Authors: Nicki Edwards
Escaping to the country was meant to be easy …
On the surface it looks like busy intensive care nurse Kate Kennedy has it all: a long-term relationship, a great career and a sleek inner city apartment. But appearances are deceiving, and in one fell swoop everything comes crashing down around her. In a moment of spontaneity, Kate leaves her city life and takes a new role as Nurse Unit Manager at Birrangulla Base Hospital, but her dream move proves harder than expected.
Local café owner Joel O’Connor finds himself increasingly drawn to the gorgeous new nurse, but like Kate, he’s been scarred by love and isn’t looking to jump into anything. Yet their chemistry is hard to deny and after a near fatal incident, Joel and Kate find themselves opening up to one another.
Just when Kate thinks she’s found love again, their fragile relationship is thwarted by their pasts. Can they both let go of their guilt and grief to move on to a bright new future?
For Tim. My lover, my best friend. My husband to the end.
Kate Kennedy looked at her watch for what seemed like the millionth time.
Could this day get any worse?
She had been rushed off her feet the entire shift with a very unwell post-operative patient who had suffered a massive peritoneal bleed after his surgery the previous day. He had ended up being rushed back to theater and had returned to the unit intubated and ventilated. Now, six hours later, Kate was exhausted and couldn’t wait to go home and crash.
It was days like this that she keenly felt every one of her thirty-one years, and was reminded of how much she disliked shift work. Finishing late at night and trying to unwind before falling asleep, only to be woken by a screeching alarm the next morning ready for a seven o’clock start, was not her idea of fun. Thankfully, while she didn’t enjoy the hours, she never regretted following her aunt’s footsteps and becoming a nurse.
The harsh clang of the hospital alarm system came over the loudspeakers and Kate groaned out loud. Yes, apparently the day
Instantly the mood in the intensive care unit where Kate worked at the Royal Sydney Hospital changed. She stopped what she was doing, charged with anticipation, waiting for the announcement that would follow.
“Attention all staff. MET Call …”
Before the calm female voice had even announced the location of the emergency, Kate rushed to grab the large resuscitation trolley and began pushing it toward the elevators. After what seemed an eternity, the location was given. Level Two.
She groaned and pressed the down arrow three times in quick succession, as though pressing the button more than once would cause the elevator to arrive faster. Her pulse quickened as adrenaline combined with fear raced through her veins. She hated pediatric codes.
As she waited impatiently for the elevator to arrive she twisted the ring she wore on her right hand so vigorously it almost slipped off her finger. Dragging her sweaty palms down the front of her scrub pants, she tried in vain to calm herself. She always felt this way whenever there was an emergency.
She jabbed at the button again.
Come on, hurry up!
One of the new doctors, Fraser Browne, skidded up beside her and her heart sank. He tipped his head in acknowledgment of her as the elevator doors opened and they entered. Fraser was almost thirty but had the face of an eighteen-year-old who hadn’t even started shaving yet. Kate wished one of the other more experienced doctors was with her. They stood side by side in the elevator and there was silence between them, each locked in their own world. She had no idea what he was thinking – she was just happy he wasn’t using their close proximity to hit on her again. He thought he was God’s gift to women and had asked her out on more than one occasion. So far he wasn’t taking no for an answer even though she had told him she was in a relationship.
Her mind shifted instantly to Marcus and despite the apprehension still flooding through her, a quick smile formed. There was just something about Marcus – a magnetism that she found hard to explain. Every time she thought of him her heart raced. He had been acting strangely lately and had even hinted at some sort of surprise.
Is he finally about to propose?
With a small shudder the elevator stopped and the doors opened. Kate shoved all thoughts of Marcus and Fraser out of her mind and fixed her attention on her job. As she did, a sour taste of dread filled her mouth. Her mind raced through all the possibilities of what they were about to find as they ran down the corridor, pushing the trolley toward the group of people gathered outside the child’s room.
“What have we got?” Kate asked, catching sight of white-blonde curls and fearful eyes above an oxygen mask. The child was sitting limp in her mother’s arms and the mother was holding the mask in place, her eyes mirroring her child’s terror.
“This is Lily, a twelve-month-old admitted last night. She came in with a chest infection but isn’t responding to antibiotics or oxygen. She’s running a fever. Temp forty-point-one. We’ve taken blood cultures. She’s been having difficulty breathing all morning. They’ve just checked her again now and her saturation levels are dropping even with the oxygen. Heart rate is up.”
The hospital co-ordinator gave Kate the information in a way that did little to hide the hint of fear in her voice.
“Thanks, we’ll take over now.” Even with her years of experience, Kate hoped she sounded more confident than she felt.
As Fraser stepped toward the pair, Lily began to convulse. The mother cried out in panic. Lily was a bundle of pink blankets in her mother’s arms, turning blue in front of their eyes.
“Febrile convulsion,” Kate said, not even sure who she was telling.
“She’s stopped breathing,” the mother screamed.
The look of panic on Fraser’s face passed over to Kate for a split second. She then pushed past the onlookers and grabbed the baby from the mother’s arms and laid her on the cot. In one fluid movement she grabbed the pediatric-sized bag-valve-mask from the resuscitation trolley and placed it over Lily’s mouth and nose, tilting her head to the correct angle for best airway patency and squeezing the bag gently with her two fingers.
Fraser soon took over from her, practically shoving her aside. Kate began undoing the buttons of Lily’s pale pink jumpsuit – touching, feeling, listening, looking and assessing the need to start CPR. Kate palpated Lily’s tiny wrists, searching for a pulse, and was frustrated when she could only feel her own throbbing pulse in her fingertips. Fear rose up within her and threatened to overwhelm her. All Kate could hear was the sound of Lily’s mother’s gut-wrenching sobs.
Breathe Lily, breathe,
Fraser continued to gently deliver oxygen into Lily’s lungs while Kate attached monitoring leads to her tiny body. As soon as the leads were connected she heard the reassuring rhythmic beeping of the machine that told her there was a heartbeat. At the same time, just as the pediatrician arrived in the room, Lily took a huge breath and coughed. A collective gasp and sigh of relief was heard and the palpable pressure that had built up in the room began to dissipate.
Lily started to cry, attempting to sit up and push away the oxygen mask. Not liking all the attention from strangers, she began to scream, her eyes searching wildly for her mother. Kate picked her up and the little girl immediately relaxed against her shoulder as Kate rocked her, patting her on the back and soothing her with her voice. Lily was now warm, pink and responding like any normal baby. Just as quickly as Lily had stopped breathing after her convulsion, she was now back to her normal self. It never ceased to amaze Kate that so often little children like Lily, who in one minute had been lying as still as a rag doll, would be wriggling around on the bed the very next minute. As she handed Lily back to her mother, Kate’s heart felt as though it had just been torn in two. She had to remind herself this child wasn’t hers.
The speed with which she and Fraser headed back to the unit was much less hurried. There was silence between them and Kate allowed her mind to wander. In a short space of time she had just faced all manner of emotions. From fear to panic to hope and finally to a sense of calm. Now the adrenaline was gone, replaced by the familiar jelly-like feeling in her legs.
Just another typical day in the life of an ICU nurse.
An ache formed in the back of Kate’s throat. The release of tension caused tears to well up behind her eyelids.
Would my baby have looked like Lily?
She closed her eyes in an attempt to stem the potential flow of tears, hoping Fraser wasn’t watching her. She pressed her fingertips into the inner corners of her eyes, a move well practiced, and was pleased when it worked. As usual, there wasn’t time to dwell on her thoughts, and nor was this the place.
She would just have to store them away for later.
The doors to the elevator opened. Kate was only half listening to something Fraser was telling her. A man around Kate’s age moved to the far corner to make room for them. She caught his smile and felt herself smiling in return. Dimples formed in both his cheeks.
Immediately Kate felt herself blushing. Where had that thought come from? She didn’t usually react this way when seeing a good-looking guy. Her best friends’ advice came to mind: “Just because you’re on a diet doesn’t mean you can’t look at the menu,” so Kate snuck another look at him out of the corner of her eye. He wasn’t just cute, he was gorgeous. Tall, dark
handsome. She averted her gaze, embarrassed, when she realized he had seen her staring. He was holding a tray of coffees and the aroma that wafted across to her made her stomach growl loudly enough that he heard.
“Perhaps I should offer you one of these, eh, love?”
He held the tray up in her direction and grinned. Kate was caught off guard by the thick Irish accent and dimples and stammered a reply.
“Oh, um, no, that’s okay. Thanks.”
She sensed Fraser watching her and she blushed again. Really,
this day get any worse? If only the elevator would hurry up and arrive at their floor so she could escape.
She’d had enough surprises for one day.
Moments later the doors mercifully opened and Kate pushed the trolley out without a backward glance. She could feel the heat in her cheeks and knew she was blushing. After dumping the trolley in its usual position and plugging the defibrillator back into the wall, she headed straight to the bathroom.
One look in the mirror confirmed it. She was as red as a tomato. She splashed cold water on her face and her skin quickly returned to its usual pale tone, with the smattering of freckles across her nose standing out slightly beneath her makeup. Kate stared at herself and smiled at her reflection, her own dimples forming. Gray-blue eyes stared back at her. Everything about her appearance confirmed that she was a no-fuss, low-maintenance kind of girl. She pulled her lip gloss from the pockets of her scrubs and re-applied it. Glancing at her watch, she saw it was nearly time for the change of shift. No more time for self-analysis.
As she walked past her desk she almost knocked a huge bouquet of long-stemmed red roses onto the floor. Kate pinched her lips together in frustration.
“Who delivered these?”
“I put them there, Kate. They’re for you.”
Kate saw the expression on the unit receptionist’s face and quickly apologized. She hated how she could be quick to overreact.
Judging by the ostentatious nature of the flowers, Kate had a pretty good idea who they were from, but she certainly didn’t want to stop and read the note in front of her nosy colleagues. They were sure to ask too many questions and it was none of their business.
“I take it they’re from Marcus.”
An instant blush formed and her chest felt as though it was about to burst. She nodded. “I assume so.”
He was always overly generous with his gifts, as though wanting to make a statement, and it constantly embarrassed her. Kate unpinned the small envelope from the cellophane and stuffed it into her scrub pants pocket without reading it. She was aware her actions had been seen but she wasn’t going to stop and explain herself. She knew she would have to respond to the same question she constantly got asked and was unable to answer: “When is he going to propose?”
Once her shift was over Kate grabbed her bag and the flowers. She disregarded the many questioning glances headed in her direction and left the unit. Pressing the button to the elevator, Kate waited impatiently for the doors to open. The flowers were heavy and she had difficulty seeing past them. There must be almost two dozen roses in the arrangement. She wondered why Marcus had sent them. It wasn’t their anniversary. But then again, he often bought her things to show his love. Or to say sorry. She couldn’t wait to read the note that was burning hot in her pocket. The doors eventually opened and she entered the elevator, nearly colliding with someone standing inside.
“Sorry,” Kate called out, her voice muffled behind the flowers.
“Eh, that’s all right, love.” She recognized the voice instantly.
Kate set the flowers down on the floor and turned to face him. A look of surprise crossed his face and his eyes lit up with pleasure when he saw her standing there.
“Ah hello there! We’ll have to stop meeting like this!”
Kate smiled in return. “Hi!”
“Twice in one day. I guess I’m a lucky man then, eh.” His melodic accent made her smile widen even further. “Although by the look of those flowers, I’d say there’s already another lucky man. Either that, or a guilty man.” He grinned at Kate and she felt her legs go weak as warmth radiated through her body at the sight of him.
“Perhaps both,” she replied without thinking.
She caught the curious look he gave her and she wished the ground would open up and swallow her. She felt unusually claustrophobic
he was so close she could smell the hint of lemon in his aftershave.
Why did I say that?
Marcus hadn’t sent her roses because he was guilty. Had he? The doors opened on the ground floor and Kate awkwardly scooped the flowers off the floor and exited the elevator. She sensed the man following her. She stopped and turned to face him, struggling to see past the huge bouquet.
“Where are you heading?” Her voice sounded breathless even to her own ears.
“Can I give you a lift somewhere?”
What the heck am I doing?
She knew better than to offer a ride to a complete stranger, but he had totally ruffled her with his good looks and cute Irish accent.
“Nah, it’s all good, love. I’ve got my own car and it’s a long drive home. Thanks for the offer though.”
They left the building together and Kate headed toward the car park. He continued to walk alongside her.
“So what were you doing at the hospital today?” Kate hoped it sounded like she was trying to be conversational. Immediately she kicked herself for speaking without thinking. Where was her brain? She was about to apologize for asking such a personal question when he answered.