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Winning Back His Wife

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Winning Back His Wife Melissa McClone HarperCollins EUR When Sarah Purcell ends up in hospital, her soon-to-be-ex husband, Dr Cullen Gray, rushes to her bedside. Caring for his wife 24/7, this time Cullen wont bury his feelings. As their old attraction begins to simmer once more, he has only one thing on his mind: to bring his wife back by his side. Im right here, Sarah. His warm breath fanned her cheek. Im not going anywhere. I promise. Promise. The word echoed through her fuzzy brain. Promise. Theyd promised to love, honor and cherish each other until death do them part. But none of that had mattered in the end. She couldnt believe Cullen was promising to stay now. Maybe not today, but tomorrow or the next day or the day after, he would be gone, leaving her with only memories and a gold wedding band. The knowledge hurt, a deep, heart-wrenching pain, worse than any physical pain shed endured. Im not going anywhere. A part of her wished Cullen would remain at her side. A part of her wished marriage vows were more than words exchanged in front of an Elvis impersonator. A part of her wished lovelasted. Dear Reader, I never realized when I set a book on Mount Hood that I would fall in love with the fictional town of Hood Hamlet and its residents, particularly a group of brave mountain rescue heroes with Oregon Mountain Search and Rescue (OMSAR). But I did, and I havent looked back. But with this story, I wanted to change things up a little. I added another glacier-covered peak, Mount Baker, the second most active volcano in the Cascades, near Bellingham, Washington. The engineer in me really had fun researching volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest! Instead of a November-to-January time frame, I used May to June. Not exactly when youd expect to find Christmas magic at work, but spring is the perfect time for love to bloom. Or, in the case of mountain rescue volunteer Dr Cullen Gray and volcanologist Sarah Purcell, rebloom. Their romance had been calling to me ever since Cullen made an oh-so-brief appearance in my book Firefighter Under the Mistletoe. I kept wondering why he was so serious and didnt smile much. When I finally figured it out, I knew I had to tell his story next. I hope you enjoy reading about Cullen and Sarah as well as Hood Hamlet. Christmas magic in June? You never know! Enjoy! Melissa About the Author With a degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, the last thing MELISSA McCLONE ever thought she would be doing was writing romance novels. But analyzing engines for a major US airline just couldnt compete with her happily-ever-afters. When she isnt writing, caring for her three young children or doing laundry, Melissa loves to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea, her cats and a good book. She enjoys watching home decorating shows to get ideas for her housea 1939 cottage that is slowly being renovated. Melissa lives in Lake Oswego, Oregon, with her own real-life hero husband, two daughters, a son, two lovable but oh-so-spoiled indoor cats and a no-longer-stray outdoor kitty who has decided to call the garage home. Melissa loves to hear from her readers. You can write to her at PO Box 63, Lake Oswego, OR 97034, USA, or contact her via her website, www.melissamcclone.com. Winning Back His Wife Melissa McClone www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) Special thanks to Dave Tucker, John Scurlock, Terri Reed and Jennifer Shirk. CHAPTER ONE DR. CULLEN GRAY trudged through the WyEast Day Lodge, his sore feet entombed in climbing boots he couldnt wait to remove. His muscles ached after two grueling days on Mount Hood. But whatever hed been through was worth it. A climber had been rescued. That trumped a night spent in a warm, comfy bed, a hot shower in the morning and a homemade breakfast complete with scrambled eggs, chicken-apple sausage and buttermilk pancakes with huckleberry syrup. The smell of coffee wafted in the air, the aroma tickling Cullens cold nose and teasing his hungry, grumbling stomach. A jolt of caffeine would keep him going long enough to survive the rescue debriefing and the short drive home to Hood Hamlet. Twenty feet in front of him, members of Oregon Mountain Search and Rescue, OMSAR, sat at a long cafeteria table with coffee cups in front of them. Backpacks, helmets and jackets were scattered on the floor. Almost there. Cullen was looking forward to taking off his backpack and sitting, if only for the length of the debriefing. He passed a group of teenagers, students at the Hood Hamlet Snowboarding Academy, who laughed while they took a break from riding. A little girl, around six years old and dressed in pink from her helmet to her ski boots, wobbled away from the hot-chocolate machine holding a cup with both hands. A few hours ago, a life had hung in the balance, cocooned inside a rescue litter attached by cables to a hovering helicopter. But down here, lower on the mountain, everything had continued as usual, as if what run to take on the slopes was the most important decision of the day. He much preferred being up there, though not because of any element of danger or adrenaline rush. He took only calculated risks to help others and save lives. Cullen lived simply in the quaint, Alpine-inspired village of Hood Hamlet. Work and the mountain comprised his life. Sometimes it was enough, other times not even close. But days like today reminded him why he did what he did, both as a doctor and as a volunteer mountain rescuer. Satisfaction flowed through his veins. A successful mission. It didnt get much better than that. Well, unless the climber hadnt fallen into the Bergschrund crevasse to begin with. But given the distance of the fall, the climbers serious injuries and the technical nature of the rescue, Cullen thought Christmas magicsomething Hood Hamlet was famous forhad been in play even though it was May, not December. Either that or plain old dumb luck. Cullen preferred thinking Christmas magic had been involved. Luck seemed toorandom. He might be a doctor, but living here for almost a year had opened his mind. Not everything could be explained and proven scientifically. Sometimes patients defied their diagnosis and survived with no logical explanation. As soon as he reached the table, he shrugged off his backpack. Gear rattled inside. Carabiners clinked on the outside. When the straps left his shoulders, relief shot straight to his toes. The pack thudded against the floor. The sound echoed through the cafeteria and drew a few glances from the skiers, riders and tourists. Let them look. Complain even. Nothing, not even his tight muscles or tiredness, could ruin this day. He removed his black parka with the white block letters spelling RESCUE on the sleeve, tucked it under one of the outside straps of his pack, then sat. His feet felt as if they were sighing in delight at not having to support any weight. Nice work up there, Doc. Bill Paulson, another volunteer with OMSAR, sat on the opposite side of the table. He passed Cullen a cup of coffee from the extras sitting between them. What you did in the Bergschrund to save that guys life Cullen bent over to loosen his boots. He didnt like anyone fussing over what he did, let alone another mountain rescuer. He didnt want the praise. The resulta life savedwas payback enough. All in a days work. Maybe in the emergency department, but not down inside a crevasse. Paulson raised his cup. Im buying the first round at the brewpub tonight. A beer was in order after this mission. Youre on. Zoe Hughes, the pretty wife of OMSAR team leader Sean Hughes and an associate member herself, stood behind Cullen. Want anything? Heat from the coffee cup warmed his cold fingers. This is all I need right now. Let me know when you want a refill. Her wide smile reached all the way to her blue eyes. Rumor has it you were a real hero up there today. He shifted in his seat. Some considered mountain rescue a reckless pursuit, but nothing could be further from the truth. Rescuer safety was the priority, no matter what the mission. Just doing my job. She touched his shoulder. Sean doesnt think hes a hero, either. But youre all heroes. What you guys do, who you are, is the very definition of the word. Damn straight. Thats why we always get the girls. Paul-son winked. Youre going to be my wingman tonight, Gray. Were going to get so many numbers well need more memory for our cell phones. Paulson, a firefighter with Hood Hamlet Fire and Rescue, had a reputation of being a player. No one would accuse Cullen of being one. He had never expected to be living like a monk, but he had a good reason. One that would end soon enough. Until then He stared into his coffee, black and strong, fighting memories and resentment. Going out and doing anything other than drinking a beer and eating a burger didnt appeal to Cullen in the slightest. The one woman he wanted didnt want him. Time to move on. He understood that. Hed come to terms with it. But he saw no reason to frustrate or tempt himself with something he couldnt have right now. He lifted his cup. Youll get those phone numbers whether Im there or not. True that, Paulson agreed. But think of the fun well have together. Just so you know, Im partial to blondes. Though I dont mind brunettes or redheads. Zoe shook her head, her long hair swaying back and forth. One of these days youre going to have to grow up and realize women werent put on this planet solely for your enjoyment. Paulson flashed her a charming grin. Not going to happen. Zoe grimaced. Too bad, because love does conquer all. Love sucks, Paulson countered before Cullen could echo the sentiment. Sometimes. A sigh seemed poised to float away from her lips at any moment. But other times its pure magic. Yeah, right. Cullen sipped his coffee. Love caused nothing but heartache and pain. Hed stick with Christmas magic. Zoe went to refill someone elses cup. The din of conversation increased, and so did the number of people in the cafeteria. More rescue-team members arrived. A photographer snapped pictures. Someone placed a plate of cookies on the table. It had to be getting closer to briefing time. He checked his watch. Whats taking so long? Paulson grabbed a chocolate chip cookie from the plate. Hughes must still be outside talking to reporters. Cullen wasnt a big fan of the media when it came to the way they covered and dramatized rescue missions on Mount Hood. Whenever anything went down on the mountain, reporters and news trucks raced to the rescue operations base at Timberline Lodge, eager to capitalize on some poor souls misfortune to increase ratings, web-page hits or circulation. His stomach growled. He reached for an oatmeal raisin cookie. Better Hughes than me. I want no part of that feeding frenzy. Paulson snickered. Once the press finds out who was lowered into the Bergschrund How about we say it was you? Cullen bit into his cookie. Im game, Paulson said. Especially if the hot blond reporter from Channel Nine wants to talk to me again. Cullen took another bite. Tasted like one of Carly Porters cookies. Her husband had been on the mission, too. Jake owned the local brewing company and brewpub. A pint of Porters WyEast Lager, with Paulson buying, would hit the spot tonight. Sheriffs Deputy Will Townsend approached the table with Sean Hughes at his side. Concern clouded their gazes. Worry was etched in their features. Cullen wrapped his hands around his coffee cup. He hoped the climber hadnt taken a turn for the worse on the helicopter ride or at the hospital. The guy was married with two young kids. Hey, Doc. Will tipped his deputys hat. Cell phone turned off? Battery died. Cullen wondered what his cell phone had to do with anything. He placed his cup on the table. Not a lot of places to recharge up there. Wills eyes darkened. Weve been trying to reach you. The deputys words tightened Cullens throat. He recognized the serious tone and steady cadence. Hed used both when delivering bad news at the hospital. Whats going on? Youre listed as Sarah Purcells emergency contact. Hearing the name startled Cullen. His coffee spilled, spreading across the table. Damn. Paulson grabbed napkins. No worries, Doc. Ive got it. Cullen stood and faced the deputy. What about Sarah? The deputys prominent Adams apple bobbed up and down. There was an accident on Mount Baker. Accident? Cullen asked. A muscle twitched at Wills jaw. The details are sketchy, but it appears Sarah was at the crater rim when a steam blast occurred. She was hit by rock and fell a significant distance. Shock reverberated through Cullens body. His vision blurred. The world tilted sideways. A hand tightened around his arm. Steady, Doc. Hughes. Deep breaths, another voice said. Paulson. Cullen felt himself being seated. Sarah. Please, God, not her. His emotions swirled like a whirlpool. Fear and dread spiraled, one on top of the other. Nightmares from another time joined in. Images of his twin brother, Blaine, flashed with strobe-light intensity until Cullen thought his head would explode. He forced himself to breathe. Is she? What was happening? He was a doctor. Death was something he saw almost every time he worked a shift at the hospital. But he couldnt bring himself to say the word. Will leaned forward. Sarahs at a hospital in Seattle. Not dead. A hundred pounds of anxiety melted away from each of Cullens bone-weary shoulders. Tears of relief pricked his eyes. He hadnt seen Sarah in months. Cullen had wanted her out of his life, but he hadnt wanted anything bad to happen to her. Will named one of the top trauma centers in the Pacific Northwest. Cullen blinked, gaining control in an instant. Hed done his residency there. Sarah would receive top-notch treatment, but he needed to make sure it was the right care. A good thing Seattle was only a four-hour drive away. He stood, nearly toppling over before he could catch his balance. Tired. He was tired from the mission. Ive got to go. Hughes steadied him. Not so fast. Weve been getting updates, Will explained. Sarah is in surgery again. Again. Not good. Cullens hands fisted. Surgery could mean anything from pinning a fracture to relieving pressure on the brain. Volcanoes werent safe places. Being a volcanologist had put Sarah in danger, but no serious injuries had resulted. Bumps, bruises, a few stitches. But this Cullen dragged his hand through his hair. He was a doctor. He could handle this. Any prognosis yet? Hughes touched Cullens shoulder with the strength of a rescue leader and the compassion of a friend. Shes in critical condition. A snowball-size lump burned in his throat. While hed been on the mountain saving a life, Sarah had been fighting for hers. Bitter-tasting regret coated his mouth. Oh-so-familiar guilt, too. He hadnt been able to help Blaine. Cullen had to help Sarah. He couldnt waste any more time. Sarah needed someone with her, and he was all she had. Cullen grabbed his pack. Ive got to get to Seattle. Hughes touched his shoulder again. Johnny Gearhart has a plane. Porters making arrangements. Im going to drive you home in your truck so you can change and pack a bag, then well get you there. ASAP. I promise. A protest sat on the tip of Cullens tongue. He hadnt lived in Hood Hamlet long, unlike several of these guys whod grown up on the mountain. Hed climbed and drunk beer and watched sports on television with them, but he relied on himself and didnt ask for help. He didnt need help. But Sarah did. He swallowed the words he normally would have said and tried a new one instead. Thanks. Thats what friends are for, Hughes said. Lets go. Cullen nodded once. Im in. Paulson, carrying his gear, fell into step with them. So SarahIs she family? Your sister? No, Cullen said. Sarahs my wife. Where am I? Sarah Purcell wanted to open her eyes, but her eyelids felt as if theyd been glued shut. No matter how hard she tried, she couldnt open them. What was going on? Something pounded. It took her a minutemaybe longerto realize the pounding was coming from her head. Maybe she shouldnt try opening her eyes again. Her head wasnt the only thing hurting. Even her toenails throbbed. But the pain was a dull ache as if it were far off in the distance. Much better than being up close and personal like a battering ram of pain pummeling her. Shed been hurting more. A whole lot more. This wasbetter. White. Shed been surrounded by white. Cold. Shed been so cold, but now she was warm. And dry. Hadnt she been wet? And the airIt smelled different. Strange, but it felt as if something were sticking out of her nose. Beep. Beep. Beep. She didnt recognize the noise, the frequency of the tone or the rhythm. But the consistent beat made her think of counting sheep. No reason to try opening her eyes again. Not when she could drift off to sleep. Sarah. The mans voice sliced through the thick fog clouding her brain. His voice sounded familiar, but she couldnt quite place him. Not surprising, given she had no idea where she was or why it was so dark or what the beeping might be. So many questions. She parted her lips to speak, to ask what was going on, but no words came out. Only a strangled, unnatural sound escaped her sandpaper-dry throat. Water. She needed water. Its okay, Sarah, he said in a reassuring tone. Youre going to be okay. Glad he thought so. Whoever he might be. She wasnt sure of anything. Something told her she should care more than she did, but her brain seemed to be taking a sabbatical. What had happened? Clouds had been moving in. A horrible noise had filled the air. Swooshing. Exploding. Cracking. The memory of the teethgrinding sound, worse than two cars colliding on the freeway, sent a shudder through her. A large hand covered hers. The warmth of the calloused, rough skin felt as familiar to Sarah as the voice had sounded. Was it the same person? She had no idea, but the touch comforted and soothed. Maybe now she could go back to sleep. Her pulse increased. Concern filled his voice. He seemed to be talking to someone else. Her lips parted. Shes waking up. Not her. He couldnt mean her. Sarah wanted to sleep, not wake up. Someone touched her forehead. Not the same person still holding her hand. This one had smooth, cold skin. Clammy skin. I dont see a change, another man said, a voice she didnt recognize. Youve been here a long time. Take a break. Eat a decent meal. Sleep in a real bed. Well call if her condition changes. The warm hand remained on hers. Squeezed. Im not leaving my wife. Wife. The word seeped through her foggy mind until an image formed and sharpened. His eyes, as blue as the sky over Glacier Peak on a clear day, had made her feel like the only woman in the world. His smile, rare to appear but generous when it did, had warmed her heart and made her want to believe happy endings might be possible, even if shed known deep in her heart of hearts they didnt exist. His handsome face, with its high forehead, sculpted cheekbones, straight nose and dimpled chin, had haunted her dreams for the past year. Memories rushed forward, colliding and overlapping with each other, until one came into focus. Cullen. He was here. Warmth flowed through her like butter melting on a fresh-from-the-oven biscuit. Hed come for her. Finally. Urgency gripped Sarah. She wantedno, neededto see him to make sure she wasnt dreaming. But the heavy curtain, aka her eyelids, didnt want to open. She struggled to move her fingers beneath his hand. It had to be Cullens hand, right? Nothing happened. A different machine beeped at a lower frequency. Another machine buzzed. Cullen. Sarah tried to speak again, but couldnt. Whatever was stuck in her nose seemed to be down her throat, too. No matter. She was so thankful he was with her. She needed to tell him that. She wanted him to know how much Wait a minute. Common sense sliced through the cotton clogging her brain. Cullen shouldnt be here. Hed agreed divorce was the best option. He no longer lived in the same town, the same state as she did. So why was he here? Sarah forced her lips apart to ask, but no sound emerged. Her frustration grew. See, Cullen said. Somethings going on. I stand corrected, Dr. Gray, the other person said. This is a very good sign. Sarah. The anxiety in Cullens voice surprised her as much as the concern. She tried to reconcile what she was hearing. Tried and failed. She wanted to believe he cared about her and that even if theyd both given up on marriage, their time together hadnt been so bad hed wanted to forget about everything. Maybe if she could open her eyes a little she could let him know that. Sarah used every bit of strength she could muster. A slit of light appeared. So bright. Too bright. She squeezed her eyes shut. The light disappeared as darkness reclaimed her, but the pounding in her head increased. No longer far away, the pain was in her face, as if someone were playing Whac-A-Mole on her forehead. She gritted her teeth, unsure if the awful growling sound shed heard came from her. Everything felt surreal, as if she were a part of some avant-garde indie film. She wanted out. Now. Its okay, Sarah. Im right here. Cullens rich, warm voice covered her like one of his grandmothers hand-sewn quilts. Im not leaving you. Not true. He had left her. As soon as shed mentioned divorce, hed moved out of their apartment in Seattle, taking everything of his except the bed. After completing his residency, hed taken off to Hood Hamlet, Oregon. Shed finished her PhD at the University of Washington, then accepted a postdoctorate position with MBVIMount Baker Volcano Institutein Bellingham, a town in northwest Washington. Another memory crystalized. Sarah had been developing a program to deploy additional seismometers on Mount Baker. Shed been trying to determine if magma was moving upward. Shed needed more data. Proof one way or the other. Getting the information meant climbing the volcano and digging out seismometers to retrieve data. Putting in expensive probes that provided telemetered data didnt make sense with their limited funding and the volatile conditions near the crater. The crater. Shed been at the crater rim to download data to a laptop and rebury the seismometer. Shed done that. At least, she thought so. Everything was sort of fuzzy. Apprehension rose. Anxiety escalated. The rotten-egg scent of sulfur had been thick and heavy in the air. Had she retrieved the data or not? Why couldnt she remember? Machines beeped, the noise coming faster with each passing second. She tried to recall what had happened to her, but her mind was blank. Pain intensified, as if someone had turned up the volume to full blast on a television set, then hidden the remote control. Sarah. His voice, sharp-edged like fractured obsidian, cut through the hurting. Try to relax. If only she could. Questions rammed into her brain. The jack-hammering in her head increased tenfold. Youre in pain, Cullen said. She nodded. The slight movement sent a jagged pain ripping through her. Her throat burned. Her eyes stung. The air in her lungs disappeared when she exhaled. Inhaling, she could hardly take a breath. A giant boulder seemed to be pressing down on her chest. Dr. Marshall. Cullens harsh tone added to her discomfort, to her fear. Air, she needed air. On it, Dr. Gray. Something buzzed. Footsteps sounded. Running. Wheels clattered against the floor. More voices. She couldnt hear what they were saying, nor did she care. She gasped for a breath, sucking in a minuscule amount of air. The oxygen helped. Too bad the hurting more than doubled. Make it stop. Please, Cullen. Make it The fear dissipated. The pain dulled. The boulder was lifted off her. By Cullen? He used to take such good care of her, whether she wanted him to or not. If only he could have loved her . Floating. Sarah felt as if she were a helium-filled balloon let loose and allowed to float away in the sky. Up, up toward the fluffy white clouds. But she didnt want to go yet. Not untilCull Im right here, Sarah. His warm breath fanned her cheek. Im not going anywhere. I promise. Promise. The word echoed through her fuzzy brain. Promise. Theyd promised to love, honor and cherish each other until death do them part. But Cullen had withdrawn from her, putting his heart into his all-consuming work and nothing into her. Hed seemed so stable and supportive, but he wasnt as open as shed originally thought, and hed held back emotionally. Still, theyd shared some wonderful times and adventures together. A year living in Seattle. Climbing, laughing, loving. But none of that had mattered in the end. Shed brought up divorce, expecting at least to discuss their marriage. Instead, hed said okay to a divorce, confirming her fear that he regretted his hasty decision to marry her. Not only had he been willing to let her go without a fight, but hed been the first one to leave. That was why she couldnt believe Cullen was promising to stay now. Maybe not today, but tomorrow or the next day or the day after he would be gone, leaving her with only memories and a gold wedding band. The knowledge hurt, a deep, heart-wrenching pain, worse than any physical pain shed endured. Im not going anywhere. A part of her wished Cullen would remain at her side. A part of her wished marriage vows were more than words exchanged in front of an Elvis impersonator. A part of her wished lovelasted. But Sarah knew better. She knew the truth. Nothing ever lasted. No one ever stayed. Even when they promised they would. CHAPTER TWO CULLEN LOST TRACK of time sitting in Sarahs hospital room. His friends returned to Hood Hamlet after driving his truck to Seattle so hed have transportation. They supported him via text and phone calls. His family offered to come, but he told them no. They didnt need more grief in their lives, and that was all they would find here, in spite of Sarahs progress. This small room, four walls with an attached bathroom, had become his world except for trips to the cafeteria and a few hours spent each night at a hotel. And his world revolved around the woman asleep in the hospital bed. He rubbed his chin. Stubble raked his fingertips. Maybe that was why this felt so strange. He was married to Sarah, but shed stopped being his wife nearly a year ago. In Hood Hamlet she hadnt existed. At least not to anyone he knew. Not until her accident. He rose from his chair, wishing he could be anywhere but here. Not even the familiar artificial lighting and antiseptic smells brought him comfort. Hed spent more time at hospitals than anywhere else the past six yearslonger if he counted his four years at medical school. But nothing could quiet the unease tying his stomach in figure-eight knots. His anxiety made no sense. Sarahs condition wasnt as serious as her initial prognosis had indicated. Antibiotics had cured an unexpected infection and fever. The nasogastric tube had been removed from her nose. Her cuts had scabbed over. The incisions from her surgeries were healing. Even her closed-head injury had been relatively minor, with no swelling or bleeding. Surely that had to meansomething. Time to settle matters between them? Cullen wanted to close this chapter in his life. The woman lying in the hospital bed looked nothing like the beautiful, vibrant climber hed met at the Red Rock Rendezvousan annual rock-climbing festival near Las Vegasand married two days later. He wanted this injured Sarah to replace the image he carried in his heartmake that his head. Her long chestnut-colored hair, clear green eyes, dazzling smile and infectious laughter had been imprinted on his brain along with memories of hot kisses and passionate nights. She was like one of those adrenaline-rushing, stomach-in-your-throat, let-me-off-now carnival rides. The kind of ride that looked exciting and fun from a distance, but once on, made you wonder what youd been thinking when you handed over your ticket. That had been his problem with Sarah. He hadnt been thinking. Shed overwhelmed him. Too bad he couldnt blame eloping on being drunk. Oh, hed been intoxicated at the timeby her, not alcohol. Cullen crossed the room to the side of her bed. Hed been trying to forget Sarah. He wanted to forget her. But thoughts of her entered his mind at the strangest of timeson the mountain, at the hospital, in bed. But he knew what would stop that from happeningdivorce. After the divorce things will be better. These past months the words had become his mantra when he was frustrated or lonely. Sarahs left hand slipped off the edge of the bed. That didnt look comfortable. He placed her arm back on the mattress. Her skin felt cold. Cullen didnt want her to catch a chill. He pulled up the blanket and tucked it under her chin. Sarah didnt stir. So peaceful and quiet. Words he would never have used in the past to describe her. Shed been fiery and passionate, driven and always up for a challenge or adventure. Nothing, not even the flu, had slowed her down much. The silence in the room prodded him into action. Staring at Sarah wasnt what the doctor ordered. Her doctor, that was. Dr. Marshall hadnt wanted her to sleep the day awaynot that Sarah could with nurses coming in and out. But she hadnt been too coherent when she woke up, and then shed drifted back to sleep like a newborn kitten. Might as well get on with it, Cullen thought. If she followed the same pattern, she wouldnt be awake for long. Rise and shine, Lavagirl. Saying her nickname jolted him. He used to tease her about being a volcanologist until he realized she loved the piles of molten rocks more than she loved him. He would try again. Wake up. Sarah didnt move. Not surprising, given her medications. If he kept talking she would wake up. So I Cullen had tried hard not to miss her. After what shed done to him, he shouldnt miss her. Hed missed the sex, though. A lot. But he was only humanemphasis on the man part of the word. Ive been thinking about you. Hed told families that talking to patients was important. Now the advice sounded stupid. But when it came to Sarah, hed never been very smart. Keep talking, Doc. He struggled for something to say. His resentment toward her ran deep. Maybe if he started at the beginning of their relationship when things had been better this wouldnt feel so awkward. Remember that first night in Las Vegas, you wanted our picture taken in front of the slot machines? We got the photo, but we also got thrown out of the casino. The two of them had stood on the sidewalk laughing, unsure of the time because of the neon lights. Her laughter had rejuvenated his soul. She was so full of light and love he couldnt get enough of her. You looked up at me. Mischief gleamed in your pretty green eyes. Hed been enchanted, transported back to the time when freedom and fun reigned supreme, when he and Blaine had been impulsive and reckless, goading each other into daredevil challenges and stunts, believing they were untouchable. Then you kissed me. Changing all the plans hed had for his life in an instant. He hadnt been able to think straight from that moment on. He hadnt cared. Being with her was a total rush. An adventure. Perfect. Nothing else mattered. The next night we strolled past the Happily Ever After Wedding Chapel on the strip. You joked about going inside and making things official. Shed said if they eloped now he couldnt forget about her when they returned to Seattle or leave her standing at the altar after she wasted years of dating him and planning their big wedding. Hed promised he would never leave her like that. The affection in her eyes had wiped out whatever brain cells remained in his head. For the first time since Blaines descent into drugs, Cullen had felt whole, as if the missing piece of him that had died with his twin brother had been found in Sarah. I couldnt let you get away. Cullen had pulled her through the chapels double glass doors. Forgetting about his vow to take only calculated risks in the future, hed dived in headfirst without doing his due diligence and performing a cost-benefit analysis. He hadnt weighed the odds or considered the consequences of marrying a woman he knew nothing about. Common sense couldnt override his heart. Shed made him feel complete in a way hed never thought hed feel again. Hed been downright giddy when shed accepted his impromptu proposal. Thirty minutes and $99 later, they walked out wearing matching plain gold bands and holding a marriage certificate. A whim? A mistake? More like a regret. Hed remembered back in December, when everyone was kissing under the mistletoe in Hood Hamlet and he was alone. That was when it hit him. Hed wished hed never been introduced to Sarah Purcell. But Cullen had. Hed married her. That was why he was here now. They were husband and wife until a judge declared otherwise. But he couldnt wait to be free, to get his life in order and put his plan back in place. He was scratching one thing off the list, though. He sure as hell wasnt getting married again. Been there, done thatno need to repeat that particular disaster. At least he would have Paulson to hang with. The guy was a confirmed bachelor, if there ever was one. But until Cullens divorce was final he was stuck with a wife whod wanted to talk, to fight, to slice open one of his veins and have him bleed out every single thought and feeling hed ever had. After the divorce things will be better. Cullen sat on the edge of Sarahs bed. He wanted to hate her, but seeing her like this, he couldnt. Your lips are dry. He picked up a tube from the bed tray, removed the cap and ran the balm over Sarahs chapped lips. She didnt stir. Better now? As he returned the tube to the table, a movement in his peripheral vision caught his attention. The blanket had slipped. Shed moved her left arm again. Sarah. She blinked. Once. Twice. Her eyes opened, looking clear and focused. Her mouth formed a perfect O. Youre still here. Sarah sounded surprised, but relieved. Her reaction offended him. I told you I wasnt going anywhere. She grabbed his hand and squeezed. You did. Heat emanated from the point of contact, shooting out to the tips of his fingernails and sparking up his arm. He expected her to let go. Instead she stared at him with wide eyes. The corners of her lips curved upward in a hesitant smile. O-kay. It was a simple touch. Out of gratitude for his being here. No big deal. Except the heat tingled. It felt good. Too good. Cullen pulled his arm away. Thirsty? She nodded. Water, please. He pushed a button on the control device that raised the head of her bed, reached for the cup sitting on the bed tray and then brought the glass to her mouth. He positioned the straw against her lower lip. Even after the balm, her lips were dry and peeling. He remembered how they used to be so soft and moist and taste so sweet. Dont think about that. There werent going to be any more kisses, no matter how much hed enjoyed them in the past. Sip slowly, he cautioned. Sarah did. She released the straw. Where am I? What happened? The roughness in her voice scratched his heart. He held on to the glass of water. That would keep at bay the temptation to brush the hair off her face. Youre at a hospital in Seattle. There was a steam blast on Baker. You got hit by falling rock and fell. Her mouth quirked. Did the steam blast continue? No, he said. But Tucker Samsonhe introduced himself as your boss and the head of MBVIsaid this could be a sign of an impending event. Her eyebrows slanted. Beneath the bandage on her forehead, lines formed as if she were deep in thought. Idont remember much. Sarah had a mind like a steel trap and never forgot anything. He didnt blame her for sounding worried. Its okay. You have a concussion, but its a closed-head injury. No traumatic brain injury. His words didnt ease her concern. Panic flickered in her eyes. I wasnt up there by myself. Two others were injured, but theyve been released from the hospital. You took the brunt of it. Fell quite a distance. The words were easy to say now, but the image of Sarah when hed first arrived at the hospital haunted him. His uselessness then reminded him of trying to help Blainewho had wanted only to blame Cullen for his drug addictionand of trying to revive his brother later, after hed overdosed. Being forced to watch from the sidelines as others took care of Sarah was like having his heart ripped from his chest. Hed felt the same after being pushed away from his unconscious brother when the paramedics had arrived at their parents house. But Sarah didnt need to know any of that. A corner of her mouth rose into a more certain smile. Guess thats why I feel like Ive gone nine rounds in a boxing match. Mixed Martial Arts seems more your style. Yeah, now that you mention it, this does feel more like MMA than a few punches, hooks and jabs. She hadnt lost her sense of humor. That and her intelligence had been two of Sarahs most appealing traits. Shed had a hot body, too. The hospital gown and blanket covered much of her, but shed lost weight. Her cheekbones appeared more prominent and she looked smaller, almost fragile, a word he would never have associated with her before. He pushed the straw toward her lips again. Drink more. Sarah took another sip. Ive had enough. Thanks. Ice chips will soothe your throat. It has to be sore from the tube. He placed the cup on the bed tray. Hungry? No. A question formed in her eyes. Should I be? She sounded nothing like the strong, independent woman hed married. The vulnerability in her gaze and voice tugged at his heart, twisting him inside out. He wanted to hold her until she felt better and her uncertainty disappeared. But touching her, even out of compassion, wasnt a smart idea. Your appetite will return soon enough. Maybe my appetite doesnt want hospital food. That was more like his Sarah. Not his, he corrected. Then your appetite is one smart cookie. She smiled. He smiled back. This conversation was going better than hed imagined. Maybe the bump on her head had shaken some sense into Sarah. Not that it changed anything between them. Ill sneak in some decent food. I should eat even if I dont feel like it. I need to get back to the institute to look at data. Her words made him bristle. Sarah was a scientist, first and foremost. Studying volcanoes wasnt a job for her, but a passion. The need to be where the action was happening was as natural an instinct as breathing to Sarah. Her work was for the greater good of science and mankind. If only she cared to put as much effort into her personal relationships. Into him. Other scientists can analyze the data, he said. You need to recover first. Im the institutes specialist. They need me. Those are my seismometers up there. Yours? Her lips pursed, but not in the kiss-me-now way she had perfected. A grant paid for them, but the dataWas the equipment damaged? Tucker said the equipment was recovered. The data from the laptop is being analyzed. Thank goodness. She glanced around the room until her gaze landed on the door. How soon until I can get out of here? He held up his hands, palms facing her. Not so fast. We may be able to use the data to figure out whats going to happen on Baker. If we predict an eruption successfully, we can use the same process with other volcanoes and save lives. Her passion cascaded out. Cullen understood why she was so adamant about her work. He felt the same about his. But he had to play devils advocate, even if he wanted nothing more than to send her on her merry way to Bellingham. A concussion is only one of your injuries. Sarah looked down at herself, as if finally realizing she was more than a talking head. Her eyes narrowed at the cast on her arm. I can slog up Baker with a sling. As ridiculous as the image of her doing that was, he could see her attempting it. She would hurt herself more, given the pain medication she was on, if she even survived another fall. How will you self-arrest if you slip? Its hard enough to dig in an ice ax to stop yourself with two usable hands and arms. She moistened her lips and lifted her chin with a look of defiance. I wont need to stop myself if I dont slip. A smile threatened to appear at her bravado. He pressed his lips together. The last thing he wanted to do was encourage her. You suffered internal injuries, a collapsed lung, broken ribs and an arm fracture. Not to mention youve had two surgeries. Surgeries? You have a pin in your right arm, and you no longer have a spleen. Due to the trauma and bleeding, they had to remove it with an open procedure rather than using laparoscopic techniques. Oh. Sarah looked as if hed told her shed overslept her alarm, not had an internal organ removed through a four-inch incision. You dont really need a spleen, right? A groan of frustration welled up inside him. Why couldnt she be one of those ivory-tower-type scientists who worked in a lab and never cared if they breathed fresh air or saw sunlight? Then again, he wouldnt have been attracted to someone like that. You can survive without one. Thats a relief. She touched her cast. How soon before I can get back to the institute? Next week? Try four to six weeks, if everything went well with her recovery. Most likely six to eight with the surgery. But he reminded himself he wasnt in charge of her medical care. Youll have to ask your doctor. Her gaze pinned him. Youre a doctor. Im not your doctor. You have to have some idea. Cullen had more than an idea. But he wasnt here as a medical professional. He was here to support her, even if he wasnt part of her life anymore. Hed been surprised to find out he was her only emergency contact. Shed mentioned her parents to him once, saying they were no longer a part of her life. He supposed the blank line on the employment form had needed a name, any name. No one ever thought the person listed would be contacted. More than a couple of weeks. She rubbed her lips together. Guess Id better talk to my doctor and find out. Once you know Youll go home, she finished for him. She wanted him out of her life. He would be happy to accommodate her. Yes, but not until youre out of the hospital. Leaving her alone until then wouldnt be right. Thank you. Her voice dropped to a mere whisper. Thanks for being here. This had to have messed up your schedule. Sarahs unexpected sincerity curled around his heart and squeezed tight, like a hug. He shifted his weight between his feet. My schedule doesnt matter. Her gaze met his with an intensity he knew well. She might look bruised and battered, even broken, but intelligence and strength shone in the depths of her eyes. Her eyes were what hed noticed first about her when theyd met over morning coffee at a campfire. He wanted to look away, but couldnt. Your schedule matters, she countered. It always has before. I dont want you to be alone. That much was true. Youre still my wife. Her face paled. My fault. Ive been so busy at the institute I never followed through on my end with the divorce. Im sorry. Ill have to get on that. After bringing up a divorce, shed been too busy slogging up and down Mount Baker in the name of research to file the marriage-dissolution paperwork. Hed contacted an attorney. He rubbed the back of his neck. No need. Her eyes widened. Her lips parted. What do you mean? A part of him wanted to get back at Sarah, to hurt her the way shed hurt him. Youre a great guy. Youll make some woman a fantastic husband. But our eloping was impulsive. I acted rashly and didnt think about what I was doing. Or what would be best for you. Im not it. You deserve a wife who can give you the things you want. Things I cant give you. Correction. Things she didnt want to give him. Regret rose like bile in his throat. I knew you were busy, so once I established residency in Oregon I got things started there. Oh. Her gaze never wavered from his. Okay. It felt anything but okay to him. The knots in his stomach tightened. His throat constricted. Hed had their entire future planned out. A house, pets, kids. And now Putting Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams and Mount Hood between Sarah and him had never appealed to Cullen more. Ill go see if your doctor is around so weyoucan find out when you might be discharged. He strode toward the door without waiting for her reply. Is it okay to get out of bed and use the bathroom? Sarah asked. Cullen stopped, cursing under his breath. He needed to help Sarah. But the last thing he wanted was to touch her, to hold her. What if he didnt want to let go? With a calming breath, he glanced over his shoulder. Yes, but not on your own. Ill grab a nurse and be right back. Cullen exited the room. He could have hit the button to call the nurse, but he needed some distance, if only for as long as it took him to reach the nurses station. He would let the nurse determine the best way to get Sarah on her feet. If he was pressed into service, so be it. But he hoped the nurse was one of the practical types who would handle things herself. The less he had to do with Sarah until her release, the better. Sarah washed her hands in the bathroom sink. A blond nurse named Natalie hovered nearby. The woman wore blue scrubs, and never stopped talking or smiling. After surgery and pain meds, it takes a while for your system to get back to normal. But youre doing great already! Heat rose in Sarahs cheeks. She wasnt used to being congratulated for using the toilet. Maybe when she was a kid, but knowing her parents, she doubted it. At least Natalie had given her some privacy. And it sure beat having Cullen help her, even though he was stationed outside the door. Dont think about him. She dried her hands, wishing every movement didnt take so much effort or hurt so much. Um, thanks. Im not used to going to the bathroom being a community event. Dont be embarrassed. This is nothing compared to labor and delivery, Natalie said. Theres no room for modesty there. Sarah couldnt imagine. Nor did she want to. Given she had no desire to marry again, she doubted she would ever set foot into labor and delivery. Unlike Cullen. If ever a man was meant to be a father An ache deep in her belly grabbed hold of her, like a red-tailed hawks talons around his prey, and wouldnt let go. She struggled to breathe. Her incision. Maybe her ribs. She leaned against the sink to allow the pain to pass. Natalie placed a hand on Sarahs shoulder. Sit on the toilet. A knock sounded. Need help? Cullens voice stopped whatever had been hurting. Sarah straightened. Im fine. Natalie adjusted the back of the gown. Lets get you back before Dr. Gray gets on me for keeping you away too long. Doctor hubbies are the worst, since theyre sure they know whats best for their wives. Maybe some doctors, not Cullen. Hed looked as if he wanted to bolt earlier. She didnt blame him. This was the height of awkwardness for both of them. Natalie opened the bathroom door. Here she is, Dr. Gray. Sarah shuffled out of the bathroom. She felt each step. An ache. A pain. A squeezing sensation. Nausea, too. Cullen held his arms out slightly, but he wasnt spotting her as closely as before. Dark circles under his eyes and stubble on his face made her wonder how much sleep hed been getting. Not much, by the looks of it. But he was still the most handsome man shed ever seen. That bothered her. She shouldnt be thinking about her future ex-husband that way. Maybe it was the pain medication. Youre walking better. He sounded pleased. A burst of pride shot through her. Just needed to find my legs. Its awful when they go missing, Natalie joked. The two of you should take a short walk down the hall and back. Sarah needs exercise. Excitement spurted through Sarah. She would love to get out of this room. Cullens lips narrowed. He didnt look as if he wanted to go anywhere with her. Disappointment shot straight to the tips of her toes, even though she knew he had every right to feel that way. Why would he want to spend more time with her than he absolutely had to? Shed hurt his pride by bringing up a divorce. As if shutting her out of every part of his life outside the bedroom hadnt hurt her. But shed had to do something. It was only a matter of time before he left her. Shed saved them from suffering more hurt in the future. You should be walking a few times each day, Cullen said. Of course he had to say that. He was a doctor. But hed done enough. She wasnt about to force him into escorting her. Sarah padded toward the window. Ill parade around the room. This gown isnt made for walking in public unless I want to flash the entire floor. I doubt anyone would complain. Cullens lighthearted tone surprised her. Especially not Elmer, the eighty-four-year-old patient two doors down. Natalie laughed. Elmer would appreciate it. Hes such a dirty old man. But Im sure you wouldnt mind too much yourself, Dr. Gray. Cullen winked at the nurse. Well, Sarah is my wife. Sarah stared at him dumbfounded. Legally she was his wife. But he wanted the divorce as much as she did. Why was he joking around as though they were still together? He strode to the cupboard resembling a built-in armoire with a drawer on the bottom. And since Id rather not have any men leering at her, its a good thing I bought this. Sarah had no idea what he was talking about. What? Cullen opened one of the cupboard doors and pulled out something orange and fuzzy. This is for you. She stared in disbelief at a robe. I I hope orange is still your favorite color, he said. She was touched he remembered. It is. Natalie clapped her hands together. How sweet! His gesture sent a burst of warmth rushing through Sarah. This was sounexpected. She cleared her throat. Th-thanks. Now your backside will be covered, and I wont have to get into any territorial pissing matches. He held up the robe so she could stick her left arm through the sleeve. Lets drape this over your right shoulder and not bother your cast. Sarah nodded, not trusting her voice. She appreciated Cullen staying with her at the hospital, but his company was enough. She didnt want him buying her anything, especially something as lovely and as thoughtful as this robe. He tied the belt around her waist. Now youre set. She didnt feel set. She felt light-headed. Chills ran up and down her arms. Neither had anything to do with her injuries, but everything to do with the man standing next to her. Ready? he asked. No, she wasnt. Go on, Natalie encouraged. You can do this. No, Sarah didnt think she could. Cullen extended his arm toward her. She reached for his hand, unsure if touching him would hurt or not. He laced his fingers with hers, sending tingles shooting up her arm. Itll be okay. Chills and tingles were not okay. I wont let you fall, he said confidently. Sarah had no doubt he would catch her if her body gave out and gravity took over. But who would stop her heart from falling for him? Or catch her if it did? CHAPTER THREE THE LAST THING Cullen had expected to become was Sarahs walking buddy, but that was what happened over the next three days. His reluctance gave way to anticipation for the after-meal strolls through the hospital corridors. Hed wanted to be here and help her. This offered him the perfect opportunity to do both. They didnt discuss the past. They barely mentioned the future unless it related to her recovery. Sometimes they didnt say much at all. It was enough to be with her, supporting her. Enough, he realized, for now. As they walked through the hospitals atrium full of tall trees and flowering plants, Cullen held Sarahs hand. A satisfied smile settled on his lips. You did have the energy to make it down here. Told you so. This is much better than walking the hallways upstairs. Sarah glanced up at the skylights. The ends of her long chestnut hair swung like a pendulum. Her bruises were fading, more yellow and brown than blue. I cant wait until I can go outside. It wont be long. Sarah looked better, healthier. He squeezed her hand. Youre getting stronger every day. Her green eyes sparkled. Its all this exercise. He wished it was because of him. Yeah, right. He wasnt foolish enough to think this time together meant anything. These walks were about her health, nothing else. Exercise can be as important as medication in a patients recovery. So can laughter. She grinned wryly. Thats why you wanted to watch the comedy show last night. You laughed. I did. And Im smiling now. You have a very nice smile. Thanks. She glanced at their linked hands. Do you think I could try walking on my own? Cullen had gotten so used to being her living, breathing walker, holding her hand had become second nature. But it wasnt something he should get used to, even if it wasnice. He released her hand. Go ahead. Sarah took a careful, measured step. And another. He flexed his fingers, missing the feel of her warm skin against his. Tomorrow youll want to hop on a bike instead. Her lips curved downward in a half frown, half pout. I like our walks. Me, too. Her smile, as bright as a summer day at Smith Rock, took his breath away. He rubbed his face. Stubble pricked his hand. Hed been in a rush to get to the hospital and forgotten to shave again. But I have to be honest. She looked around, as if seeing who might be listening. Im ready to escape this joint. I dont blame you. Except once she left, everything would go back to the way it had been. They would live separate lives, in separate states. The realization unsettled him. You should be released soon. Has Dr. Marshall mentioned a discharge date? The anticipation in her voice made Cullen feel foolish for enjoying this time together. She wanted a divorce. He wanted one, too. No. But given your progress, Dr. Marshall might have one in mind. Ask him when he makes his rounds. Hope danced in her eyes. I will. Sarah took another step, swaying. She stumbled forward. Whoa. Cullen wrapped his right arm around her waist and grabbed her left hand. Careful. She clutched his hand. I lost my balance. If that was the case, why was she leaning against him with her fingers digging into his hand? But he liked the way she clung to him. This is the longest walk weve taken. Lets head back to your room. He expected an argument. Instead she nodded. Sarah loosened her grip and flexed her hand. I can make it on my own. He laced his fingers with hers. I know, but humor me anyway. She held on to his hand. I suppose thats the least I can do after all youve done for me. A list of what hed done for her the past two years scrolled through his mind. I suppose it is. Sarah owed him, and he would gladly take this as payback. He wasnt about to let go of her. And that had nothing to do with how good having her close felt. He caught a whiff of her floral-scented shampoo. Or how good she smelled. Nothing at all. That afternoon, Sarah gripped the edge of the hospital blanket. She stared at Dr. Marshall, wondering if shed misunderstood him. She sure hoped so. Dont you mean an independent discharge? An independent discharge is not going to happen. Dr. Marshall looked like a grandfather, rather than one of Seattles top surgeons, with his silver-wire-frame glasses and thinning gray hair, but the man was turning out to be the devil in disguise. You are unable to care for yourself. Your discharge planner and orthopedist agree. She hadnt been waiting all afternoon full of hope only to hear this. Thatssilly. Cullen, who leaned against the far wall near the window, gave a blink-and-youd-miss-it shake of his head. Her fingers tightened on the fabric, nearly poking through the thin material. She didnt like being so aware of Cullens every movement. Her senses had become heightened where he was concerned. Shed wondered if he felt the same way. Now she knew. No! Frustration tensed her muscles, making her abdomen hurt more. Disappointment ping-ponged through her. Theyd shared lovely walks though the hospital, holding hands like high-school sweethearts. Shed assumed Cullen would support her independent-discharge request, but he hadnt. He didnt want her returning to her apartment in Bellingham to stay by herself. Nothing about this is silly, Dr. Marshall said. You are lucky to be alive. Damn lucky, Cullen murmured. She didnt feel that way. Nothing but bad luck could have put her at the crater rim when a steam blast occurred, something that hadnt happened on Mount Baker in nearly four decades. Now she was stuck in the hospital with only her soon-to-be ex-husband for company when she needed to be at the institute figuring out if the event was a precursor to an eruption or just the volcano letting off steam as it had done in 1975. Silly was the wrong word to use, but Im not an invalid. Im getting around better. Dr. Marshall gave her the once-over. Theres a big difference between walking the hallways and being capable of caring for yourself. You overdid it this morning, Cullen added, as if dumping a carton of salt onto her wounds helped matters. I know I have a way to go in my recovery. She would be doing fine once the pain of her incision and ribs lessened. The throbbing in her head, too. But I dont need a nursemaid. A knowing glance passed between Dr. Marshall and Cullen. Sarah bit the inside of her cheek. No one is suggesting a nursemaid. But I agree with Dr. Marshall. Youre right-handed. Cullens gaze dropped to her cast. Dressing yourself, doing anything with your left hand, is going to take some adjustment. Not to mention your sutures and ribs. Youll need assistance doing most everyday things. There will also be limitations on lifting and driving. Maybe she shouldnt have expected Cullen to take her side. But even with his lack of support now, she had no regrets. Bringing up a divorce was better than waiting around for him to do it. And he would have. People always walked away. He would walk away from her once she was out of the hospital, leaving her alone. Again. The sinking feeling in her stomach turned into a black hole, sucking her hope down into it. No, she couldnt give in and admit defeat. The institute relied upon her expertise. Others had been looking at the data since the steam blast, but volcanic seismology was her specialty. She couldnt let people down. It wasnt as if she had anything else in her life but her work. She glanced at Cullen, then looked away. I dont care if it hurts. Ill figure out a way. I need to get back to the institute. I have a job to do. Is your current health and your long-term health outlook worth risking for your job? Dr. Marshall asked. Sarah raised her chin. If it means determining how to predict a volcanic eruption, then yes. Its worth it. A muscle ticked at Cullens jaw. If you return to the institute too soon, you wont be doing them or yourself any favors. She saw his point, even if she didnt like it. Ill be careful. What does your job entail, Sarah? Dr. Marshall asked. Analyzing data. After she climbs Mount Baker to gather it, Cullen added. Or am I wrong about that, Dr. Purcell? Of course he wasnt wrong. From his smug grin he knew it, too. That was why hed used her title. I can send a team up to download the data. Maybe that would appease himrather, Dr. Marshall. Are you able to work remotely from home? Dr. Marshall asked. Sarah would rather be at the institute, but she would take what she could get. Telecommuting is an option. I have internet access in my apartment. Dr. Marshall looked her straight in the eyes. Is there someone who can stay at your apartment and care for you? Sarahs heart slammed against her chest so loudly she was sure the entire floor of the hospital could hear the boom-boom-boom. Even though she knew the answer to his question, she mentally ran through the list of coworkers at the institute. Most would be happy to drop off food or pick up her mail, but asking one to stay with her would be too much. She couldnt impose on any of them like that. Shed never had a close friend, a bestie or BFF she could count on no matter what. Her life had been too transitory, shuttled between her parents and moving frequently, to develop that kind of bond with anyone. Not unless you counted Cullen. She couldnt. It wouldnt be fair to either one of them. She chewed on her lower lip. I could hire someone. Home care is a possibility, Dr. Marshall said. Fantastic. Except her studio apartment was tiny. The floor was the only extra place to sleep, the bathroom the only privacy. She hated to admit it, but home care wouldnt work. If Sarahs in Bellingham, nothing will keep her from going to the institute or heading up the mountain if she feels its necessary, Cullen said matter-of-factly. She opened her mouth to contradict him, but stopped herself. What he said was true. You know Im right, he said. It annoyed her that he knew her so well. Is that true? Dr. Marshall asked her. She tried to shrug, but a pain shot through her. Possibly. Cullen laughed. The rich sound pierced her heart. One of Cupids arrows had turned traitorous. A one-hundred-percent possibility. No sense denying it. Hed had her number a long time ago. Dr. Marshall gave her a patronizing smile, as if she were a five-year-old patient who would appreciate princess stickers rather than a grown adult who wanted him to work out her discharge. My first choice in cases involving a head injury, however minor, is home care by family members, but Dr. Gray has explained your situation. Sarah assumed Dr. Marshall meant their marriage, since Cullen was the closest thing to family she had. She wasnt an orphan. Her parents were alive, but theyd chosen their spouses over her years ago. Im on my own. That leaves a sniff. A skilled nursing facility, Dr. Marshall explained. We call them SNFs. There are several in the Seattle area. Cullens smile crinkled the corners of his eyes, making her heart dance a jig. So not the reaction she wanted to have when she was fighting for her freedom. Independence. Work. That sounds like a perfect solution, Cullen said. Maybe for him. In Bellingham she had access to the institute and her own place to live. Down here in Seattle, she hadnothing. But what choice did she have? Sarah swallowed her disappointment. I suppose. As long as I have my laptop and access to data. Dr. Marshall adjusted his wire-framed glasses. Many SNFs have Wi-Fi. Might as well look on the bright side. Thats better than dial-up. Your concussion will make it difficult for you to concentrate for any length of time. Cullen sounded so doctorlike. Totally different from the man who had helped her back to her room this morning. If you push too hard, you may experience vision problems and headaches. Ill use a timer to limit my computer usage, she offered. No symptom is a one-hundred-percent certainty, but Dr. Gray is correct. You dont want to do too much too soon, Dr. Marshall said. Something about his tone and eye movement raised the hair on her arms. What exactly am I going to be allowed to do? Rest and recuperate, Dr. Marshall said, as if those two things would appeal to her. R & R was something a person did when they were old. Not when the second-most-active volcano in the Cascades might erupt. The SNF sounds like my only option, but you might as well put me out of my misery now, because Youll die of boredom, Cullen finished for her. In their one-plus year of marriageover two if you counted the time theyd been separatedhed figured her out better than anyone else in her life. That unnerved Sarah. Dr. Marshall adjusted his glasses. A few weeks of boredom is a small price to pay. Small price? The SNF sounded like an institutional cage. Shed be locked away and forced to sleep or rest. She stared at the cast on her arm. Lucky to be alive. Maybe if she kept repeating the words she would believe them. Because right now life pretty much sucked. There is another option, Cullen said. Her gaze jerked to his. The room tilted to her left as if she were standing in a mirrored fun house. She closed her eyes. She must have walked too far earlier. When she opened them everything was back where it belonged, and Cullen was staring at her with his intense gaze. She swallowed the lump of desperation lodged in her throat. Anything would be better than a nursing facility. What other option? Come home with me to Hood Hamlet. Her mouth gaped. The air rushed from her lungs. I have Wi-Fi, Cullen continued, as if that made all the difference in the world. I promise you wont be bored. No, she wouldnt be bored. She would be struggling to survive and keep her heart safe. Here at the hospital, people came in and out of her room. She and Cullen were never alone for long. He left each night to go to his hotel. What would it be like if it were only the two of them? Dangerous. Sarah tried to speak, but her tongue felt ten sizes too big for her mouth, as if shed been given a shot of Novocain at the dentists office. But she knew one thing . Going home with Cullen was a bad idea. So bad she would rather move into the SNF and die of boredom or stay in the hospital and die of starvation or go live in a cave somewhere with nothing but spiders and other creepy-crawly things for company. Having him here made her feel warm and fuzzy. Taking walks reminded her of how comfortable theyd once been together. But she couldnt rely on him to be her caretaker. Shed been vulnerable before theyd separated. She would be totally at his mercy in his care. If she found herself getting attached to him, or worse, falling in love with him all over again He would have the power not only to break her heart, but shatter it. She couldnt allow that to happen. Cullen wore a digital watch, but he swore he heard the seconds ticking by. He braced himself for Sarahs rejection. Hed offered her a place to recover, but shed reacted with wide-eyed panic, as if she was about to be sentenced to life in prison. Stupid. Cullen balled his hands with a mix of frustration and resentment. He should never have made the suggestion. But shed looked so damn miserable over the idea of the SNF, hed had to do something. A good attitude was important in a patients recovery. He didnt want her to experience any setbacks. Skilled nursing facilities had their role in patient recovery, but Sarah was better off elsewhere. He knew that as a trained physician. He knew that in his gut. But no one was going to step up and offer Sarah an alternative. No one except him. And she hadnt even cared. At least not according to her anything-but-that reaction. Might as well get the word sucker tattooed on him. Hed let their pleasant walks and hand-holding soften him up. A buzzing sound disturbed the silence. Dr. Marshall checked his pager. I have to go. Tell the nurse your decision and have her relay it to me and the discharge planner. The surgeon strode out of the room without a glance back. The minute the door shut, the tension in the air quadrupled. Cullen had faced challenges working as a doctor and as a mountain rescuer, but hed never felt more out of his element than standing here with his wife, a wife who didnt want him for a husband. Not that he wanted her, either, he reminded himself. Sarah toyed with the edge of her blanket. Her hands worked fast and furiously, as if she were making origami out of cloth. The silence intensified. Her gaze bounced from her cast to the colorful bouquet of wildflowers from MBVI to everything else in the room. Everything except him. Hard to believe that at one time they were so crazy about one another they couldnt keep their hands or lips off each other. Now she couldnt bear to look at him. He hated the way that gnawed at him. Time to face the music, even if a requiem played. Im only trying to help. Give you another choice. Im surprised youd want me around. Her words cut through the tension with the precision of a scalpel. He was about to remind her she had been the one to ask for the divorce, but held his tongue because she was right. He didnt want her around because she messed with his thoughts and his emotions, but he had to do the right thing here, whether he liked it or not. I want you to recover. Get you feeling better and back on your feet in the shortest amount of time possible. Thats all. She studied him as if she were trying to determine what type of volcanic rock he might be. Thats nice of you. Her wariness bugged him. Weve been getting along. Her lips parted. She pressed them together, then opened them again. Its just He hated the hurt lying over his heart. Would it be that awful for a few weeks? No, not awful, she admitted. Not at all. Her words brought a rush of relief, but added to his confusion. Then whats the problem? I dont want to be a burden. A burden was the last label hed use for her. Youre not. Youve put your life on hold this past week. I wont have to do that when Im in Hood Hamlet. I can get back to work and my mountain-rescue unit. Sarah moistened her lips. I didnt think I was supposed to be alone. Friends have offered to help. Her gaze narrowed. So you wont be around that much? I work twelve-hour shifts at the hospital. The rescue unit keeps ready teams stationed on the mountain in May and June. Oh. That single word didnt tell him much. He rocked back on his heels. So what do you think? I appreciate the offer. But? Sarah squinted. II dont know. Her uncertainty sounded genuine. He had expected to hear a flat-out no. She sank into her pillow. Is it something I need to decide right now? Dr. Marshall wants you to tell the nurse your decision. Arrangements have to be made if you choose a SNF. She rubbed her thumb against her fingertips. Attitude plays a role in healing, he continued. Hood Hamlet will be better for you in that regard. Give me a minute to think about it. Cullen didnt know why she needed more time or why he was trying so hard to convince her. Yes, he wanted to do the right thing, but her decision changed nothing. If she refused his offer, the next time they saw each otherThey wouldnt be seeing each other unless she challenged the divorce terms. The way it would have been if she hadnt had her accident. The bed dwarfed her body, making her look small and helpless. Strange, given she was the strongest women he knew next to Leanne Thomas, a paramedic and member of OMSAR. Sarah grimaced. Two long strides put him at the side of her bed. Your head. She gave an almost imperceptible nod. I may have overdone the walking today. His concern ratcheted. Does anything else hurt? Not any more than usual. Using the back of his hand, he touched her face. She wasnt flushed, but a temperature could mean another infection. You dont feel warm. She closed her eyes. My brain might be rebelling from having to work again. Think I probably need another nap. Probably. But Cullen preferred to err on the side of caution. He checked the circulation of each finger sticking out from her cast. He wanted to blame his anxiousness on the Hippocratic oath, but he knew there was more to it than that. The more part revolved around Sarah. He wished it werent so. In time he hopedexpectednot to care or to be so concerned about her. Time healed all wounds, right? She opened her eyes. You always had a nice bedside manner. He didnt want her words to mean anything. He hated that they did. Its easier with some patients. With me? she asked, sounding hopeful. Yes. Sarahs lips curved into a slight, almost shy smile. Thanks. He brushed hair off her face. Youre welcome. Her eyelids fluttered like a pair of butterfly wings. He remembered when shed slept against him and her eyelashes had brushed his cheek. The urge to scoop her up in his arms and hold her close was strong, but he couldnt give in to temptation. This woman had trounced his heart once. Whatever else he did, he couldnt let himself fall in love with her again. . . , (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39925242&lfrom=390579938) . Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, , , , PayPal, WebMoney, ., QIWI , .
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