlesque, the emphasis is on the tease rather than the strip.'
Miss Angelique's delicate accent filtered across the dimly lit room to reach the ears of her most reluctant pupil.
In Lola's imagination the exotic sight and sound of the instructor should have transported her to a fabulous Parisian nightclub, where glamour and sophistication went hand in hand. Unfortunately the rumbling sound of buses outside and the accompanying smell of diesel through the open window were a constant reminder that she was stuck in a dingy dancehall in Belfast's city centre.
'When did Northern Ireland become a hotspot for the French populace?' she muttered to Jules, who she now held entirely responsible for her bad mood. Prancing around as some trussed-up, half-dressed version of herself with one of Benoit's countrymen bossing her around wasn't exactly the perfect remedy for all that ailed her. 'Tell me againwhy am I doing this?'
'To prevent you from ending up as some sad sack with only her books for company,' Jules said, before her attention wandered back to the stage, where Miss Angelique moved seductively to a teasing big band soundtrack.
'Maybe I like the sound of that.' Lola pouted, and watched enviously as the instructor demonstrated a dance with oversized fluttering fans, never giving away more than a glimpse of the ivory silk corset she wore.
The stunning Frenchwoman projected a confidence in her body she could only dream of. Oh, how she longed to experience that freedom of movement, absent of any self-conscious thought, even for a short while. But owning her own sexuality, regardless of other people's perceptions, was a skill Lola doubted even the fabulous Miss Angelique could teach her.
A pack of savage teenage boys had robbed her of ever having any confidence in her own skin. Their laughter still rang in her ears, and she could still see their sneering faces looming above her as they'd held her down and stripped her of her dignity.
She'd been a late bloomernot helped by the fact that she'd had to wear her brother's secondhand clothes and had sported the same short hairstyle her father gave all his offspring. But it hadn't given anyone the right to call her names, to question her femininity, or demand proof that it existed.