Authors: Caroline Anderson
She didn't want to hear that James had been amazing and brilliant and fantastic, she was feeling antsy about the police and the fight victim, and generally she was irritated. Whatever had happened to her nice, orderly existence? It was all so messy and complicated now, and until her registrar had gone off on maternity leave, it had all been going so well.
Trust a man to come in and throw a spanner in the works, she thought crossly, and stalked off down the ward, leaving Jo and Liz, the staff nurse, to follow with the notes.
She didn't want to think about the fight, so she thought about James, instead, and how he'd talked to Jo.
Such a shame about his wife.
That was another annoying thing. How could he? How could he just open up and talk to her SHO when she'd been deliberately kept in ignorance?
âMorning, Mr Reason. I'm sorry to hear you had to go back to Theatre in the night. How are you feeling now?'
Tracy Farthing's operation went smoothly, no thanks to the start of his day, with Freya clinging to him like a limpet and his mother's rather tepid attempts at removing her.
Saying things like, âOh, poor little thing, she doesn't want you to go, James. You can't do this to her, she needs you, she's lost her mummy,' really didn't help. At all. Any of them.
Particularly not Rory, who was the only one of the two to remember his mother and even he didn't talk about her any more.
âThis is nothing to do with Beth,' he said firmly. âThis is about a little girl who doesn't want her father to leave her, but she needs to learn that I have to go to work, and that I come back at the end of the day. I'm hardly the world's first lone parent. Millions of people do it. It's simple.'
But it didn't feel simple, and in the end his mother had refused to be left with her while she was so upset, in case she couldn't get her to stay with the childminder.
âYou know I'm supposed to be going to see my sister, Jamesâshe's expecting me. She's seeing the consultant today, and she wants me there. Please, don't leave me with them,' she pleaded, and so he took the children to the childminder himself, prised Freya off him again and handed her to Helen, took Rory straight to school since it was now so late, gave him a brief, hard hug at the gates and arrived at the hospital just before nine.
In time to start the list with Kate, in a taut silence broken only by terse remarks relating to Tracy's operation. Then, once they'd finished and he'd closed, he straightened up and met her eyes and knew he was in trouble again.
Deep, deep troubleâand he really didn't give a damn.
They walked out of Theatre, leaving the team to clean and restock it ready for the Crohn's patient, and he watched as she dropped into one of the plastic chairs in the lounge area and fixed him with a look that could have melted a hole in the wall.
Tough. He walked over to the coffee-machine, poured two cups and went back, handing her one and lowering himself into a seat at right angles to her.
âCome on, then, spit it out.'
âI don't think I've got anything to say,' she told him bluntly. âI think you have, thoughâstarting with an apology, and following up with an explanation, because I don't think you can expect me to support you when things go wrong if I'm kept in the dark like a bloody mushroom! What's going on, James? I need to know.'
He ran a hand round the back of his neck and sighed, conceding her point. âFair enough,' he said tiredly. âBut not here. Not now.'
He met her eyes defiantly, his impotence at the situation turning suddenly to anger, boiling up inside him like lava and threatening to spill over and destroy everything it touched. He clamped it back under control and bit out, âBecause if you're going to want me to spill my guts, I'm doing it on my turf, on my terms.'
âTonight, then? At yours?'
âWon't your husband mind?'
She looked startled for a second. âI don't have a husband,' she retorted after a breathless pause. âMy time's my own.'
He nodded curtly, storing that bit of information. âAll right, then, tonight, if you insist. Come about eight. No. Make that eight-thirtyâlet the kids get off to sleep.'
âFine. Will you have eaten?'
âWhat's that got to do with anything?'
She shrugged. âI probably won't have done. I can bring somethingâChinese? Indian?'
Oh, Lord. A curry. He hadn't had a curry in ages. He so nearly said no, anger getting the better of him, because he knew perfectly well that she was just doing it to soften him up and make it harder for him to kick her out before she was ready, but then he thought of the pitiful contents of his fridge and his self-control went belly up. So what if he went a little over budget? It was damn well about time. âIndian,' he said decisively, and let his taste buds decide. âLamb balti, Bombay potatoes, pilau rice and a peshwari naan. And beer. I'll order it in,' he added, trying to repossess the moral high ground, but she wasn't having any.
âNo,' she said, holding up her hand. âI'll bring the food. This meeting's my idea. And in return I want my questions answered. Properly. The truth, the whole truth, et cetera. You owe me that.'
She drained her coffee and stood up, walked out to the sinks and started scrubbing for the next case, leaving him to follow in his own time, his anger tempered by the curiously interesting fact that there was no Mr Burgessâ¦
Oh, God, he was turning her into a dragon.
She wasn't a dragon. She was usually reasonable, caring, accommodatingâit was only James who did this to her, and it was driving her nuts.
Was that why she was dithering and vacillating over her wardrobe? For a
âOh, good grief, you are ridiculous!' she told herself. Pulling on a clean pair of jeans and a pretty V-necked jumper over a little vest top, she gave herself a last look in the mirror, ran her fingers through her hair and decided to leave it down and headed for the door.
She looked fine. It wasn't a date.
Freya was in bed and asleep by seven. She'd obviously worn herself out the night before, and the childminder had taken her and her own child to feed the ducks in the afternoon on the way to pick Rory up from school, so she'd been out in the fresh air and been running around.
Thank heavens, because frankly he'd had enough emotional turmoil with his tiny daughter for today and he could have done without Kate coming round and giving him the third degree tonight.
Curry or no curry.
He went into the kitchen and found it spotless. His mother had obviously cleared everything away before she'd left, and the sitting room, similarly, was tidy, except for a little random chaos generated before bedtime. He breathed a sigh of relief, because he really didn't have the energy to get a duster out, never mind the vacuum.
He glanced in the mirror and wondered if he should change, then gave a soft grunt of derision.
Into what? A power suit?
This was his house, his territoryâhis home, for goodness' sake. What he wore in it was his own affair, and he was perfectly certain that Kate would have her say no matter what he had on.
And, anyway, it was too late. His jeans would have to do. Her headlights swept across the front of the house, then cut out, and taking a deep breath, he ran downstairs and opened the front door as she got out of the car. Keep it civil, he told himself, but he couldn't quite get himself to dredge up a smile.
âHi.' She looked up and smiled tentatively, brown paper carrier in hand, and he held open the door and beckoned her in, mesmerised by the waterfall of dark, glossy hair that tumbled down her back and jerked him suddenly and comprehensively out of the sexual coma he'd been in since Beth's diagnosis.
âI couldn't remember what you saidâlamb balti and some kind of naan bread and rice, so I just got that and a few other bits and pieces, and a chicken passanda.'
He forced himself to concentrate on her words, and unglued his tongue from the roof of his mouth. âFantastic. It smells amazing. I haven't had a curry for ages. Come on in, let me take your coat.'
She slid it off and handed it to him, and then he nearly dropped the curry because she was wearing snug jeans that cuddled her lush little bottom like a lover and a pretty, pale pink jumper with a low V-neck, and if it hadn't been for the little frill of white lace across it he would have had a perfect view down her cleavage.
Thank heavens for vest tops, he thought fervently, and went into the kitchen with the carrier bag and pulled the containers out. Several of them. Wow! âTable or knees?' he asked.
âTable, I think,' she said with a slightly embarrassed smile. âThere's quite a lot. I got a bit carried away.'
He chuckled, but it sounded a bit rusty. All he could think about was her getting carried away, and his mind was going into meltdown. He plonked the things onto a tray and led her through to the dining room.
She'd probably over-ordered by about fifty per cent, she thought, going back to the passanda and rice for another helping and ripping a bit off the peshwari naan just for good measure.
Still, he was diving into it as if he hadn't eaten in ages, and maybe he hadn't. But they hadn't talked yet, and possibly he was stalling. She let him eat, though, until even he was slowing down, and then she decided to call a halt.
Putting her fork down, she pushed her plate away and met his eyes across the mess of containers and spilt rice and scraps of naan.
âTalk to me,' she said softly. âI don't bite.'
âLike hell,' he muttered, but he put his own fork down and reached for his beer, turning the glass round while he studied it thoughtfully, a frown pleating his brow.
Then he looked straight at her. âOK, what do you want to know?'
âI have no idea, since I have no idea what it is I don't know. I know you have children, I know you've spent a long time away from work, I know that at interview you were cagey in the extreme about your domestic situation, but I have no idea what that situation really is. I don't even know,' she went on evenly, âif your wife is still alive.'
He put the glass down very carefully and met her eyes again, his breath easing out in a shaky sigh. âNo. She died last year, in August. She had cancer.'
Oh, God. She'd thought as much, but hearing itâ¦
She didn't bother with platitudes. Her regrets or otherwise were irrelevant. So she waited, and after a moment, he went on.
âIt all started in April. Beth was six months pregnant with Freya, and she wasn't feeling great. She'd been suffering from constipation, and thought it was the iron tablets. She hadn't told me anything, but then one morning she vomited and started passing blood. She got a taxi to the hospital, got herself admitted and by the time I knew about it she'd had a load of tests and was waiting for the results.'
âShe didn't tell you?'
âNo. Because she knewâshe was a doctor, and she wasn't stupidâand she didn't know where to start. Anyway, the results came back. She had a tumour in her ascending colon, but because she'd ignored her symptoms for monthsâpossibly even yearsâit had spread to her liver. By the end she had mets in her spine and ribs, and finally her brain.'
Like Steve Symes, she thought, and wondered if that explained his terse and rather crabby behaviour on the first day. Of all the dreadful coincidencesâ¦
âShe died at the end of August, three months after Freya was born.'
He lifted the glass and drained it, then sat forward, picking up his fork and prodding the food on his plate, his expression bleak. âIt was tough. I was angry with her, because she'd ignored her symptoms until it was too late to do anything about the pregnancy, but even if she'd had it terminated, she wouldn't have survived. She might have had longer with Rory, but Freya would have been dead and that would have destroyed her. As it was they had a few good weeks together before she started to really go downhill.'
He put the fork down and stood up abruptly.
âThank you, that would be lovely,' she said, feeling a little surreal, and when he headed out of the door towards the kitchen, she sat there for a few seconds, gathering her thoughts. He'd said his wife had been a doctor, and she remembered something else he'd said to her, after he'd told Steve Symes the news.
Even if you knowâeven if you're a doctorâyou just assume it's IBS or something you ate, because nobody wants to believe that it can be anything sinister.
His remark made sense now, she thought, and suddenly the way he'd dealt so sensitively and sympathetically with the whole family made absolute sense as well. He'd been great with them. As if he had known exactly what they were going through. Which, of course, he did. And by making him the lead on the operation, she'd hurled him in at the deep end of his worst nightmare.