Tempted by the Brooding Surgeon

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Annabel turned to trudge up the hill, slipping a little on small stones as she went. Had the path always been this long? Huffing and puffing and only about halfway there, it felt very possible that her arms might crack off from the heavy weight of the patient monitor before she even got to the operating room. If she’d had any brains, she should have paid the man extra money to carry it for her. But since she knew everyone was waiting for her to finally show up, pausing to put down the awkward thing and catch her breath wasn’t an option.

Thrashing herself all over again for not thinking this through, Annabelle heaved the transport monitor higher against her chest, praying she didn’t drop it before it could even be used. Wouldn’t that just be the icing on the disaster cake?

Sweat rolled down her back, morphing from a trickle to a waterfall despite it being only about seventy degrees on an early March morning, and every hurried step seemed to add another pound to the weight in her arms. A few more lurching steps, and she topped the rise. Seeing the cement block building that made do as an operating room in this part of Peru would have her whooping if she’d had any breath left, but instead she sagged in relief.

She’d made it.

Trying hard to ignore the way the monitor jabbed her breasts and the sharply painful muscle twisting in her shoulder, she bit her lip to keep from cursing. Finally, she got the doorknob turned and the door shoved open with her shoulder.

So sorry I’m late,” she said breathlessly to anyone listening as she stumbled into the sparse room. “And that I missed yesterday, too. I hope you were able to take care of nonsurgical stuff since I wasn’t here but, still, I know it wasn’t good that I missed my flight. Really sorry about that.”

Quickly scanning the space to take in the small assembly of medical professionals near the surgical bed, she saw the familiar face of a Peruvian nurse named Karina whom she’d worked with here before, and her friend, Jen, who worked in a different hospital in Chicago.

“Hi!” Annabelle said with a smile and an accompanying wave of her few free fingers. The lack of return smiles, along with the worry on their faces, briefly registered before she looked down at the small patient they were crowded around, who was lying on the bed and staring up at her somberly.

“Hello, buddy!”

She sent him a reassuring grin before looking for a table close enough to the patient to set the monitor down, her arms beyond desperate to be relieved of the heavy machine.

“Oh, my gosh, this thing weighs a ton! Where can I put it? I hope you all haven’t been waiting for me too long. Getting here has been one problem after another! First there was a delay getting the monitor at the hospital, which made me miss my stupid flight. Then I hit bad weather and missed my connection, which was even worse. Plus, I had no idea airport security would take such a crazy long time examining the monitor this morning, and I—”

“Most of our surgeries have been done without a monitor in the past. If security had a problem with it, you should have left it at the airport. Or shipped it to begin with, which would have prevented all your problems so you could be here on time.”

Annabelle froze, her heart knocked hard against her ribs, and suddenly she couldn’t breathe at all.

That voice. The cold tone. The stinging criticism. All were too horrifyingly familiar. Forcing herself to slowly turn toward the tall, gowned man standing with his arms folded across his chest next to the patient, her worst fears were confirmed.
She may not have seen him for five years, but she’d recognize those hard brown eyes anywhere. The cut cheekbones. The bronzed skin. The displeasure and disdain on his face. The lips that were inexplicably sensuously shaped, even when pressed together in clear annoyance.

Dr. Daniel Ferrera in the flesh.

The man who had sabotaged her first career goals.

Gulping, she tried to pull air into her lungs. How could this be? How was it possible that of all the cardiac surgeons in the whole world, he was the one here on this mission trip in Peru?

“Making us miss an entire day of surgeries yesterday was unfair to everyone else, both the patients and the surgical team who took valuable vacation time to be here, Dr. Richards. And this morning you’ve kept the patient waiting for his surgery, making it so fewer patients will get seen today and all week, disappointing the families hoping their child will be taken care of since we won’t be able to fit in nearly as many because of your actions.”

Condemnation filled his dark eyes as they seared into hers. “I could have sent someone to get the monitor from the airport later, while you were here doing your job, but apparently some things never change.”

“I… The monitor was donated by a benefactor.”

“And the benefactor is more important than our patients here?”

“No. No, of course not. But I had to make sure the monitor arrived safely. When I was here last, we almost lost a patient because there was no monitor. A premature infant, and that’s just not acceptable if there’s any way to avoid it. So I decided to bring one here this time.” Icy shock numbed her brain, making it hard to speak coherently, and her insides seemed to squeeze and sag along with her arms under the heavy weight of the monitor as she stared at him.

Daniel must have seen her struggling to hold the machine, as a disgusted sound left his lips before he strode to take it from her, sliding it onto a nearby metal table.

“If you’d simply shipped it, you wouldn’t have hit bad weather, wouldn’t have missed your connection, wouldn’t have had to deal with airport security and wouldn’t have missed your first day, setting back the schedule for the whole week. It seems apparent that you’re not cut out for this kind of work.”

The arrogant tone, the sarcastically raised dark eyebrow, the scorn on his face cut through her horrified paralysis. Yes, it was true, she might not be cut out for any of the things she’d striven so hard to be excellent at. She wasn’t like him and all the others who came from their hoity-toity privileged backgrounds, people who’d had every advantage handed to them with white gloves and smiles, showered with accolades and money and a golden path laid out for them to become physicians.

She might be leagues below him in every way but, if nothing else, her pathetic history had at least given her grit and bravado. Living in rough neighborhoods around even rougher people had taught her that, when pushed, you’d better push back or you’d end up rubbed into the floor. She wasn’t about to let him talk to her that way, in front of their patient and the rest of the small surgical staff, whether she deserved it or not.

“For your information, this is my ninth mission trip, Dr. Ferrera. I’m not a newbie. I know the circumstances we’re dealing with here. But if we can save even one life by having a monitor, I was damned well going to make that happen.” She grabbed the mask and IV with shaking hands to show him it was time to stop talking and get to work. “I’m no longer the green anesthesiologist I was when we last worked together. Since your insults and criticism are only delaying the surgery on this boy even longer, I suggest we get to it.”

Dark eyes slashed across her like a whip before he turned to the patient and crew. “Since Dr. Richards obviously hasn’t had a chance to study our surgery lineup today, I’ll have to go over it again. We have an atrial septal defect, with the hole thankfully small. Get him hooked up to the all-important monitor while Dr. Richards gets the gases ready. As soon as he’s asleep and ready, I’ll get started.”

Everyone got to work. Daniel’s scowl and his stiff professional tone changed completely as he leaned over the little boy, speaking softly and melodically in Spanish. Whatever he said actually made the child smile, and though Annabelle didn’t want to feel the squishiness in her heart at how beautifully he was reassuring their young patient, it happened anyway.

How could the man be such a chameleon? A total autocratic jerk one minute, and a gentle, caring doctor the next? It didn’t matter, really. Neither of them would ever get past what had happened five years ago, and his obviously negative convictions about her skills. The thought of having to work with him for two entire weeks made her stomach churn. Before she’d even started her first surgery, she found herself hoping it was the fastest two-week mission trip in history.

Excerpt From: Robin Gianna. “Tempted by the Brooding Surgeon.”