By Susan Carlisle
I hope this is a little early Christmas cheer.
This is an taste of my last book Christmas with the Best Man which is out on December 1. It is a part of the Manhattan Mercy continuity that joins my fellow medical authors: Amy Ruttan, Robin Gianna, Janice Lynn, Alison Roberts, Amalie Berlin. You don’t want to miss theirs either.
Dr. Helena Tate knew what a mad house the ER could be like during and after a major nor’eastern but to experience it first hand was always a draining experience. Not only was snow piled everywhere, the wind was howling and the temperature teeth clatteringly cold.
Injured people filled the chairs and any extra space in Manhattan Mercy Hospital’s Emergency Department in New York City. Even though the department might be the most modern and efficient ER in the world, it had still been all-hands-on deck for the last couple of days. Inside was at least warm and cheerful. Being a week before Christmas and the nurses had banded together to decorate the department. Garland hung around the unit desk, wreaths adorned each trauma room door, and there was even a Christmas tree in the corner of the waiting room.
Despite the festive time of the year the sick and injured just kept coming. Thankfully the flow had started to ease. She must be out of here in an hour if she had any hope of making Grace and Charles’s wedding on time. A must, since she was the maid of honor.
Grace and she had been friends and roommates during medical school and had stayed in touch. When Grace had mentioned needing a change from her overseas work, Helena had told Grace about a position becoming available in the ER and had offered her the extra bedroom. Grace soon learned Charles Davenport would be her boss and talked of cancelling the interview. Helena had encouraged her to come on anyway having no idea there had been something between Grace and Charles during their medical school years.
Helena smiled then sighed. Now, they were getting married just a couple of weeks before Christmas. She was thrilled for them.
Finishing with her latest patient, Helena headed to the ER doctor’s on-call room to shower and change. It wasn’t the perfect place to dress for a formal event but unusual circumstances called for flexibility. If anything, she’d learned long ago as an unwed pregnant teen to adjust to what life threw her and move on.
The pain of finding out that her boyfriend wanted nothing more to do with her, and especially the baby, had been horrible. More devastating had been the loss of the child. Seventeen was too young to become a mother, but the guilt she carried over not wanting the baby was what had stayed with her all these years.
She had survived with the love and support of her family. That’s what mattered now. The part of her personality that made her think positive had made being a ER doctor a good fit professionally for her. Days like the last few only proved it. How she was holding her love close. She wanted a man who wanted her forever. Some might think she was too old to believe in happily ever after but she was still going to hold out for it. Grace and Charles were proving it could be had and Helena had to believe Prince Charming was somewhere out there for her as well.
She stepped out of the examination room and was sideswiped by a blur of white. “Ho.”
Dr. Elijah Davenport, Charles’ twin, glanced over his shoulder. “Hey Helena, can you give me a hand in Trauma Four? A kid just came in with a broken leg and the father’s having trouble breathing.”
She hurried to keep up with him. “Is Jim seeing them? I saw him coming in a few minutes ago. You’re off the clock. Shouldn’t you be thinking about getting ready for the wedding? After all you’re the best man.”
“Yeah, but there’re also patients to see. When Charles left me in charge I promised not to let the place fall apart.”
Like Elijah would ever do that. He might be the quintessential playboy doctor but Helena never doubted he was a dedicated physician. Truth be known, she thought him the best doctor in the department. But no way would she tell him that. His head was already big enough where women were concerned. It would only add to his already over-the-top ego.
Still he had earned it. Elijah was beyond good-looking. From his dark brown hair, charmingly out of place most of the time, to his tall, buff beach boy physique and his ‘Davenport blues’ that sparkled when he laughed, Helena easily understood why women were agog over him. She might be as well but she wasn’t interested in anyone who worked their way through the nurses. Nor in the heartache he would cause if she lost her heart to him. She wouldn’t accept anything but true love.
Helena’s attention went to Elijah who had paused at the door to the patient’s room. “I’ll take the kid and you see the father.”
She covered it well but no matter how much time had passed since she’d lost her baby the young patients still got to her on occasion. Sometimes a look or a laugh from a child triggered something in her that sent her emotions spinning out of control. During those moments, the pain was so harsh her chest felt like it might explode. The what questions came flooding in. What would she have looked like? Would her child be acting the same as this one? The list and the pain went on. Thank goodness it didn’t happen often. But when it did…
“Done.” Elijah walked into the room.
A boy of about eight lay on the exam table with his face contorted in pain while a tight-lipped father holding his side paced beside him.
“Mr.,” Elijah looked at the clipboard he held, “Kakasides, I’m Dr. Davenport and this,” he nodded his head toward her, “is Dr. Tate. Why don’t you have a seat and tell us what happened.”
“I’d rather stand. It hurts worse when I sit. We were sledding in the park. Like an idiot, I tried to catch Louis when he came by me going too fast. I fell on him. I think I’ve broken his leg. I hit the edge of the sled and messed up my side.”
Elijah glanced at her with a ‘are you believing this look’ and then said to the father, “I’m going to check out your son while Dr. Tate does the same for you, okay?”
“Why don’t we step right over here?” Helena indicated an area off to the side.
The father glanced at his son, nodded. “Louis, I’m not going far. Hang in there, buddy.”
“Before I have a look at your side I need to listen to your heart and check a few more things.”
Again, the father dipped his head but his attention remained on his son.
With vitals completed she said, “I know this is going to hurt but I need for you to take a deep breath.”
The father winced but did as she asked.
“Now Mr. Kakasides, I have to look under your shirt. Can you raise your arm?”
He hissed as he brought his arm up. Moving the shirt away Helena could see a dark blue hematoma spreading out along his left side. The fall had defiantly been hard.
“I’m going to need to step out and have a look at your chest X-ray,” she announced. “At the least you’ve broken a few ribs but I need to make sure there isn’t more. Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do for broken ribs. They’ll have to heal on their own. You can take an anti-inflammatory for the pain.”
They rejoined Elijah as he was saying, “Okay Louis, I need to have a look at your leg. I see the nurse has already done her worse with your pants.”
The material had been cut away so that it flapped back exposing the leg. There was a large bump with redness and bluing around it.
“Yep, that looks like a broken leg. You and your father sure know how to have a good time in the snow.”
The boy gave Elijah a weak smile. “He fell on me but I know he didn’t mean to.”
Elijah patted him on the shoulder and a wink. “I’m sure he didn’t. Maybe next time you can save him.”
The boys smile was brighter this time.
Good with kids, Elijah would make a great father. But he was also ‘good’ with women which would not make him a great husband. Fortunately, that wasn’t an issue. He’d never approached her and that suited her fine. Just watching him in action with the other female staff was enough for her to know he wasn’t what she was looking for in a man.
Elijah gave a reassuring smile to the boy’s father. “Radiology should have sent the pictures over by now. Let us review them. Dr. Tate and I’ll be back in soon.”
“Thanks.” The father looked at her and then at Elijah. “To both of you.”
On their way back to the ER desk Elijah was stopped by one of the nurses with a question. Helena didn’t wait on him. At the desk, she pulled up the X-ray for Mr. Kakasides. His eight, nine and tenth ribs were cracked. He would be in pain for a few weeks but would recover. She had the x-ray Elijah needed to review up on the screen by the time he arrived. He slid into the chair beside her.
“No problem. As Maid of Honor, I think it’s part of my duty to remind the best man he needs to get out of here as soon as possible.”
He studied the computer screen. “Well, Joe has a break to his femur.”
“His father is going to take it hard. He feels bad enough as it is.” Helena stood and checked her watch. “I’m going to give him instructions about his ribs and get ready for a wedding. You need to do the same.”
Elijah rolled back his chair. “Yes, doctor. I’m right behind you. First, I need to call Lloyd up in ped ortho and have him come in on the case. The boy will need surgery to put a rod in.”
“Then I’ll let the father know you’ll be in to speak to him. I’ll see you in the Park.”
“Yeah, in the Park.” There was a dry note in Elijah voice.
“Don’t sound so excited.” Helena grinned back at him as she circled the desk and headed down the hall. “Remember weddings aren’t contagious.”
Elijah sure hope they weren’t. He wanted nothing to do with one.
Forty-five minutes later, he left the ER station desk and headed down the hall toward the doctor-on-call room. There a shower and his tux waited. He had plenty of time to get dressed and make it to the park. At least the hospital was just across the street, but Central Park was a huge space. Just to walk to the Shakespeare Garden would take time.
Charles would never let him forget it if he was late to the ceremony. Grace would be in tears and nothing Elijah said would make that okay in Charles’s eyes. The ER had been so busy Elijah had seen two more patients before he felt he could call his shift done. It then took another fifteen minutes to bring the doctor taking over for him up to speed on the patients being seen.
Elijah admitted to himself that he was dragging his feet about the whole wedding thing. It wasn’t he didn’t want to be there for Charles or that he didn’t like Grace. He did. He wished them both the best. Was truly happy for them. It was just that the ‘wedded bliss’ idea didn’t appeal to him much. He’d seen little of that in his parents’ marriage. Knew he wouldn’t be good at it.
He was halfway down the hall when one of the two swinging doors at the end opened. Helena came toward him. Elijah stopped dead in his tracks. She was a vision of loveliness like he’d never seen. Her curly, shoulder-length, auburn colored hair was now pinned up, the waves flowing randomly about her head. A red poinsettia bloom was fixed behind her right ear. She wore a long forest green dress that hugged womanly curves usually hidden by loose scrub shirts. The top of the dress dipped, giving him a hint of cleavage that only made him want to see more. Small short sleeves cupped her creamy shoulders. The skirt swirled about her legs as she came toward him drawing his attention to her hips.
His heart picked up a beat. Not to mention the stirring south of his beltline. Heaven help him, Helena was breathtaking. Why hadn’t he noticed before?
They had been working together for a couple of years. More than once she and a few other of the staff had gone out to eat as a group after a shift but he’d never thought of her in any way except as a colleague. She’d always been pleasant but seemed closed off somehow. She gave off the vibe that she wasn’t someone who played around. With her wholesome southern drawl and gentle smile, she wasn’t one of those women who gave him a come-hither look he had no trouble obeying. Everything about her said serious, down to earth, love me forever. That was the type he stayed clear of. Maybe that’s why it never registered Helena could be so completely stunning.
Whatever the cause it had been lifted from his eyes. He was noticing her now. Big time.
He needed to snap out of it. Had Helena said something to him? He blinked.
“Elijah, are you just now going to get dressed? You have less than an hour before we’re supposed to be walking down the aisle. Grace is going to have your hide.” She stepped closer.
Her wonderful aroma filled his nostrils. Nothing like the antiseptic smell of the hospital but something warm and earthy, intriguing. He was acting like a fool. Working to get a grip on himself, he grinned. He focused on a point just over her shoulder to get beyond how enchanting she looked. “It’s a good thing you’re a doctor. At least you’ll be able to patch me up.”
She lowered her chin and gave him a speculative look. “I don’t think I have enough medical training to save you from Grace’s wrath if you’re not there on time.”
He laughed. Helena did too. It had a sincere ring that sounded as if it came from her heart. He’d always liked that about her. She had a sense of humor. “Then I guess I need to get moving.” He started down the hall.
“That would be my suggestion.” She headed the other way.
Elijah stopped and looked back, his attention drawn to her hips. It was a shame her scrubs had been disguising those full curves for so long.
Minutes later he was under a hot shower. He was surprised he hadn’t needed a cold one after seeing Helena. How spectacular she looked still amazed him. At least he’d managed not to make a fool of himself. This sudden interest, no, infatuation, with Helena was crazy. He’d seen many woman in formal clothing yet had not reacted this way.
It was probably being overtired from covering for Charles when the ER was impossibly busy. Or maybe it was due to the wedding hoopla he normally stayed clear of. There was something out of cynic with the universe for him to have had such an intense reaction to Helena. Especially when she was clearly not his type.
Half an hour later he shrugged into his black overcoat adjusting it over his tuxedo. Wrapping his groomsman’s gift, a scarlet red scarf securely around his neck, he popped a short black top hat on his head. It might be the silliest thing he’d ever worn if it wasn’t for the fact that it was so cold and not wearing a hat was even more ridiculous.
He received more than one interested look and a few grins as he made his way through the older part of the building to the lobby and out the front entrance of the hospital. His idea of dressing up was putting on a pair of slacks and a collared shirt. Causal was his style, less dog and pony show. He worked hard and liked to relax and have fun when he was off. Only when he couldn’t avoid it did he put on a suit for a medical meeting. To be wearing a tuxedo was taxing. The only reason he was doing so was because he loved his brother. Elijah wished him well. It had been hard on Charles when he lost his wife and was left with two small sons to raise. Elijah was glad his brother had found love again, happiness.
Elijah pulled on his black gloves as he went down the stone steps to the street to catch a cab. It would get him to the closest park entrance nearest Shakespeare Garden and then he would have to walk from there. Just as Helena told him more than once, he’d be cutting it close on time.
The taxi driver put him out at the curb and he hurried down the path. Thankfully having grown up in New York he knew Central Park well. He’d heard of people getting lost in the massive acreage. As a child, he and his brothers and sister had played there. More than once they had picnicked in the Shakespeare Garden area among the trees and large foliage. Those were sunnier days both literally and figuratively. Ones from a long time ago.
He hurried up a slope and made a left turn at a sign reading ‘Grace and Charles’ with a large red bow on it. Up another rise he followed another path into an open area surrounded by snow-tipped trees. Smaller trees in the area were decorated in white lights that were shining bright in the diming light.
An arch made of red poinsettias blooms and more white lights were at one end of the field. Facing it were rows of white chairs with red bows tied to the ones closest to the aisle. A few people were already taking their seats. Tall portable heaters were stationed around the ceremony area. At the other end of the field was a huge enclosed tent with four low round fires pits that glowed. His family was standing around them.
Elijah took a deep breath to fortify himself for what was coming.
As he approached Charles left the group and walked toward him. “I thought I’d have to send Zac after you.”
“I told you I’d be here.” Elijah grinned at his brother. As twins, they had always been close. It wasn’t until they were eighteen that they’d had secrets between them. Elijah carried that guilt and regret to this day.
“Yeah, but I know better than most that you’re always five minutes behind.”
Elijah gave him a wry smile. “Funny big brother. I’ve heard it all before. Just because you were born before me doesn’t mean I’m one step behind you.”
“About following in my footsteps, how’re things at the hospital?” Charles asked as they continued toward the tent.
“Under control. We managed to get the patients waiting down to a reasonable headcount before I left.” Elijah couldn’t fault Charles for his dedication to his job even on his wedding day. “What you need to be worrying about is that beautiful bride of yours. I’ve got the ER covered. Enjoy the day, your honeymoon and let me handle the rest.”
“I’m trying. I guess most of my worrying has to do with nerves.”
Elijah didn’t doubt that. The thought of a wedding made him edgy as well and he wasn’t the one getting married. He looked around. “So where are the Rugrats?”
“Max and Cameron are with Grace. They’ll be coming down the aisle ahead of her.”
Elijah gave him a brotherly pat on the back. “I hope you have them bundled up. It’s cold out here.”
Charles laughed. “I know. But this is what Grace wanted. I love her so that’s what we’re having.”
That kind of love Elijah didn’t comprehend. He’d never felt that for a woman. Didn’t think he ever would. He understood wanting, enjoying, appreciating a female but loving one the way his brother did Grace wasn’t something he’d experienced. More than that, Charles had been able to find it twice. Elijah didn’t plan to have it even once.