Authors: Karin Baine
âMy hands are tied, I'm afraid. He's an adult, of, allegedly, sound mind. I can only advise him to remain under my care, not force him. This is clearly also an extremely volatile environment for him and staying won't benefit him or the other patients around him.' He hated himself for doing this to her. While she was doing her best to be strong, Nate had seen enough of her telltale signs to see she was struggling.
âWhat am I going to do with him? I'm a mental-health nurse, I'm not qualified for cardiac care.' Violet kept glancing across to his bed, where he was still grumbling and slamming his things around. It was impossible to tell which of them was more stressed here.
âI'll get in touch with his GP, see if he can't persuade him to stay where he is. Failing that, between me, you and my parents, we'll have to muddle through.' Another commitment he'd made just so he could put that smile back on Violet's face. There was also that niggle about not being able to perform the angioplasty making him uneasy. It was the first time he'd been unable to complete his duty of care to the full.
âYou'll come and check on him?'
âWe'll probably have to find some covert way of doing it but I won't let you take this on alone.' At least then he could keep an eye on the Earl's recovery and watch for any complications arising from his refusal of conventional treatment.
âWell, I thought on this occasion you might concede a small piece of that iron will.'
They exchanged wry smiles over the private joke. The origin of which was rooted in that night at his house. Not long after they'd argued over Violet's stance on selling her mother's jewellery, they'd ended up locking tongues, and almost a lot more besides, on his dining room table.
He began to regret his decision to wear a tie today as the air seemed to dissipate and leave him struggling to breathe. It made no difference if they were alone or in a ward full of people when it came to chemistry. Violet was staring at his lips and he could tell she was recalling the last time she'd yielded to him.
The silence that fell between them crackled with tension and unfinished business. It didn't matter to his libido that both members of the Dempsey family had judged him and found him wanting. He was programmed to enjoy the benefits of a physical relationship without any emotional messiness and he shouldn't start changing the rules now. It was his pride keeping him awake at night imagining what could've been instead of living it.
âDr Taylor, you're needed in Room One.'
Nate was reminded he was supposed to be working, not trying to figure out a way he could sleep with Violet without compromising his principles. He gave the nurse a nod of acknowledgement.
âI'd best get on and do what I'm paid for. Don't worry, Violet, I'll make sure your father has the best care whether it's here or at home.' The promises tripped off his tongue as easy as denial and insults flowed from Samuel Dempsey's. They were both trapped in a pattern of self-destructive behaviour that could jeopardise their future if they weren't careful. Sooner or later they were going to have to make changes in order to survive. For Nate that would entail cutting out more than whiskey and cigars.
* * *
True to his word Nate had sent in a crack team of physiotherapists and dieticians to speak to the Earl. Neither Violet nor the forest's worth of advice leaflets had been enough to convince him to stay put. As usual, they'd all had to bend to his will and accept he was going home. He'd offended so many people along the way, there was a certain amount of relief mixed with Violet's trepidation.
Regardless of their lengthy estrangement she still felt the need to apologise to everyone he came into contact with for his abrupt manner. She should have been firmer with him, tried harder to make him modify his behaviour, but the truth was she was still intimidated by him herself. If he objected to her interference and really cut loose on her, she wasn't sure she would turn out to be any stronger than her mother.
She'd given up any right to tell him what to do when she'd left home at eighteen and vice versa. There was no way she would've accepted him swanning back into her life and trying to run it for her after all this time either. The difference was, she wasn't putting other people's livelihoods in jeopardy with a blinkered approach to her finances. She'd made damn sure she had no dependants for that very reason, when it had cost her so much to simply take responsibility for herself.
It was late afternoon before they were ready to leave, much to her father's continued agitation. He didn't seem to grasp the fact that a crotchety old man going against medical advice wasn't the top priority on a ward full of seriously ill patients.
Not even the whistling porter who came to escort him from CCU escaped his wrath.
âI'm not a cripple,' he said and kicked the wheel of the wheelchair in disgust.
âIt's only to take you to the door, Dad. Bill's picking us up outside. The physio said gentle exercise only, remember? You don't want to end up exhausted before you leave the grounds.' She imagined by this stage they were all glad to see the back of him from the department.
He was already out of breath with the effort it had taken to get dressed but he eventually got into the chair with a huff.
âA lot of fuss about nothing, if you ask me.'
She hadn't asked him, because that had the potential for her to lose her temper and demand to know why it was impossible for him to thank Nate for saving his life. They might get into hostile territory sooner than anticipated and run the risk of shattering the fragile remains of their father-daughter relationship, dooming Strachmore for ever.
As they made their way through the corridors she hoped to catch a glimpse of Nate, but he undoubtedly had his hands full with clinics and surgery. His skill in his field still astounded her, and she appreciated the time he'd dedicated to helping her even if her father didn't. He'd borne the brunt of her parent's rudeness through no fault of his own.
She wondered how much of that bitterness was actually apportioned to her. Her father had always associated her belligerent attitude with Nate's influence rather than his own tyranny. There was the possibility he blamed him for encouraging her to break out on her own. In which case she was going to have to set the record straight with a few home truths.
She'd never stopped to consider how her new start in London might have impacted on those she'd left behind. It had been easier to believe they'd all carried on as normal instead of adding more ballast to her burden of guilt. Only now were the consequences of her actions, her cowardice, becoming clear.
The next step was for all those who'd messed up to hold their hands up and admit their mistakes so they could start to move on from past transgressions. Even Nate, who appeared to have his life together, hadn't managed to let go of all responsibility to Strachmore. She owed it to him to enable that final break but just not yet. She had an inkling she was going to need his support more than ever now she was faced with living under her father's rule once more.
* * *
The Taylors did enough fussing over her father to enable her to take a back seat for a short while. When they were fawning over him his level of churlishness significantly decreased and gave Violet a reprieve from her âtightly coiled spring' act every time he opened his mouth.
Bill had kindly arranged for his bed to be moved down to the ground floor to save him from having to take the stairs and Margaret had prepared a light dinner following his new dietary regime. It was only when the couple went home that the interminable silence fell at the dining table.
Of course he'd refused to take a dinner tray on his lap, insisted on keeping things ânormal' with the formal dining, regardless of how ludicrous it was with only the two of them seated around the massive mahogany table. She suspected this charade was more for his benefit than hers. He looked like the king of his castle perched at the head of the table even if he mightn't feel it.
âI've missed Mrs Taylor's cooking,' she said to break the tense atmosphere spoiling her appetite.
âThere was nothing stopping you coming back if you missed it that much.' He didn't miss a beat as he scored a point against her in between spoonfuls of soup.
There was nothing to be gained by getting into a fight now, when he was still wearing a hospital band around his wrist. They could get into the whys and wherefores of their non-relationship when he was fully recovered and she wasn't afraid of causing him to relapse.
âI've been so busy with work I haven't had much time for holidays.' It wasn't completely untrue. She'd simply omitted to tell him he was the reason she didn't take any.
âFor twelve years?' He paused mid-slurp to raise a bushy white eyebrow.
She'd never been a particularly good liar.
âI didn't think I'd be very welcome.' She wasn't even sure she was now. At the minute his attitude towards her labelled her as more of an uninvited guest rather than the prodigal daughter returned to the loving arms of her father.
âI never asked you to leave in the first place.'
This was exactly the sort of backwards-and-forwards blame game she'd hoped to avoid.
âWell, I'm here now. I have some time off to take while you recuperate.' The way her nerves were stretched she might very well need some extra time to recover herself when this was all over.
âWhy the sudden interest in me now? Or did you only come back to claim your inheritance? I'm sorry if I ruined your plans but it seems I'm going to stick around a while longer.' He resumed sipping as though he hadn't completely ripped her good intentions to pieces.
Violet could barely find the words to refute his allegations. She'd never expected to have to justify caring for him. âI... I... That's not fair. I only came back for you. To make sure you were all right.'
âUnfortunately for you, and me, I'm fine.'
She was sure her frown matched her father's as she struggled to work out what the hell he meant. Were things so bad that he didn't want to be here any more? Was that the reason he'd refused treatment and insisted on leaving hospital too early? A chill blasted through her at the thought of losing another parent to the jaws of that black dog that had hounded her mother to her death.
âYou're not fine. You're recovering from a heart attack and you're drowning in a sea of debt. All I want to do is help you.' Her voice hitched as she held out that olive branch. Despite everything, he had to be her main priority now or she would end up truly alone for ever.
He very carefully set his spoon down and fixed her with that withering stare that made Violet want to hide under the table. âWhat do you know about my personal affairs?'
Only now, faced with the prospect of telling him what she'd been up to over the past few days, did she realise how intrusive he'd find her actions. She gulped. âWe found the bills and final demands when we were tidying up. It wasn't as if we were snooping.'
âWhat do you mean “we”? Who else has been prying into my private business?' He was red in the face, building up to one of his eruptions, and Violet braced herself to take the full force of it.
âNate. He has some really good ideas about what we could do hereâ'
The fist came down hard on the table, rattling the dishes and the cutlery in its wake. Even Violet was shaking from the impact.
âWho the hell do you think you are coming back here and rifling through my things? Nothing at Strachmore is any of your business. You made that clear when you ran away, Violet. And it certainly has nothing to do with
âI understand why you're angry at me. I stayed away too long, I realise that, but why do you hate Nate so much? He saved your life.'
âI didn't ask him to.'
There it was again, the unmistakable sound of a man who'd grown tired of living. She'd dealt with enough suicidal teens in her time to take his comments seriously and not simply dismiss them as attention-seeking. Lord Dempsey would never willingly admit defeat unless there was something seriously wrong.
The doorbell chimed before she could query his state of mind any further or tell him how selfish that kind of thinking was.
âYou'd better get that. Or do you expect me to struggle all the way to the front door and back?' Apparently the invalid card was only valid if it involved her guilt.
Violet made her way to the door on somewhat shaky limbs. Trying to get her father to open up would be like death by a thousand paper cutsâslow, with each new wound more painful than the last. Whoever was on the other side of this door, be it the Taylors or a door-to-door salesman, she intended to drag them inside to interrupt the direction the conversation with her father was taking. Neither of them were ready to tackle that head-on without building up their strength first.
âHi. I thought I should pop over and see how the ground lay. Should I get my flak jacket from the car now or have you laced his tea with sedatives already?' Nate greeted Violet with a joke in an attempt to hide the nerves that had kept him from knocking on the door for the past ten minutes.
He'd stayed in the car with the engine running, contemplating whether or not to get involved in the Dempseys' domestics. He'd had no doubt the two of them under the same roof was causing friction when it was in their nature to rub each other up the wrong way. The reservations had come when he'd pictured himself in the middle of it. In the end, his conscience had rapped on the door for him. He couldn't leave Violet to manage his patient and his moods alone. Not when he kept promising her otherwise.
âOh, Nate. You're a sight for sore eyes.'
He had no room for preening when he saw Violet was visibly shaken and as pale as the alabaster statues in the entrance hall behind her.