Ex-army doc Marc Rousseau might be devastatingly sexy, but he specializes in being difficult! No longer able to practice as a surgeon, he's working with injured war veterans alongside stunning Dr. Anne Sebastian…the one woman who sees beyond his gruff exterior.
Marc knows Anne is off-limits—especially as she's unlikely to trust any man again—but being around her is such sweet torture! And when a late-night swim leads to a steamy kiss, Marc and Anne start to wonder…dare they take a chance on a future together?
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"At first there was nothing. I was running across the field, going after my brother Nick, who'd been given direct orders not to be out there, but had recklessly gone to rescue someone, and the next thing
Dr. Marc Rousseau swallowed hard and closed his eyes, as if trying to remember the day that had forever changed his life. Or destroyed it, depending upon which point of view you preferred. "He'd gone to rescue a buddy, and in the end he rescued me. Nick, the irresponsible one, could have gotten us both killed. He shouldn't have done it."
It was always there, always on his mind, if not on the edges, then running straight into it. That fateful day, as some might call it. He called it that day from hell. "It didn't trip immediately, so I wasn't directly on it. Thank God for that. But in the blink of an eye I was cold and hot at the same time. With these weird sensations. I mean, I knew right away there was pain, but I was so distanced from my body at that exact second I wasn't even relating that the injury had happened to me. And in my mind all I could do was think, I need to help someone. I'm a doctor. I've got to go help someone.
"It probably took me a good two minutes of lying out there on the battlefield before I realized I was the one who needed help. That I was the one who'd sustained the injury. The one who was screaming."
He picked up the glass of iced water sitting on the desk of the chief of staff and took a drink. "The hell of it was, even after I knew I'd been hit, I still had to be told. My body may have known it, but my mind wouldn't accept that my body gave in so easily. All I wanted to do was get back out there in the field and do what I was supposed to do, but I couldn't move, except for wiggling around in the dirt. And the blood there was so much of it, but it couldn't have been mine. There was nothing inside me that allowed for the possibility that I was wounded. After all, I was the medic, a healer who'd volunteered to be there, not a soldier in the real sense of the word.
"Sure, I'd had my combat training, but my job was to put bodies back together, not to become one of those bodies. But I was, and I think I realized it for the first timereally realized itwhen they brought the stretcher out for me. The people who worked for me were there to carry me off the battlefield."
"And how did that make you feel?" Dr. Jason Lewis asked. Jason was a kind man, about Marc's agethirty-sixwith thinning blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses. Whereas Marc was bulky and dark. Dark hair, dark eyes, dark expression that belied nothing but torture.
"How did I feel? I felt angry as hell at first. Like, how dare they do that to me! Don't they know that I fix everybody, including the people we're fighting?"
"But IEDs are impersonal. They're just meant to destroy whatever gets in their way."
"Tell me about it," Marc muttered.
"I don't suppose I really have to," the doctor replied. "So what happened after they came to rescue you?"
"They gave me a phone, told me to call anybody I liked. Girlfriend, parent, my brother, who was out there on that battlefield somewhere, trying to save lives."
"That's a protocol when they think you're going to die. I had a back full of shrapnel, nails, God only knows what else sticking in my spine. It's a bad sign, with so much bleeding, and I was bleeding out. My body was trying to die. There was so much trauma to my spine they didn't see how I'd survive it."
"But you obviously didn't die."
"Too much self-righteous indignation, I suppose. You go through these stages like after a deathdenial, anger, all that crap. And I went straight to anger."
"And stayed there?"
"A lot of the time, yes." He shrugged. "Don't like it, don't want to be there, but it happens, and that's something you need to know if you hire me."
"Do you really think that's the right attitude for someone who's applying to head one of the veteran outreach rehab programs?"
"Do you really think it's not?" he challenged the doctor. "Anger turned inward can be harmful, I suppose. But when you turn it outward on your situation, you can make it work for you. The angrier I got, the harder I worked. The harder I worked, the better I healed."
"Did it really work for you, Dr. Rousseau? I know you were a top-notch surgeon, and those days are now behind you. You'll never operate again, no matter how angry you get. How does that make you feel?"
"Mad as hell that someone had so much control over me as to change my life the way they did. I had a plan that got wasted, a life that got altered, and none of it was of my doing, so I'm angry, but I have that right. And like I said, I fight it like I fight all my other battles. It's just one of the many, I suppose. And I won't even deny that I'd rather be a surgeon, but that's not going to happen."
"See, the thing is, I'm concerned that your bitterness will be a detriment to our patientsthe ones who want to make it back all the way or the ones who are fighting to get back as much as they can. I don't want your anger or your personal preference in being a surgeon as opposed to a rehab doc influencing them. I don't even want them seeing it."
"It won't and they won't."
"How can I be sure of that?"
"I don't suppose you can when all you have is my word. But you do have my word. The thing is, I've made it back as far as I can go. Granted, I'm a paraplegic now, but who better to work with the men and women like me than me? I mean, I understand what it's like to have your life taken away from you and in its place you're given something that's going to fight you every day of your life. I know how hard you have to work just to keep your head above water. And that's where I'm coming from."
"But will your internal struggles prevent you from recognizing someone who's in such great depths of despair he or she might be contemplating suicide? Because we run into those patients every now and then."
"I contemplated it myself for a while, so I know the symptoms."
"What's 'a while'? Define that in terms of duration, if you will."
"Weeks, maybe. I wouldn't work at improving, and all I wanted to do was die. I mean, what was the point? I couldn't have what I wantedmy girlfriend had walked out on me because I was suddenly not what she wanted, my friends shunned me for fear they'd say or do the wrong thing. My family couldn't be around me without crying. My brother was so consumed with survivor's guilt he couldn't stand to look at mehe was an army doc who escaped the field in one piece and he was also the one who convinced me to join up. He blames himself for my condition because he disobeyed orders and ran out onto the battlefield. Finds it very difficult being around me now, even though I understand that's just the way my brother is. He blames himself for my condition because of it."
"Because of your disability or your attitude?"
"I'm not deluding myself, Doctor. It was my attitude, but my attitude was precipitated by my disability. So I turned my back on the people who still caredso much so they couldn't stand to be around me any longer. They tried and I pushed them away."
Marc shifted positions in his wheelchair, raised himself up with massive arms, then lowered himself again. "There were questions about how much ability I'd regain, whether or not I'd be able to take care of myself, find a new life, function as a man It's overwhelming, and it scared me, and the more frightened I was, the more I just wanted it all to end. But I'm not a quitter and that quitting attitude just made me angry, which pushed me harder to prove I was OK. It's been a vicious circle, as you can see. Was then, still is. But I get through it."
"Then you're not over it?"
"I can cope with it now. But I do need to stay busy and find something other than myself to focus on, which is why I retrained, served a second residency at Boston Mercy Hospital, and why I'm sitting here, applying for this job."
"Meaning you're going to take all that pent-up frustration and turn yourself into a first-class rehab doctor."
"Amazing what a healthy dose of anger can do, isn't it? You know what they say " Marc's eyes went distant for a second, but for only a second. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Well, it hasn't killed me so far."
"I saw your records, talked to your chief resident at Boston Mercy General. You did a good job there, but what makes you think you can translate that into doing a good job here, where you're a full staff member with staff responsibilities as well as administrative duties?"
"I know how to lead, and people do listen to me. And as they say, I've got street cred now. If you came into your clinic, who would you rather listen tosomeone like you who's never experienced anything more than a shaving cut, or me?"
"You've got a good point, Dr. Rousseau."
The man was trying to get his goat. He knew that. But he also knew Jason Lewis had the right to prod as hard as he wanted since what he was going to get was basically a brand-new doctor in the field. "Good enough to offer me the position?" They'd been talking back and forth for weeksby phone, on the internet, texting. This whole interview process was dragging him down. He knew he was a liabilitya great big one. But he also knew he was a good doctor. So which one outweighed the other?
Lewis laughed. "I will say you've got guts to go along with your attitude."
"And that's all I'll need to get through to some of these guys and gals. So offer me a job on the spot, and I'll see what I can do to curb my attitude."
"On the spot? You want me to offer you a job on the spot without going to the board first, or talking to the people who will be working closest with you?"
Marc arched his eyebrows. "You've got the power, haven't you? And it's not like this interview process hasn't been going on in some form for quite a while."
"Oh, I've got the power, but I'm still not sure you're the right candidate."
"Let's see. I've got administrative experience, I'm a good doctor, I have practical experience. What more do you need?"
Dr. Lewis shook his head. "On paper you're the perfect candidate."
"But I don't want this clinic turning out a whole battalion of you. And I'm afraid that's what you're going to do."
"In other words, you don't believe I have the ability to separate my personal from my professional life. So tell me, are you able to do that? Do you never take your work home with you or bring your personal life to work?"
"Most days I'm good," Lewis said.
"And most days, I will be, too. All I've got is my word. I know I've got some attitude adjustments to make still, but that could also be a strength in helping my patients, in making them understand how they're not the only ones. So, on the spot?" He held out a confident hand to shake with Dr. Lewis.
Lewis took in a deep breath, let it out slowly, and extended his hand to Marc. "On the spot, but it's a probationary spot. Three months to start with, then a reevaluation."
"That's all I can ask for," Marc said. "Thank you."
"I'm warning you, Rousseau, when you're on my time you're a rehab doctor, nothing more, nothing less. Do you understand me?"
Marc nodded. "So I'm assuming my office is more accessible than yours because this one is too small for good maneuverability?" Inwardly, he was pleased by the offer. Now all he had to do was see if it was a match made in heaven or hell.
Anne Sebastian looked out her window at the gardens stretching as far as she could see. But it wasn't the garden she was seeing. In fact, she was seeing red! "Seriously, you hired him to head physical rehab?"
Jason Lewis shrugged. "He has the qualifications we need."
"And an attitude that precedes him. I have a friend at Mercy who said"
"He'll adjust," Jason interrupted. "In spite of what you've heard, he'll fall into our routine nicely."
"And if he doesn't?" she asked, too perplexed to turn around to confront her brother-in-law.
"Then I'll fire him, the way I would any other staff member who becomes a detriment to the facility or its patients."
She spun around. "No, you won't. It's not in you to do something like that. Especially since he's a wounded soldier."
"Then we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed he works out, won't we?"
Anne heaved a dubious sigh. "Hannah married a real softie. You know that, don't you?"
Jason blushed. "You do know that no one else on my staff talks to me the way you do?"
"Family prerogative. Besides, she's confined to bed until she delivers, so, as your wife's twin sister, older by eight minutes, might I remind you, it's up to me to make sure things are running the way they should."
Anne was an internist who'd earned an additional PhD in psychology, and turned her medical practice into one that specialized in post-traumatic stress disorder. Her sister, an ear specialist, worked with combat vets who'd suffered hearing loss due to trauma. And Jason was also a radiologist who oversaw all the X-rays generated in his clinic.
Jason overexaggerated a wince. "A daughter. Between you two and her, I'll never be able to win an argument."
"Poor Jason," Anne teased.
"Poor Jason is right. Speaking of which, our new hire, Marc Rousseau."
"Do we have to talk about the man?"
"Not if you don't want to. But since your office is going to be close to his, I was hoping you'd show him some consideration."
"Consideration?" she asked. "If you mean taking him on as a case."