The Firefighter and the Lady Doc
Heading the Emergency Department of a busy hospital is all that Dr. Kate MacNaughton has time for. She certainly doesn’t have the time or the need for any other commitments, especially not for Mike Lawrence, the firefighter who is a painful reminder of her husband’s tragic death. For Mike, winning Kate’s heart, although difficult, is not impossible, but convincing her to take a chance on another firefighter just might be.
Read an excerpt …
A loud click followed by a dial tone met Kate MacNaughton’s ear.
She’d had to cancel. Again. Story of her life lately, it seemed. And it looked like this time, she wasn’t going to be forgiven.
Running a busy emergency room in the only hospital in a hundred-mile radius in northern Ontario left little room for a personal life, and cancelling plans at the last minute was common.
As her now ex-friend had bluntly reminded her, Kate had backed out the last three times they’d arranged to have dinner and see a movie together. Kate had apologized, promised it would never happen again. But this was unavoidable. Just like all the other times. She had no choice. What else could she do?
Hanging up the phone, Kate sank into a chair behind the desk in the central nurses’ station and levelled a what-can-you-do look at the charge nurse sitting beside her. “It can’t be helped, Shirl. Somebody has to cover John’s shift. I can’t just up and leave.”
It was the worst Canadian winter on record, and the blizzard felling the whole eastern half of the province had made it impossible for Kate’s replacement to get to the hospital from his home ten miles outside of town. He was snowed in, and until the plows cleared the road between his house and the highway, he was stuck there. As head of the ER, staffing was her responsibility, which meant she’d be staying until he arrived. If he arrived.
“You’ve already been here fourteen hours,” Shirley pointed out.
“I’ve called everybody else who could possibly make it. I’m it for now. So let me get back to work.”
Turning her attention to the stack of lab reports on the desk in front of her, she scanned the results. Nothing critical, which was a good thing.
She was writing an order on a chart a few minutes later when Shirley’s shoulder nudged hers.
“Here we go again, Kate. Another customer. And he’s hot, not to mention being a jock.”
Lifting her gaze, she glanced in the direction of the glass doors at the entrance to the ER. “Great,” she muttered, “another overgrown kid who doesn’t have the sense to realize he’s not invincible.”
Two men were standing just inside the reception area. By the way they were dressed, it was obvious they’d come straight from the ice hockey rink a block away. How they’d managed to drive through the storm was a mystery, but somehow they’d made it.
As the doors swished shut behind them, the taller of the two scanned the empty waiting room, then hustled across to the desk near the ambulance entrance, leaving the other leaning against the wall.
Kate couldn’t help but stare at the man she assumed was the patient. Tall. Broad-shouldered. Short sable brown hair just beginning to curl at the nape of his neck. A strong, square jaw with just enough five o’clock shadow to be sexy without being scruffy. Deep blue eyes the color of Tucker Lake on a summer’s day.
As if he sensed he was being watched, he met her gaze. An unfamiliar warmth swept through her. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d reacted to a man so quickly, especially at a distance.
Unable to hold such an intense stare, Kate looked down and focused on the wide expanse of chest covered by the white hockey jersey with a red stripe on the body and sleeves and the word “Flames” scrawled across the front, then slipping down to the short black hockey pants and red socks covering his legs. Instead of skates on his feet, he wore scuffed sneakers.
Deep frown lines furrowed his forehead, and his lips were pressed into a thin line. Even from where she was sitting, she could see the tension in the muscles in his jaw.
He was in pain, but he was moving under his own steam, so his condition wasn’t critical, at least not at this point.
His left arm was bent. He held it gingerly, cradling it against his chest, using his right hand and forearm as a sling. Sweat beaded on his forehead, despite the frigid weather outside.
Kate sighed. Another hockey jockey. The second one in three days with an injury from playing silly games. Her dad, her brothers, every man she’d ever known had been addicted to sports. Not that she didn’t see the appeal of competition once in a while, but there were plenty of other hobbies and pastimes that didn’t result in bodily injury. Why was it that supposedly mature men couldn’t admit they weren’t injury-proof?
Kate shook her head. An unanswerable question, she supposed. And really, the reasons didn’t matter, except that she spent more time than she cared to patching up the broken bones and bumps and bruises that showed up in her emergency room on a regular basis because people tempted fate. And lost.
High-pitched giggles drew Kate’s attention to the registration desk. The patient’s companion, also dressed in hockey gear, was leaning indecently close to the unit clerk, but she didn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, she was practically swooning.
Kate turned to Shirley. “Would you mind taking the patient and getting him prepped? I’ll finish with this chart and be right there.” She stood up. “If I can pry the paperwork away from Tina, that is.”
Shirley grinned. “Sure thing. I haven’t seen a guy like him naked in far too long.” She bounded out of the chair and smoothed her pale blue scrub top over her hips, then fluffed her auburn curls.
“Uh, Shirl, it’s his arm.”
“Spoil all my fun,” she commented with a grin as she passed by and headed towards the patient. Moments later, she was ushering him into a treatment room.
Focusing back on the lab reports in front of her, Kate put the injured man out of her mind for the moment. Her trained eye took note of the results of the tests she’d ordered on the fifty-three-year-old man who’d been brought in that morning complaining of severe abdominal pain, diarrhoea and vomiting after eating burritos the night before at a local Mexican restaurant.
She suspected he’d contracted food poisoning, but she’d run a few diagnostic tests to be sure. Thankfully, they were all negative. He was dehydrated, and she’d started an IV to replace the fluids he’d lost. Already he was feeling much better and now that his labs were back, she was convinced nothing more serious was going on. She put the chart aside to remind herself to discharge him as soon as she was finished with the man in the exam room.
As she got up, the chair rolled away from her, and she grimaced when she heard metal crunching against metal when it collided with the chart rack.
She crossed to the reception desk where Tina was gazing up at the patient’s friend with undisguised adoration. As Kate approached, she blushed then began to nervously stack the admission forms together.
“Mike gonna be okay?” the man asked, his eyes filled with concern. The smile he’d bestowed on Tina a moment ago had disappeared.
Kate gave him a compassionate smile. “I haven’t had a chance to examine your friend yet, but someone will let you know as soon as possible.”
He nodded absently. “He’s my brother, and when he dropped like that … scared the bejeezus out of me, I gotta tell you.”
“I’m sure it did. If Tina has all the information she needs,” Kate said, sliding a glance at the receptionist, who was busily tapping on the computer keyboard, “you can have a seat in the waiting room. I’ll let you know about your brother as soon as I can.”
Kate smiled again, and took the admission forms from Tina. “Thanks,” she said, then walked away, the soles of her sneakers squeaking on the freshly waxed floor.
The patient – Mike Lawrence, according to the papers in her hand – was perched on the edge of a vinyl chair in treatment room one.
Kate sent a questioning glance in Shirley’s direction. “He didn’t want to stay on the gurney,” Shirley whispered.
Kate noticed the patient’s gaze following Shirley as she moved around the room with efficient grace. He had an expression of a man watching his executioner preparing the gallows. So, the big tough hockey player wasn’t so tough after all.
Shirley rolled an IV pole to the head of the stretcher. “If you don’t need me for a few minutes,” she said to Kate, “I’ll check on the appendix in room three.”
Kate nodded her approval. Shirley gathered up the hockey sweater and padding she’d cut off Mike and piled them on the lid of the laundry bin near the door. “See you in a minute, Mike.” She gave him an encouraging smile before disappearing into the corridor and letting the door close behind her.
It certainly didn’t take Shirley long to get on a first name basis, Kate thought wryly. “Mr. Lawrence?”
“Mike,” he corrected. He tried to smile, but couldn’t quite make it. Perspiration beaded on his pale forehead, and a muscle twitched in his jaw. But the eyes looking up at Kate were still very much alert, a deep cobalt blue fringed by the indecently long sooty lashes.
His chest was bare – broad, muscular and tanned to a deep bronze. Had the man never heard of sunscreen? Then again, he obviously didn’t give much thought to his health and well-being otherwise he wouldn’t be taking chances with his life in the first place.
Her gaze slipped a little lower, to what she knew was referred to as a six-pack. A strange tingle ran through her. What was going on? She was a professional, for God’s sake. She didn’t get tingly over the play of muscles beneath smooth skin. Or deep blue eyes and long eyelashes. Or … No! Never!
Turning away, she scrubbed her hands at the sink while she took a few deep calming breaths.
She had to remember that. “How are you feeling?” she asked. This was her standard opener, even though many times, the physical appearance of the patient made the question redundant.
He began to raise his shoulders in a shrug, then winced from the effort. “I’ve been better.”
“Nothing spectacular. I zigged when I should’ve zagged.”
Kate couldn’t control the twitch in her lips as she tried not to smile. “I can see why that might cause a problem. But I need a little more information about what happened.”
“The worst part of it is, it was my own damn fault. I know better than to have my head down. I didn’t see the defenseman coming at me until he was almost on me. I tried to get out of his way, but, like I said before…”
“Right. You zigged when you should’ve zagged.”
“I got the shot away before he levelled me, but it missed the net by a mile. That goal would’ve won the game. Now we’re in last place in the league.”
“That’s too bad,” Kate muttered, although she was less than sympathetic about the importance of shooting a small piece of rubber into a net. Why anyone would risk serious injury – or even death – to win a game was beyond her level of understanding.
“Can you touch your right shoulder with your left hand?” she asked.
He managed to move only a fraction of an inch before he gritted his teeth together to prevent an agonized moan from escaping.
“Well, then, let’s see just how much damage you’ve done to yourself,” she said, noting that his left shoulder was squared off, the deltoid contour missing compared to his right.
She touched his shoulder. His skin was fiery against her cool fingers. Her nerve endings singed.
Whether he felt it as well, Kate couldn’t tell. He looked up at her and their eyes met, but the expression on his face was unreadable. Kate blushed.
What was wrong with her? So this man was an incredible specimen of anatomy. So what? He wasn’t the first good-looking man to walk into her emergency room. She’d treated countless ‘Mike’s’ over the years, but this…
This sort of reaction just didn’t happen to her. She was much too in control of herself. Why she would react to this man, a man who engaged in a lifestyle that she disagreed with, was a complete mystery to her.
Even Craig …
Stop it! She couldn’t think about Craig now. She had a patient who needed her help.
“What’s wrong, Doc?” Mike asked as she jerked her hands away. He gazed up at her, his brow furrowed.
She was thankful he couldn’t read her mind, and that he was unaware of the direction her thoughts had taken.
“What? Oh, I’m sorry. Just thinking about your shoulder. Nothing to be concerned about.”
She began to gently examine his shoulder, this time prepared for the wave of heat sluicing through her each time her fingers came into contact with his skin. As she probed the tissue around his upper arm and collar bone, she noticed his jaw clench. “Sorry,” she murmured, even though she was being as gentle as possible. The head of the humerus was palpable beneath his clavicle.
“Do you think it’s broken?”
“Possibly, but more likely it’s dislocated.”
Moving away from his shoulder, she checked the radial pulses in each of his wrists to rule out any vascular injury or impingement. “Your pulse is strong and regular. That’s a good sign.”
Turning away, she drew a needle from the container on the counter behind her and uncapped it. His eyes widened when he saw it. “What are you gonna do with that?”
“I’m going to prick your skin just a fraction to see if any damage was done to the muscles and nerves in your chest. Ready?”
“Uh … sure …” He held steady as the needle tip touched his skin.
“Feel that?” she asked.
Twice more, she gently pricked him with the needle. Both times, his muscles contracted. “Felt that, too,” he admitted. “Is that good or bad?”
She smiled. “That’s good.”
At that moment, Shirley opened the door and peeked her head in. “You need anything?” she asked.
“Shirley, Mr. Lawrence is going to need x-rays, shoulder trauma series. Once we get the films, if the shoulder is only dislocated and there’s no fracture, start an IV.”
Turning back to him, she added, “We’ll give you a light anaesthetic and something for pain, then pop the shoulder back into place.”
He grimaced. “Do I really need drugs?”
“It’s a painful process without sedation and painkillers. It’s not a deep anaesthetic. We call it twilight.” Glancing at the admission forms, she checked for allergies. He had none. “Is there some reason you’re hesitant to take medication?”
“The last time I had an anaesthetic, I hear I told everyone in the room – in graphic detail – about the woman I’d been seeing and slept with the night before.”
Kate’s cheeks warmed. Somehow, she was sure his description would have been X-rated. “In that case, if you didn’t … I mean … if you were alone last night, then we should be fine.”
“Well …” His eyes twinkled, “I was alone last night, but I don’t know how far back I’ll go when I’m under.”
She smiled. “We’ll take our chances. I’m sure you won’t say anything we haven’t heard before.”
“I don’t know…”
“I understand how you feel, but it will really be much quicker and easier on both of us if you’re completely relaxed.”
“I can think of a lot better ways to relax,” he said, his voice low and gruff. He met her gaze, and she felt herself drawn into his dark depths. Swallowing thickly, she turned away and began to write the orders on the chart.
“I’m sure you can,” she murmured to herself a few seconds later as she left the patient in Shirley’s care and headed back to the desk, willing her heart rate to slow and her breathing to return to normal.
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