Heart Surgeon, Hero...Husband?

Rescued by the brooding heart surgeon Discovering her tiny son desperately needs a new heart terrifies Hannah Quinn – especially when she realises ex-flame Scott McIntyre is the skilled surgeon in charge of the transplant.Entrusting her baby to Scott’s miracle-working hands is one thing, but whether Hannah’s own heart will survive Scott’s devastating charm intact is quite another…
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Heart Surgeon, Hero...Husband?


   Dear Reader

   I fell in love with Scott and Hannah long before they fell in love with each other. Their story has been with me for years, and I’m proud to share it with you. Scott and Hannah are two intelligent, well-educated and independent people, who think they need no one but soon learn that love is a bond they can’t break.

   Writing Scott and Hannah’s story has been an emotional journey for me. In many ways their story was an easy one to tell, while in others a difficult one. I know personally what it’s like to have a child waiting for a new heart. My youngest son received the life-giving gift of a heart transplant when he was one year old. He is now twenty-two and doing well.

   I would be remiss in following my convictions if I didn’t take this opportunity to encourage you to think about organ donation. Transplants do save lives.

   I hope you enjoy reading about Scott and Hannah. I’d be honoured to hear from you. You can find me at: www.susancarlisle.us

   Warmest regards

   Susan

About the Author

   SUSAN CARLISLE’s love affair with books began when she made a bad grade in maths in the sixth grade. Not allowed to watch TV until she brought the grade up, she filled her time with books and became a voracious romance reader. She has ‘keepers’ on the shelf to prove it. Because she loved the genre so much, she decided to try her hand at creating her own romantic worlds. She still loves a good happily-ever-after story.

   When not writing, Susan doubles as a high school substitute teacher—she has been doing this for sixteen years. She lives in Georgia, with her husband of twenty-eight years, and has four grown children. She loves castles, travelling, cross-stitching, hats, James Bond and hearing from her readers.

   This is Susan’s first book for Mills & Boon® Medical™Romance

   Heart Surgeon, Hero … Husband?

   Susan Carlisle


   

   In Raina’s memory

   Special Thanks

   To my Tuesday night critique group for steering me in the right direction each week, especially Lisa and Claudia.

   To my editor, Flo Nicoll, for seeing something in my writing that showed promise and encouraging me until that something showed through. I appreciate you.

   To Darcy for saying you should write this. You were right.

   To Sia for sharing your writing knowledge. I’m better for it.

   To Carol for reading, re-reading, and taking care of me. Couldn’t have done it without you.

   To my mom, my husband and my kids for being so supportive. I love you all.

CHAPTER ONE

   “A HEART TRANSPLANT? My baby’s only two years old.” Hannah Quinn stared at Dr. Scott McIntyre, the cardio-thoracic surgeon who sat across the conference room table from her. His familiar Mediterranean-Sea eyes were sympathetic, but his face remained somber.

   The shock of seeing Scott again was only surpassed by the pain of his words. Her son was dying.

   When had she slipped down the rabbit hole to this horror at Children’s General Hospital? As if that weren’t torment enough, she now faced a mother’s worst nightmare, and the news was being delivered by Atlanta, Georgia’s supposedly best cardiothoracic surgeon, a man who had hurt her badly years before.

   In the movies this would have been called a twist of fate, horrible irony. But this wasn’t some screenplay, this was her life. Her child, who always had a smile, her little boy, who giggled when she kissed him behind his ear, was in serious danger.

   “He was doing fine. I was taking him for a scheduled check-up. Next thing I know his pediatrician has ordered an ambulance to bring us here.” Hannah covered her mouth, damming the primal screams that threatened to escape. Moisture pooled in her eyes, blurring her vision of Scott … now Jake’s doctor. “You have to be wrong.”

   He glanced at Andrea, the heart-transplant coordinator, sitting beside him, before he reached across the table as if to take Hannah’s hand.

   “Don’t.” She straightened. He withdrew.

   That night eight years ago had started with a simple brush of his hand. She couldn’t go there, wouldn’t go there again, or she’d fall apart. She had to hold it together until her world righted itself. And it would, it had to. “I knew that a valve replacement might be in his future sooner than I had hoped, but a heart transplant? Your diagnosis can’t be correct.”

   Scott ran a hand through his wavy hair. The soft, silky locks had gone from light to golden blond with age. His fingers threaded through his hair again, a mannerism Hannah remembered from when they’d been friends, good friends. They’d shared warm banter when he’d come to work on the step-down floor. The banter between them had developed into a friendship she’d valued, and had thought he had too.

   Leaning forward, he brought her attention back to why they were sitting in this tiny, barren room, acting as if they’d never known each other intimately.

   “I’m sorry, Hannah,” he murmured with compassion. His voice strengthened with the words, “But the diagnosis is correct. The condition is called cardiomyopathy.”

   “Isn’t that when the heart has become enlarged?” Hannah asked.

   “Yes, it is. In Jake’s case, he must have contracted a virus that went undetected. It settled on the valve he has had from birth—the one that wasn’t working correctly. His heart is inflamed and is no longer pumping efficiently.”

   “He’s had nothing more than a little runny nose. I assure you that if it had been more, I would’ve taken him to see a doctor.”

   “I’m not questioning your care for your son. The virus may have looked like something as simple as a cold, but it attacked his heart, damaging it. Sometimes it takes weeks to manifest itself and sometimes, like in Jake’s case, only days or hours. There is no way to know how or when it will happen. But you would know that, being a nurse.”

   “Most of my work experience has been on an adult orthopedic floor and, anyway, I’m not nursing at present.”

   His head canted questioningly, but he said, “Still, you should understand the only thing we can do for your son—”

   “His name is Jake.” The words came out frosted. She wouldn’t allow Jake to become a hospital number, just another patient in a bed.

   Scott’s gaze met hers. “Jake needs a new heart.” His voice softened. “He needs to be listed right away.”

   Could she melt into the floor? Disappear? Maybe run so fast reality couldn’t catch her?

   “There has to be another way. Isn’t there medication you can give him? I want a second opinion.”

   The skin around Scott lips tightened. He shook his head slightly, forestalling any further argument. “Hannah, you’re welcome to get a second opinion. But we can’t waste any time. Jake will die without the transplant. He might only have a few more weeks. The first thing we’ll do is see that he is put on the United Network for Organ Sharing list.”

   She wiped away the dampness on her cheek. The framed pictures of the smiling children lining the walls of the tiny room mocked her. Her child should be one of them. Instead, he lay in a bed in the cardiac ICU, fighting for his life.

   “I’ve examined Jake. He’s stable for now. We’re giving him anti-clotting drugs to prevent blood clots, which are common with cardiomyopathy, and watching for any arrhythmia.”

   Her eyes widened. “Blood clots! Arrhythmia!” She leaned toward him, hands gripping the edge of the table. “I want Jake listed now.”

   “Before we can do that, you’ll need to have a psychological exam.”

   Her dazed look met his. “You have to be kidding. Jake is dying and you want me to have a psychological test? There’s nothing wrong with me. It’s your job to get Jake a heart, not see if my head’s on straight.”

   Scott shifted in his chair, one of his long green scrubs-covered legs bumping against the table support. Despite being terrified by what he was telling her, Hannah couldn’t help but compare the man in front of her with the one she had once known. A tall man years ago, his shoulders had broadened since she’d last seen him. Cute, in an all-American way then, now he was handsome as a man with power. Maturity and responsibility had added fine lines to his face, which she bet only made him more appealing to the nurses.

   Scott still possessed the air of confidence that had made him the shining star of his medical class and the desire of the female personnel in the hospital. She, fortunately, had managed to remain immune to his playboy-to-the-core charm for a while, but not long enough.

   “You need to calm down. Take a couple of deep breaths.”

   “Don’t patronize me, Scott.”

   “Look, the visit to the psychologist is protocol. You’ll be asked questions to make sure you understand what’s involved with a transplant. The care afterwards is as important as the transplant itself. We need to know you can handle it.”

   She pushed back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. “I assure you I can take care of my son, both as a mother and as a nurse.”

   Propping his elbows on the table, Scott clasped his hands and used his index fingers to punctuate his words. “Hannah, I don’t doubt it and I understand your frustration, but there are procedures.”

   At least he sounded as if he cared how she felt, unlike how he had acted years ago. Known for his excellent bedside manner then, in more ways than one, she’d never dreamed she’d ever be on the receiving end of his professional conduct.

   “I have no interest in your procedures. I’m only interested in Jake getting well.”

   “If you really want that, you’re going to have to work with me to see that it happens.” His words had a razor-sharp edge, leaving her no room to argue.

   “Okay then, I’m ready to do the interview.” Hannah looked him directly in the eyes. “How much is all of this going to cost?”

   He returned the same unwavering look. “Let’s not worry about that. Keeping Jake healthy enough for the surgery is my primary concern.”

   Scott addressed Andrea. “Can you see that everything is set up for Han—uh … Mrs. Quinn’s psychological?”

   “I’ll take care of it,” Andrea responded.

   Pushing the metal chair back, Scott stood. “I’ll speak to you again soon. I’m sorry this is happening to your son.” He hesitated as if he wanted to say something further but thought better of it.

   Wishing this situation would just go away, she gave Scott a tight smile.

   “Andrea also has some forms that need to be filled out, so I’ll leave you with her.”

   With that, Scott made a swift exit. She shouldn’t be surprised he’d showed no more emotion. He’d done much the same thing the next morning after she’d made the mistake of succumbing to his charms. Their friendship had died, and so had her faith in him. Hannah let her brain shut down, and answered Andrea’s questions by rote. When Andrea had finished, Hannah asked, “How good a surgeon is Scott, I mean Dr. McIntyre?”

   “He’s the best,” Andrea stated, her voice full of assurance.

   Was she just another woman who had fallen under Scott’s spell and could sing nothing but his praises? “I can’t let Jake die.”

   “Mrs. Quinn.” Andrea placed her hand on Hannah’s arm. “Dr. McIntyre is a brilliant surgeon. He’ll take excellent care of your son. You can trust him.”

   Andrea guided Hannah to the waiting room and to an area away from the other parents. Hannah sank onto a blue vinyl sofa and put her head in her hands, letting pent-up tears flow. She understood what she’d been told, but she wasn’t entirely convinced. Hannah couldn’t afford to be blindly accepting where her son’s care was concerned. He was all she had.

   Hannah studied the blue square pattern of the carpet. She had no idea that Andrea had sat down beside her until she laid a comforting hand on Hannah’s shoulder.

   Andrea said, “You’ll get through this. Why don’t you go back and see Jake? Visiting hours will be over soon.”

   Entering the cardiac unit, Hannah checked in with the clerk at the large circular desk situated in the middle of an enormous open room. Of the twenty or so beds around the wall, only one interested her, the third one on the left, where her little boy lay so still.

   Her precious child looked small and pale stretched out on the white sheet of the big bed. Wires ran from him to the surrounding machines. She’d seen this before, during nursing training, but this time it was her child lying there.

   It’s just you and me, honey. Don’t leave me. Jake’s usually sparkling blue eyes were clouded with fear as they pleaded for reassurance. Hannah took his tiny hand in hers, careful not to touch any of the IV lines. Her chest tightened. She placed a kiss on his forehead before stroking his dark baby curls while making a soft cooing sound that settled him.

   “Mrs. Quinn?” A young woman stepped to the foot of the bed. I’ll be Jake’s nurse for today. You may come back to visit any time during the day but you need to call first and get permission.”

   What if something happens while I’m not here? Could I live with myself if it did? Would I want to? Her hands shook, and her stomach jumped. Wrapping her arms around her waist, she squeezed. “Can I stay with him tonight?”

   She sensed instead of saw Scott step beside her.

   “I’m afraid not.” His words would’ve been harsh except they were said in such a low, gentle tone that they came out sounding compassionate, regretful.

   “I don’t see why not. I’m a nurse.”

   “But as Jake’s mother you need to take care of yourself. Rest. Leave a number with the nurse and she’ll call if you’re needed.” He gave Jake’s nurse an appreciative smile.

   The fresh-out-of-nursing-school girl blinked twice before she said in a syrupy tone, “I’ll put it on his chart, Dr. McIntyre.”

   “I don’t see—” Hannah began.

   “Those are the rules. You have to be out of here by seven and can’t come back in until eight in the morning,” Scott said in a flat, authoritative tone.

   “I guess I don’t have a choice, then.” “No, you don’t.” Scott’s words came out even and to the point.

   Enunciating the numbers to her cellphone with care, Hannah watched to make sure each one was written correctly. The way the nurse was acting around Scott, she might make a mistake.

   As Hannah gave the last digit Scott approached his patient’s bed. “Hello, Jake. I’m Dr. McIntyre. You can call me Dr. Mac.”

   Jake didn’t look at Scott’s face, but focused instead on his chest, reaching his hand out.

   Hannah moved around the bed to stand opposite Scott to see what Jake was so engrossed in.

   “Oh, I see you found my friend.” Scott smiled down at Jake. “His name is Bear. He rides around with me. Would you like to hold him?”

   Jake’s eyes lost their look of fear as they remained riveted on the tiny animal. His fingers wiggled in an effort to reach the toy.

   Unclipping the toy from his stethoscope, Scott offered it to Jake.

   Scott’s charm obviously extended to his young patients. Jake didn’t always take to new people but Scott had managed to make her son grin despite the ugliness of the place. Hannah sighed. Scott looked up and gave her a reassuring smile. She didn’t like the stream of warmth that flowed through her cold body. Still, a kind, familiar face in her life was reassuring right now, even if it was Scott’s.

   “My bear hasn’t been well. Could he stay with you?” Jake gave Scott a weak nod before Scott handed Jake the bear. “I need to listen to your heart now. I’m going to put this little thing on you and the other end in my ears, okay?”

   Small creases of concentration formed between Scott’s eyes as he moved the instrument across Jake’s outwardly perfect chest. She’d always admired Scott’s strong, capable hands. The same ones that were caring for her child had skimmed across her body with equal skill and confidence. She shivered. Those memories should’ve been long buried, covered over with bitter disappointment.

   She’d been around enough doctors to recognize one secure in his abilities. Scott seemed to have stepped into the role of pediatric surgeon with no effort. He certainly knew what to do to keep Jake from being scared, at least she’d give him that much. Maybe she could put her hope in him professionally, if not emotionally. She wanted to trust him. Desperately wanted to.

   Jake’s eyelids drooped but he continued to clutch the toy.

   Scott removed the earpieces, looping the stethoscope around his neck.

   “Scott, thanks for giving Jake the bear. He looked so afraid before. I still can’t believe he needs a heart transplant,” she said in little more than a whisper that held all the agony she felt. “He doesn’t look that sick.”

   She prayed his next words would contradict the truth she saw on his face.

   “I realize that by looking at him it’s hard to believe, but it is the truth.”

   Hannah’s knees shook. With swift agility, Scott circled the bed, his fingers wrapping her waist, steadying her.

   She jerked away. The warmth of his touch radiated through her.

   As if conscious of the nurse nearby, he dropped his hand to his side.

   “I’m fine.” For a second she’d wanted to lean against him, to take the support he offered.

   Hannah peered at him. Had hurt filled his eyes before they’d turned businesslike again? The unexpected look had come and gone with the flicker of his lids. Had she really seen it? Could she trust herself to interpret his looks correctly?

   “You need to understand a heart transplant isn’t a fix. It’s exchanging one set of problems for another. Jake will always be on meds and have to come to the hospital for regular check-ups.”

   “I understand that. I’ll take care of him.”

   Scott placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

   “Don’t touch me.”

   He dropped his hand. “Hannah, I know this is rough. But we were friends at one time. Please let me help.”

   “Look, Scott, the only help I need from you is to get Jake a heart.”

   “Hannah, we’re going to get Jake through this.”

   “I hope so. My son’s life depends on you.” She couldn’t afford for him to be wrong, the stakes were much too high.

   “Hannah, with a heart transplant Jake can live.”

   Like before? Would he still squeal when she blew on his belly? Would he giggle when she blew bubbles and they burst above his head? Her sweet, loving child was dying in front of her eyes.

   Scott was saying all the right things, but could she believe him? “It’s not your kid, so you really don’t have any idea how hard this is, do you?”

   The muscle in his jaw jumped, before he said, “No, I guess I don’t. But I do know I’m a skilled surgeon and this is an excellent hospital with outstanding staff. We can help Jake and we will.”

   “I’m counting on that.”

   In his office, using the time between surgeries, Scott waded through the stack of papers cluttering his desk. He leaned back in his chair. Hannah’s face with those expressive green eyes slipped into his mind for the hundredth—or was it the thousandth?—time in the last few hours. She’d looked just as shocked to see him as he’d been to see her. It had required all his concentration to stay focused on what they had been discussing.

   He couldn’t have been more astonished to find a red-eyed Hannah looking at him expectantly as he’d entered the conference room. Andrea normally arrived ahead of him but she’d had to answer a page. He’d stepped into the room, and back through time.

   Hannah’s hushed whisper of his name had made him want to hug her. But she’d made it clear she’d never allow him. Guilt washed over him. Of course she didn’t want his comfort. He’d hurt her, and for that he was sorry, but he’d believed it was for the best.

   He’d wanted her desperately that night eight years ago, and she’d come to him so sweet and willingly, trust filling her eyes. If he could have stopped, he would have, but, heaven help him, he hadn’t been able to. He’d handled things poorly the next morning. She had been too young, in her second year of nursing school. He had been an intern with a career plan that wouldn’t allow him to be distracted. He’d refused to lead her on, have her make plans around him. He hadn’t been ready to commit then, and he wouldn’t commit now.

   Andrea had entered before he’d let his emotions get out of control. Regret had washed over him, for not only what he had to tell Hannah but for what life would be like with a sick child and for their lost friendship.

   Based on her reaction today, he’d killed whatever had been between them. She’d not been cool to him, she’d been dead-of-winter-in-Alaska cold toward him. Compared to the way she used to treat everyone when they’d worked together, almost hostile.

   Not the type of woman that made men do a double-take, Hannah still had an innate appeal about her. He’d known it back then and, even while telling her the devastating news of her son, that connection between them was still there.

   Speaking to any parent about their deathly ill child was difficult. Sending a child home with smiling parents after a life-giving transplant made it all worthwhile. Scott’s intention was to put such a smile of happiness on Hannah’s face.

   Scott shook his head as if to dislodge Hannah from his mind. He let his chair drop forward, and picked up an envelope off the stack of mail on his desk. The familiar sunshine emblem of the Medical Hospital for Children in Dallas, Texas, stood out in the return spot. A surge of anticipation filled him as he opened it. Was this the news he’d been hoping for?

   A quick tap came at the door and Andrea entered.

   The statuesque, older nurse had worked with way too many young surgeons to be overly impressed by him when he’d arrived at Children’s General. Still, she’d had pity on him and had taken him under her wing, helping him when he’d needed to navigate the ins and outs of hospital politics. They had become fast friends.

   “Is that the news you’ve been looking for?” Andrea indicated the letter.

   He’d been talking to the administrator at MHC for months about starting a heart-transplant program there. He opened the flap and pulled out the letter. “Not quite. They’re still looking at other candidates. They’ll let me know of their decision soon.”

   “You’re still top man on their list, aren’t you?” Andrea asked.

   “Yeah, but they want to review a few more of my cases.” He’d geared his entire career toward this opportunity. To set up his own program, train a team, and make the program in Dallas the best in the country.

   “Don’t worry, boss. I’m sure they’re impressed with your skills.”

   With years of experience as an OR nurse, Andrea didn’t look like she had a soft touch, but she had a talent for making parents feel comfortable. That was a gift he valued. Appreciative of the skills she brought to her job, Scott intended to persuade her to become a part of his new team in Dallas if he was offered the position.

   “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

   “I’ve got the latest blood work on the Quinn kid. You wanted it ASAP.”

   Scott took the lab sheet and studied it. “We shouldn’t have a problem listing him right away.”

   “None that I can think of.” With a purse of her lips and a glint of questioning in her eye, Andrea said, “I know I came into the meeting late, but I’ve never known you to call a parent by their first name. So I’m assuming you two know each other.”

   “Yes, we met while I was in med school, just before I left for my surgical training.” Meeting her look, he refused to give any more information.

   Andrea raised her brows. “Oh. Interesting spot you’re in, Doc. She didn’t sound particularly happy to see you again. History coming back to bite you?”

   Few others would’ve gotten away with such an insubordinate question.

   At his huff, she grinned and slipped back out the door.

   Scott might have found some absurd humor in the situation if it wasn’t such a serious one, and if he hadn’t been so afraid that Andrea was right.

   Hannah was the one nurse that had mattered, too much. The one that had gotten under his skin, making him wish for more. He’d pushed her away because she’d deserved better than he’d been able to give. He still couldn’t believe Hannah had re-entered his life and, of all things, as the mother of one of his patients. Life took funny bends and turns and this had to be one of the most bizarre he’d ever experienced.

   But it didn’t matter what their relationship had been or was now. What mattered was that her son got his second chance at life.

   Hannah made her way to the snack machine area on the bottom floor during the afternoon shift change. She was sitting in a booth, dunking her bag in the steaming water, when Scott walked up.

   Her breath caught. He was still the most handsome man she’d ever known. His strong jaw line and generous mouth gave him a youthful appearance that contrasted sharply with the experienced surgeon he surely was. There was nothing old or distinguished about him, not even a gray hair to indicate his age.

   He still wore the Kelly-green scrubs covered by a pristine white lab coat, which meant he’d been in surgery. She couldn’t see the writing on the left side of his coat, but she knew what was printed above the pocket.

   Embroidered in navy was “Scott T. McIntyre, MD” and under that was “Department of Thoracic Surgery.” Reading those words over and over during their meeting had been her attempt to disconnect from the surreal turn her life had taken. She’d almost reached across the small table and traced the letters with a finger. He’d gotten what he’d wanted. She couldn’t help but be proud for him.

   Scott stepped to the coffee-dispensing machine and dug into his pocket. Pulling his hand out, he looked at his open palm, muttered something under his breath and spilled the coins back into his pants.

   “Here.” She offered him some quarters in her outstretched hand.

   Blinking in surprise, he turned. “Hey. I didn’t see you sitting there.”

   “I know. You were miles away.”

   With a wry smile, he accepted the change. His fingertips tickled the soft skin of her palm as he took the money.

   A zip of electricity ran up her arm. It was a familiar, pleasant feeling, one that her body remembered. But her mind said not to. She put her hand under the table, rubbing it against her jeans-clad leg in an effort to ease the sensation.

   Scott purchased his coffee then glanced at her, as if unsure what to do next. She couldn’t remember seeing him anything but confident. He appeared as off-kilter as she.

   He hesitated. “Do you mind if I join you?”

   “You know, Scott, I’m not really up to rehashing the past right now.”

   “I really think we should talk.”

   Hannah took a second to respond. Could she take any more emotional upheaval especially when she’d just started believing she could breathe again after their last meeting?

   Her “Okay” came out sounding unwelcoming.

   One of his long legs brushed her knee as he slid into the booth. That electric charge sparked again. She drew her legs deeper into the space beneath the table.

   “I’ve just seen the psychologist. Is Jake listed?” Hannah asked into the tense silence hovering between them.

   “I put him on a few minutes ago.” Scott’s tone implied it was no big deal, an everyday occurrence, which it might be for him. For her, it was a major event.

   She breathed a sigh of relief.

   Scott sipped his coffee, before setting the paper cup on the table. He looked at her. “I have to ask: where is Mr. Quinn?”

   “That’s not really your business, is it?”

   “Yes, and no. If he’s going to be coming into the hospital and making parental demands and disrupting Jake’s care, yes, it is. For the other, I’m just curious.”

   “There’s no worries where he’s concerned.” Her look bored into his. “He left us.”

   Scott’s flinch was barely discernible. “When?”

   “Just after Jake was born.”

   “You’ve no family?”

   “None nearby. My sister is living in California now. I told her to hold off coming. I don’t know how long we’ll have to wait on a heart.”

   His sympathetic regard made her look away. “There’s no one that can be here with you?”

   “No. When you’re a single parent with a small child, relatively new to town and you have to work, it leaves little time to make friends.”

   “I understand. Doctors’ hours are much the same way.”

   “As I remember it, you didn’t have any trouble making time for a social life.” She softened the dig with a wry curl of her lips.

   He chuckled. That low, rough sound vibrated around them and through her. She took a sip of her tea.

   Scott drained his cup before looking at her again. “Uh, Hannah, about us …” “There is no us.”

   “You know what I mean. You have to admit this situation is unusual at best.”

   She placed her cup on the table. “Scott, the only thing I’m interested in is Jake getting a new heart. Whatever we had or didn’t have was over and done with years ago. You’re Jake’s heart surgeon. That’s our only relationship.” She probably sounded bitter, but she didn’t have the energy to deal with her emotions where he was concerned. Particularly not today. She needed time to think, to sort through her feelings. Scott twisted his coffee cup around, making a tapping noise on the table.

   “Hannah, I shouldn’t have left like I did. I thought I was doing the best thing for you. I was wrong not to tell you I was leaving town.”

   She put up her hands. “Let’s just concentrate on Jake. I don’t have the energy to rehash the past.”

   He gave a resigned nod, but she didn’t think the subject permanently closed.

   “Then would you at least tell me why you’re not nursing?”

   “I took a leave of absence when Jake started getting sicker. I didn’t think he needed to be in a day-care situation, and I couldn’t find private care close enough to home to make it work.”

   “That’s understandable. I thought you had quit altogether. I remember how much you enjoyed it. What a good nurse you were … are.”

   “Yeah, I still love it. I’ll get back to it when Jake’s better.”

   He’d made no attempt to be a part of her life in the last eight years, and now he was interested in her personal life? Picking up a napkin on the table, she wadded it into a ball.

   Hoping to avoid further questions, she asked, “How about you? Where did you go … uh … for your surgery residency?” She’d almost said “after you left me alone in bed. Without saying a word.”

   He pulled his legs out from under the table, extended them across the floor, and crossed one ankle over the other.

   “Texas, then to Boston for a while. I took a position here a couple of years ago.”

   “You always said you wanted to be a heart surgeon. You didn’t change your mind.”

   “No. After hearing my first baby’s irregular heartbeat during my cardio rotation I’ve been set on it. It took me years to qualify, but it was the right move.” His gaze met hers. “But it meant making some tough decisions.”

   “So, is there a Mrs. McIntyre and any little McIntyres?”

   Hannah held her breath, waiting for his answer. A part of her wished he’d found no one special, while another part wanted him to be happy.

   “There’s no Mrs. McIntyre or children.”

   Hannah released the breath she’d held. Why’d she feel such a sense of relief? “Why’s that?”

   “A surgeon’s life doesn’t lend itself to a peaceful private life. Somehow my patients always take precedence over anything or anyone else.”

   A dark shadow crossed his face that she didn’t quite comprehend. Had he almost married? What had happened?

   “As the mother of one of your patients I’m grateful you make them a priority. I believe that would be a part of being a great doctor.” She took a sip of tea. “So, are you still seeing a nurse on every floor and in every department?” The question had a sting to it that she couldn’t help but add.

   He chuckled. “You don’t have a very high opinion of me, do you?”

   Hannah chose to let that question remain unanswered. “Did you know that the joke in the nurses’ station was that, when you had rotated to our floor, you’d asked for an alphabetical listing of all the single nurses and were working your way through the list?” “I did not.”

   “What? Know or ask for the list? Because you sure as heck worked your way through the staff. I watched you. With the last name of Watson, I had time to see you coming.” Heavens, she’d gotten what she’d deserved. She’d seen for herself what a player he had been.

   “Yeah, and you refused to play along. That was one of the many things I liked about you. You made me work to get your attention.”

   “I wasn’t interested in being another nurse you scratched off your list.”

   Scott’s hand covered his heart. “Ouch, that hurt.”

   She grinned. “That might have been too harsh.”

   He smiled, oozing Dr. McDreamy charm. “Same Hannah. You never cut me any slack. But as it turns out, believe it or not, being a surgeon doesn’t leave me as much free time as being a med student did. As for an answer, I hope I’ve grown up some.”

   “I know I have. I understand things I didn’t use to.” Like how it felt to be drawn to the bright fire that was his charisma and get burnt. He was speaking as if they’d shared nothing more than a casual meal all those years ago, instead of a friendship that had ended with a night filled with passion. She had repeated the same mistake with Jake’s dad.

   “I’m sorry, Hannah, for everything.” His beeper went off, demanding his attention. “I have to see about this. Thanks for the coffee.” He picked up his cup, crushed it and pitched it into the nearest trash can.

   Scott moved down the hall as if he was a man in command, a man on a mission. He’d been intense and focused as a medical student. That didn’t seem to have changed, but he also had the ability to laugh and smile effortlessly, which drew people to him.

   Taking a deep breath, she slowly released it. She needed to think. Put things in some order in her mind.

   Jake. Heart transplant. Waiting. Cost. Die. Scott. The words ping-ponged off the walls of her mind.

CHAPTER TWO

   SCOTT peered over the unit desk toward Hannah, who sat at her son’s bed. Her head had fallen to one side against the back cushion of the chair. Even with the burden of worry showing on her features, she caught and held his attention. Her chestnut-colored hair brushed the tops of her shoulders and hung forward, curtaining one cheek. If he’d been standing closer, he would’ve pushed it back.

   Puffy eyes and stricken looks were so much a part of his profession that he had become impervious to them, but telling Hannah about Jake’s heart condition had been the toughest thing he’d ever done. She was no longer the impressionable nursing student he’d once known. Hannah was now a mother warrior fighting for her child. He believed her strength and spirit would see her through.

   She’d made it clear that their only association would be a professional one. He could be there for her as a friend, for old times’ sake. The only sensible choice was to keep their relationship a professional one. Being involved with a parent on a personal level was a huge ethical no-no anyway. Lawyers didn’t represent family members, and surgeons didn’t treat loved ones, or, in his case, family.

   Hannah shifted in the chair and shoved her tresses out of her face. She looked tired, worn and dejected. She stirred, causing her hair to fall further across her face. With effort, Scott resisted the urge to go to her, take her in his arms and whisper that everything would be all right. She’d always brought out the protective side of him. She’d never believe it but he’d left her that morning all those years ago in order to protect her. Even then medicine had been his all-consuming focus. He’d gotten that trait from his father.

   As a small-town doctor, his father had been on call day and night. Scott had watched him leave the supper table numerous times to see a sick child after eating only one forkful of food. More than once Scott had heard him return to the house in the early hours of the morning after seeing a patient. Their family had even returned early from a vacation because an elderly woman his father had been treating had taken a turn for the worse and was asking for him. Scott had never once heard his father complain. All Scott had ever wanted was to be like his father. He had thought he was the finest doctor he’d ever known.

   Hannah woke with a start, blinking fast. Daylight had turned to darkness outside the window but the fluorescent lighting made it bright in the room. She straightened. “Mommy.”

   She hopped up and went to Jake’s bedside.

   “Hi, sweetheart. We both had a little nap.” She brushed his hair back from his forehead. “How you doing?” She kissed him.

   The nurse pushed medicine into the port of the IV located at the side of Jake’s tiny wrist. Giving the IV set-up a critical look, Hannah realized old habits did die hard. She still wished she could take a more active role in Jake’s care. As long as he was in CICU she had to remain on the sideline.

   “Would you like to hold him for a while?” the nurse asked as she punched buttons on the IV pump and it responded with small beeps.

   Moisture filled her eyes. “Could I, please?”

   “Sure. You have a seat in the chair and I’ll help you get him situated.”

   After a little maneuvering of IV lines and moving of machines, Hannah had Jake in her arms. It was pure heaven.

   “Go home,” Jake mumbled as he settled against her.

   “I wish we could, but hopefully you won’t be here long.”

   She looked over Jake’s head at the nurse as he played with his toy bear.

   The nurse spoke softly, “You know, Mrs. Quinn, I’ve seen some very sick kids come through here who are doing great after having a transplant.”

   The words reassured Hannah somewhat. At least she was getting to hold him. That more than satisfied her for the time being.

   “If you don’t mind, while he’s sitting with you I’m going to step over to the next bed and help another nurse with her patient. Will you be okay?”

   “Sure.” Hannah’s gaze shifted to Jake again. He looked like a small cherub. His lips were getting bluer, though. She had to admit Scott was right. Jake needed a heart. Soon.

   She put her cheek against Jake’s. “I love you.”

   “I luv ‘oo.”

   Moisture filled her eyes. Loving … was … hard.

   Her head jerked up at the sharp insistent beeps of the monitor that turned into an alarm. Staff rushed into Jake’s cubicle. Scott came with them. “Hannah, let me have Jake.” Scott took Jake from her and laid him on the bed, all the while issuing orders.

   Hannah stepped to the bed. Her hands gripped the rail. “What’s wrong?” she whispered, fear coiling in her middle.

   Scott looked at her as he listened to Jake’s chest. “Hannah, you need to leave.” His authoritarian tone told her he’d accept no argument. His attention immediately returned to Jake.

   She was a nurse, Jake was her son. She could help.

   But as much as she wanted to stay, Hannah knew he was right. She’d been involved in enough emergencies to know that the fewer people around the bed the better. If she wasn’t allowed to assist then she would be in the way. Slowly, she stepped back.

   Scott’s gaze caught hers. “I’ll be out to talk to you when Jake is stable.”

   Hannah walked toward the doors but took one final look over her shoulder as she left the unit. Jake’s bed was no longer visible because of the number of people surrounding it.

   Finding one of the small conference rooms off the hallway empty and dark, she stepped inside, not bothering with the light. Her eyes ached from the dry air and the bright lights. She dropped onto one of the chairs situated as far from the door as possible.

   Unable to control her anguish any longer, Hannah’s dam broke and her soft crying turned into sobs.

   Now that Jake was resting comfortably, Scott needed to find Hannah. He paused in the hall.

   What was that sound? There it was again. It was coming from the consultation room. He stepped closer to the entrance. Dark inside, no one should be in there. Was that someone crying?

   He couldn’t ignore it. In a hospital it wasn’t unusual to hear crying, but this sounded like someone in physical pain.

   With tentative steps, he entered the room. “Hello?” A muffled sob filled the space. “Are you okay?”

   “I’m fine. Please go away.” The words were little more than a whisper coming from the corner, followed by a sniff.

   Even when it was full of sorrow, he recognized her voice. Hannah. The stricken look on her face when he’d ordered her to leave still troubled him. He’d been surprised she hadn’t put up more of a fight.

   “Hannah?”

   A whimper answered, then a muffled “Please leave” came from the corner. Moving into the room, he gave his eyes time to adjust to the dim light spilling in from the hallway. Scott had seen patients in pain, but her agony reached deep within him. Hearing Hannah sobbing knocked the breath out of him. It was killing him to stand behind professionally closed doors where she was concerned.

   But if he did open that metaphorical door, would he be able to step through? Could he help her? Did he have the right to get involved so deeply in her life? What he did know with unshaking certainty was that he couldn’t walk away. He couldn’t make the same mistake twice. The consequences could be too great.

   Coming toward her, Scott lowered his voice. “It’s Scott. Hannah, honey, Jake is fine. He had a reaction to the new med. He’s all right now.”

   Her head rose enough that he could see her eyes over the ridge of her arm. The rest of her face remained covered.

   “Go. Away.” The words were sharp and wrapped in pure misery. She turned her back to him and lowered her head again. “I don’t need you.”

   Those words stung. Scott touched her and she flinched. He removed his hand. It wounded him that she wouldn’t accept his help. Was she really that untrusting of him? “He’s resting now, really.”

   Scott sank into the chair beside hers. He’d dealt with parents besieged by strong feelings. It was part of his job, but Hannah’s pain reached deep to a spot he kept closed off. A place he shouldn’t go with the parent of a patient, especially not with her. Somewhere he wasn’t comfortable or confident in going.

   Then again, his failure to recognize how distressed his mother had been when his parents had divorced had had disastrous results. He’d promised himself then to never let that happen again to someone he cared about. He wasn’t leaving Hannah, no matter what she said or how she acted. Her obvious pain went too deep to dismiss.

   Hannah made a slight shift in her seat toward him, then said in a hard voice, “I don’t—want you here. Go away and leave me alone.”

   She was in so much pain she was contradicting herself. He could resist a lot, but Hannah’s pain brought down the final wall. He had to do something, at least try.

   A feeling of inadequacy washed over him. What could he say to make it better? Could he help her? Scott placed a hand on her shoulder, feeling the inflexible muscles. As if she were a troubled child, he began moving his hand in comforting circles along her back.

   “Scott, stop.” She twisted her shoulders back and forth, but he refused to let her have her way. He may not have the correct words or be able to change the situation but he could hold her, be there to comfort her.

   “Hannah, I’m not leaving.”

   She stilled.

   “Look, you’re a fighter. And if Jake is anything like you, he is too.”

   He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him. She stiffened and pushed against his chest. “Let me help you get through this.” His grip tightened and he tucked her head under his chin. Holding her as close as the chairs would allow, he said in a tender voice, “Let me be your friend. You need someone.”

   She remained rigid, but he refused to ease his hold. Taking several halting breaths, she gave up the battle and relaxed against him.

   Hannah’s distress was difficult to witness. He didn’t flinch when he opened a child’s chest or when making life-and-death decisions but he couldn’t stand seeing Hannah in so much pain. He wanted to make it go away, make it his own.

   “Why won’t you leave me alone?” she murmured against his chest.

   “You need to be held, and I’m going to do that. Cry all you want. I’ll be right here when you’re ready to talk.”

   Having her in his arms went beyond wonderful, even with her crying and heartbroken. It felt right. He’d not only stepped over the invisible don’t-get-personally-involved line, he’d jumped. But he’d see to it remained one friend comforting another. He wouldn’t, couldn’t, let it become personal.

   Holding her firmly against him, he made calm reassuring noises that made little sense. With his voice low, he spoke to her as if she were a hurt animal. After a few minutes she quieted. Pure satisfaction coursed through him like brandy on a cold night.

   He placed a fleeting kiss to her forehead, which smelt like fresh apples. She still used the same shampoo. With his cheek resting against her hair, he took a deep breath, letting her scent fill him.

   Neither spoke. Her breathing gradually became even and regular. The sensation of her body pressed against his made his thoughts travel back to what could have been. Was he taking advantage of her vulnerability? Yeah, but he still couldn’t resist resting his lips against her skin again.

   Scott comprehended for the first time in his life what it meant to want to carry someone else’s burden. He longed to take Hannah’s hurt away. Fix her problems. Yet he could never be her knight. His duty to others would always be pulling him off the horse.

   With a sigh of resignation, she completely relaxed against his chest. She had to be drained in both body and mind.

   Having Hannah in his arms brought back memories of that night. Even then he couldn’t help but touch her, hold her. Now she needed to be held, desperately, and he was afraid that he needed the contact just as much. Everything about Hannah pushed his common sense away.

   Heavens. She was being held by Scott. “Better?” he asked.

   In a quick movement Hannah straightened and shifted back into her chair. She should’ve never let him touch her. Mercy, it had felt wonderful. She was so tired of being alone, carrying the load for Jake’s care. At least with Scott she had a partner until the transplant was done.

   Under Scott’s scrutiny, she refused to meet his gaze. “I’ve never fallen apart like that before,” she muttered.

   “Are you positive you’re okay?” He sounded as unsure as she felt.

   “I’m better now,” she said, though her words lacked confidence. “You can go.”

   “Have you eaten today?”

   Why wouldn’t he leave her alone? She closed her eyes, then lifted them, looking through her lashes. “If I answer you, will you leave?” She didn’t want to have a reason to start caring for him again.

   Scott said nothing but gave her a hard look.

   “Okay, I had a bowl of cereal this morning. I was going to eat during shift change …” she sighed “ … but I just wasn’t hungry. Satisfied?” Where was the ever ever-present sound of his pager going off when she needed it?

   He shook his head. “You’re one of the most intelligent women I know so I expected better from you. What did I tell you about taking care of yourself?”

   “I heard you.”

   “But you don’t plan to follow orders.” Cynicism wrapped his words.

   She straightened her shoulders. “I don’t have to follow your orders. You’re Jake’s doctor, not mine.” At his chuckle, she realized he’d baited her on purpose to make her show some kind of animation.

   “That might be, but if you’d followed my orders …” He cocked his head to the side in question.

   “It must feel good to be a know-it-all.”

   “It does have its advantages. Let’s go get a bite to eat.”

   “Us?”

   “Yeah, us. I eat too. I certainly can’t trust you to see to feeding yourself. Anyway, I like to share a meal with someone when I can. I eat too many dinners alone.”

   “That’s hard to believe. You can’t find a nurse to eat with?” She’d never known him to have trouble getting dinner dates. Had he really changed that much?

   “I did. You.”

   She huffed. “You know what I mean.”

   “I do, but I’m pretending I don’t. Come on. Keep me company.”

   “I don’t really want to go, but you’re not going to give up until I agree, are you?”

   He grinned and shook his head.

   She’d consider it payment for him giving her a shoulder to cry on. And she was just too tired, too scared and too emotionally drained to fight him off. Besides, having one meal with Scott wouldn’t change anything between them.

   After a long moment she nodded her agreement. “But I’m going to check on Jake first.”

   “I never thought any different.” He took her elbow and helped her stand. The pad of his thumb skimmed across the bare skin of her forearm. She shivered and stepped away.

   Tugging at the hem of her pink T-shirt, she said, “I’m fine now.”

   He remained close as they moved toward the door. Her head seemed to be on straight again, but having Scott so near was making her nerves fire in double time.

   What was happening? She’d given up acting like a schoolgirl long ago. Given up on him. She hadn’t needed anyone in a long time, but she’d fallen apart in Scott’s arms. Hannah shook her head to remove lingering feelings of being cherished while in Scott’s embrace. Years ago he’d acted as if he cared, and she’d been crushed. She wouldn’t let it happen again.

   Jake was sitting up in the bed, playing with the toy that Scott had given him, when they walked into his cubicle.

   “Mommy.” He reached his hand over the rail of his bed.

   She took his little hand in hers and placed a quick kiss on the top of it. “Hi, sweetie.”

   “Hello, Jake,” Scott said, as he move around to the other side of the bed from Hannah. “While you’re talking to your mom, I’m going to give you a little check. It won’t hurt, I promise.”

   Scott slipped two fingers around Jake’s wrist, feeling for his pulse before he stepped to the end of the bed. Pulling the blanket back, Scott placed the tips of two fingers on the top of Jake’s foot to check his dorsalis pedis pulse.

   At Scott’s finger skimmed Jake’s skin, her little boy jerked his foot away.

   Scott looked up at Jake and smiled. “Do you like to be tickled?”

   Jake nodded.

   Cupping Jake’s heel, Scott ran a finger down the bottom of Jake’s foot. Her son laughed. Scott’s low rumble of mirth joined Jake’s.

   Hannah couldn’t help but smile. Her heart lightened. For the first time all day she believed Jake might get well.

   Her laugh drew both males’ attention as if they’d forgotten she was even there.

   The overhead lights dimmed.

   “It’s time for your mom and me to let you sleep,” Scott said to Jake as he pulled the blanket back over the tiny foot.

   Hannah squeezed Jake’s hand and kissed him on the forehead. “I love you, honey.”

   Scott nodded to a nurse standing behind her, who she’d not noticed until then. The nurse inserted a needle into Jake’s IV port and emptied the syringe’s contents.

   “That should help him sleep,” Scott said as he came to stand beside Hannah. “He’ll have a comfortable night, so don’t worry.”

   “Yeah, that’s easier said than done.” Hannah watched Jake’s eyelids droop. When she felt his hand go limp, she placed it on the bed. Pulling the blue hospital blanket up, she tucked Jake in.

   The urge to scoop Jake up and take him home to his own bed had never been stronger.

   “Come, Hannah,” Scott said in a sympathetic voice. “It’s time to see about yourself. You need to eat.”

   As they waited for the elevator to go down to the cafeteria, Scott kept glancing at her. He’d been wonderful with Jake, but he was making her nervous now. Did Scott think she was going to fall into his bed again just because he’d made her son giggle?

   She curled her hands together and intertwined her fingers again.

   As close as they’d been at one time, they were little more than strangers now. She’d changed, was a mother now, and had been a wife. Maybe Scott had changed too. Relief flowed through her as the elevator doors slid open. Hannah stepped in and stood in a corner. She was glad that Scott chose to stand on the opposite side.

   The jerk of the elevator as they dropped to the bottom floor made her grab the rail on the wall.

   Scott moved nearer. “Are you okay?”

   “Yes.”

   His gaze met hers then moved to her lips and lingered.

   Her mouth went hot-summer dry. Her head spun. Had someone turned off the air-conditioning?

   The elevator stopped and the doors slid open. Scott’s eyes lifted. A smoldering look filled them. Hannah blinked. Gathering her wits, she slipped by him. As she exited, his warm breath ruffled her hair against her cheek.

   He followed. “Let’s go to the cafeteria instead of the snack machines. Wednesday is fried chicken day, the best thing they make.”

   Scott spoke as if the intense moment in the elevator had never occurred. Had having her back in his life affected him at all? Perhaps it hadn’t.

   “I think I’ll just have a BLT and a cup of hot tea,” Hannah said.

   “I’m going for the chicken. Find us a table. Tell Lucy at the register that I’ll pay for yours when I come through.”

   “I won’t let you do that,” she said as she stepped toward the grill line. “This isn’t a date.”

   He held up his hand and grinned. “Okay, okay.”

   His boyish smile made her feel like she was sitting in the sun on a spring day, pure bliss. Her heart fluttered. He still had that devastating effect on her.

   Don’t stare. Think.

   Hannah forced herself to turn around and go to the sandwich line. The mundane business of selecting a sandwich and the physical distance from Scott helped to settle her nerves. She’d moved into the register line when Scott came up behind her. Bending down, he said, “I’m getting yours.”

   He was too close. She was too conscious of him. He paid before she could form a protest.

   Outside the high arched windows a slow, steady rain began to fall. The water on the concrete walk shimmered in the glow from the security light. The weather reflected her life. Dark, with hints of brightness.

   Moving toward the dining area, she selected a table in the center of the room, if only to put a physical object between them as a way to regain her equilibrium. Scott glanced at an available booth and shrugged. His mouth lifted into the beginning of a grin before he took the chair opposite hers.

   Hannah concentrated on keeping the bacon between the pieces of toast while Scott ate his fried chicken. It amazed her that after the heated moments earlier they could still manage a comfortable silence between them.

   They’d slipped back into that easy place they’d enjoyed when he’d been in medical school.

   Cleaning his plate, Scott sat back with a sigh, giving her a quizzical look. “Feel better now you’ve had some food?”

   Her heart skipped a beat. He’d caught her staring. “Yes, much. But I do insist on paying for my meal.”

   “I owed you for coffee. Anyway, can’t two old friends eat together without fighting over the bill?”

   “We’re just acquaintances.” She fiddled with her glass a second before pinning him with a look. “True friends don’t leave without saying a word.”

   His lips formed a tight line before he said, “Hannah, I realize you’re still angry with me and I don’t blame you.”

   She opened her mouth to speak.

   “No, please hear me out. I know you don’t want to go into the past. I appreciate that. You’re having a rough time and I’d like to help if you’ll let me.” He laid a hand over hers, blanketing it.

   Her heart thumped faster. She didn’t know how to force her body to be sensible where Scott was concerned.

   It would be nice to have someone to lean on. It was tempting to accept his offer, for at least a little while, until she could right her world long enough to think straight. But could Scott be that person, with their past looming between them?

   And he was Jake’s doctor.

   “I guess we can try.” They’d been friends before, maybe they could be again. She was just too exhausted in spirit and mind to argue. “But you’ll have to earn my friendship and that will be all there is between us. Friendship.” She tugged her hand from beneath his.

   The stiffness in his body eased and, with a gentle smile, he said, “I understand.”

   With one finger, Hannah circled the salt shaker sitting in the middle of the table. She rolled it from side to side. The base of the glass knocked against the wood.

   Scott took the shaker, setting it aside. “I wish I could make the situation with Jake easier for you.”

   “I appreciate that.” She gave him a weary smile. “I hate not being able to help care for him. I am his mother and a nurse.”

   Scott opened his mouth to speak, but she forestalled him.

   “I know. Protocol. I understand it, but don’t like it.”

   He laughed softly. “And I understand where you’re coming from. I know that right now it seems like all you’re doing is sitting around, watching and waiting, but once Jake goes to the floor I promise you there’ll be plenty to do. Plenty to learn.”

   “I hope I don’t sound too whiny. I’ve been Jake’s sole parent for so long it’s hard to relinquish control. I understand why I’m not allowed to do more but that doesn’t mean my heart accepts it.”

   He nodded. “So, do you plan to return to the same position when Jake recovers, or do you want to work elsewhere? Maybe a satellite clinic?”

   Hannah leaned back against the chair, pulling her lower lip between her teeth. “I hadn’t thought about doing that. Working at a clinic isn’t a bad idea. The hours are better, and it may be easier to arrange care for Jake if I did.” She sat up again, crossing her arms and leaned on the table. “Have I satisfied all your questions?”

   “No, but I’ll save some for another time.” Downing the rest of his drink, he asked, “Are you ready to go? I’ve an early morning and you’ve had a hard day. We both need to get to bed.”

   At her surprised look he realized what he’d said. “I’m sorry, that didn’t come out right.”

   She laughed. “I knew what you meant. Scott, I’m not holding a grudge against you. I got over what happened between us a long time ago. That’s water down the river.”

   His blue gaze bored into hers and he said softly, “I wish that wasn’t true.”

   Hannah swallowed. Her words weren’t completely honest but she didn’t want him to know that. Truthfully, their night still hung between them, but now wasn’t the time to get into it.

   As they left their trays on the cleaning rack Hannah said, “Thank you for the meal. It hit the spot.” She looked up at him. “Even with the questions.”

   “You’re welcome. I’d like to make one more start toward earning your friendship by seeing that you get home safely. I’ll get someone to take you home. You don’t need to be driving, but I’m on call and can’t leave.”

   “There’s no need.”

   “You’re worn out. You need to go home.” “I’m staying here.”

   Scott leaned forward. She could see the lines around his eyes, indicating he’d smiled a lot through the years. Probably at all the women he’d seduced. She’d do well to remember that.

   “Hannah,” he said earnestly, “you need to rest, which you won’t do here. Wouldn’t you like to sleep in your own bed? Pick up some clean clothes? Take a hot shower?”

   He’d known what would get to her. A shower sounded heavenly.

   After sighing deeply, she said, “I’ll go. For tonight.” “I know you’d like to see Jake one more time before you leave. I’ll call up and let Jake’s nurse know you’re coming.

   While you’re gone I’ll arrange your transportation and meet you in the lobby.”

   Hannah made her way through the maze of corridors back to CICU. At a set of automatic doors she spoke into the monitor on the wall and requested entrance into the unit. She’d never been more acutely aware of hospital rules. It was her son in there, and she had to ask permission to see him. As a nurse, she’d never realized how much control she’d had over a patient’s life.

   At Jake’s bed, she whispered goodnight to her sleeping child and gave him a kiss.

   Her baby … needed … a heart. If not …

   She refused to let that thought catch hold.

   Scott stood at one side of the lobby, talking on his phone, when Hannah approached a few minutes later. As if he sensed her arrival, he turned and looked at her. He ended the conversation and started forward.

   Watching him saunter down the long corridor of the hospital used to be a favorite pastime of hers. She still found it absorbing.

   As he approached, he smiled. “Your carriage is waiting.”

   Taking her elbow, he ushered her out the sliding glass doors at the front of the hospital. Waiting beside one of the hospital’s vans was a security guard.

   “Hannah, this is Oscar. He’s going to be escorting you home.”

   The large, toothy man smiled. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Hannah. Climb in.” Oscar opened the door nearest her then went around to the driver’s side.

   “I thought I was taking a taxi.”

   “Hush and appreciate the ride. Oscar believes he owes me a favor, so this is my way of letting him think he’s paying me back.”

   “I’m grateful for the ride, but I don’t understand why you’re going to so much trouble.”

   “Let’s just say I need to do it for me more than you. This way everyone wins.” Scott helped her into the van. “You get a safe ride home with someone I trust, and Oscar gets to feel good about what he’s doing. I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll keep an eye on Jake and let you know if you’re needed. Trust me.”

   Trust him? She’d trusted him one time with her affection and her body. He’d disappointed her. Could she trust him with Jake’s life?

   Oscar returned to her house early the next morning to bring her back to the hospital. He informed her that Dr. Mac expected it. Hannah agreed to the service, not wanting to hurt the sweet man’s feelings.

   At the hospital, she killed time in the waiting area until she could visit Jake. Her heart skipped when she saw Scott. She stepped toward him, pushing panic away, and asked, “Has something happened to Jake?”

   His hand cupped her shoulder. “He’s fine. I’ve spent most of the night in the unit, so I’ve been close by. He was sleeping when I left. You can go back to see him just as soon as shift change is over.”

   Hannah released an audible breath.

   Scott held out a box of donuts. “I was hoping to find you. I thought you might like these. The ‘Hot’ sign was on.”

   “Did you go out especially to get these?”

   “Yeah, but the bakery is just a few miles away. I promised the nurses I’d bring them some today. And I remember how crazy you were about them.”

   Hannah took the box. “You are really going above and beyond the call of duty on this being-a-friend thing.” She looked up at him. “I really can use one right now. Ah, and they’re still warm. Thanks for remembering.” She brought the box up to her nose and inhaled deeply.

   “I remember everything about you.” He smiled, as a pensive look came over his face.

   Heat rushed to her cheeks and she avoided his gaze. She didn’t want to be sucked in by his charisma again, but he was making it awfully difficult not to be. “I thought you could use a blast of sugar to keep you going today. I’ve got a couple of minutes before I have to be in surgery. How about sharing those …” he nodded his head toward the box of donuts “… and a cup of coffee with me?”

   “Sure, the parents’ lounge has a coffee machine and a table and chairs. How about we go there?”

   “Sounds great.” He grinned.

   It was still early enough in the day that they had the lounge to themselves. Scott’s bulk filled the small area, making her conscious of how large a man he was, his scent reminding her of being outdoors after a rainstorm.

   He sat at the small table after her. Hannah placed the box of donuts in front of him, and grinned as he struggled to work his long legs under the table. He gave up and stretched them out in front of him.

   Sharing an intimate breakfast with Scott was something she’d expected to do that morning after they’d made such passionate love. By a twist of fate, instead she was sharing a meal with him years later in a pitifully utilitarian room of a hospital with nothing more than tentative friendship between them. She forced the emerging hurt to one side.

   She crossed to the automatic coffee machine and poured two cups of coffee.

   “You don’t have to pay?”

   “No, this is here for the parents.” She smiled. “Maybe they’d let you get a cup here the next time you’re out of change and I’m not around.”

   A disquieted look came over his face for a second, and then he said, “That’s a thought. I’m going to remember this place.”

   Placing their cups on the table along with some napkins, Hannah took a chair at the table. She really looked at Scott for the first time that morning. Absorbed his appearance. He looked incredible, even after a night with little sleep. He’d always been intriguing, larger than life, and that hadn’t changed. If anything, he’d become more appealing.

   Dressed in jeans that had seen better days and a yellow snug-fitting T-shirt with “Come Paddle with Me” printed in bright red letters across his chest, Scott looked nothing like the white-coated doctor she knew him to be. His hair was a crowd of unruly waves, with a lock falling over his forehead.

   Did he still spend his days off kayaking and rafting? He’d loved the water and adventure when he’d been in school. After rounds, he had sometimes come by the nurses’ station and told her a funny story about something that had happened on one of his trips down the river. She’d always looked forward to those stories, because he’d shared them with such flair, making her wish she could go with him some time.

   “You’re not dressed like you’re going to work. More like you’re going to the river.”

   Somehow the thought that he might not be around for the rest of the day bothered her. What if Jake needed him?

   His soft laugh filled the room. “These are my spare clothes. I keep them in a locker for nights like last night. Nothing was wrong with Jake.”

   Relief filled her. He wasn’t going anywhere.

   “You must be getting plenty of time in down the river because you haven’t changed much in the last eight years.”

   “Why, thank you for noticing.” He dipped his head in acknowledgement. “I don’t kayak as much as I’d like but that’s where I usually spend my days off.”

   “I see your ego is still in good shape.”

   “It isn’t as large as you might think,” he said softly.

   Had something happened that had damaged his confidence? “Was your night so difficult that you didn’t go home?”

   “Not bad, just constant.”

   From his causal demeanor, she would have never guessed he’d spent the night at the hospital. “We got a new patient.”

   It made her chest tighten to think how the parents of the child must be feeling. Had it just been yesterday morning that she’d been in the same spot?

   Scott opened the green and white box containing the donuts and pushed it toward her. “Ladies first.”

   Hannah picked out one sugary ring. She took a healthy bite and shoved the box toward him.

   “You know what I’ve been doing for the last few years—how about you?” He picked out a chocolate-covered one.

   Hannah didn’t want to talk about the last few years. The future was what she was interested in, one where Jake was better and at home. She’d tell Scott the bare facts to satisfy him, and hope he’d leave the subject alone.

   “Well, since we worked together I received my MBA in nursing, got married, got pregnant, got divorced and moved to Atlanta after getting a job at Fulton Medical. And here I am.” She raised her hands in the air in a dramatic pose.

   That sounded like a well-rehearsed litany of events, even to her ears.

   “Have you tried to contact his father since Jake was listed? I’d want to know if my son needed a transplant.” “No.” The word came out jagged and tart. “Why?”

   Yes, why? Why wouldn’t he leave it alone? “He wouldn’t be interested.” She couldn’t conceal her bitterness.

   “Why not?”

   Hannah took her time finishing the bite of donut she’d just taken before she said, “He left us.” She paused. “I shouldn’t have married him to begin with. I think I just fell in love with the idea of being married. For him, I think his mother thought I could settle him down. By the time I realized we had no business being married, I was pregnant. Turns out I didn’t have to leave him. He packed his bags and was gone. I found out later he already had someone else by then.”

   Scott’s harsh, crude words filled the space between them.

   “I couldn’t agree with you more. He wasn’t too sure about having children to begin with and when Jake was born with a heart problem he couldn’t get past the idea that his child wasn’t perfect. His answer was to run.” She made it sound like she was giving a statement to a newspaper reporter. Just the facts. “Anyway, I have Jake, and he’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. He’s my life. All I’ve got. I won’t lose him too.”

   “We’ll do our best to get Jake out of here soon.”

   “I sure hope so.” She picked out another donut. Her eyes closed in delight as she took the first bite out of it.

   “Like these, do ya?” The words were filled with Scott’s mirth.

   She opened her eyes and nodded as she licked the sticky sweetness from her upper lip, and began to flick away the grains of sugar that had fallen on her chest.

   Scott’s laughter stopped as his eyes followed her movements.

   An uncharacteristic warmth settled over her. The fine hairs at the nape of her neck stood as straight as corn on her granddaddy’s farm. She tried to concentrate on what she was doing. Seconds ticked by.

   His gaze rose and locked with hers, held.

   Scott’s pupils had widened and darkened, giving him the intent look of a predator. Suddenly, the light button-down top she wore seemed heavy and hot against her skin.

   Mercy, she was in over her head. He could still do it to her. She placed her donut on a napkin and stood. “Um, I think I need some cream for my coffee. Can I get you some?”

   She needed to move away from him, get out of the room, but she had to pass Scott to do so. His intense look still clung to her.

   “It hurts you don’t remember I take my coffee black,” he said in the indulgent voice of a man who knew she was trying to escape and why.

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