Authors: Margaret Daley
Tags: #Family, #American Light Romantic Fiction, #General, #Romance, #Fiction, #Fiction - Romance, #Man-woman relationships, #Love stories, #Romance - General, #Christian, #Religious - General, #Christian - Romance, #Religious, #Heroes
Published by Steeple Hill Books
I want to dedicate this book to all the nurses and
doctors, especially my mother, Catherine, and my
ady, it worries me when I see a clown cry.”
Tess Morgan looked at the giant who was leaning in the doorway to the waiting room, his left leg, up to his knee, in a walking cast. She blinked, releasing the last few teardrops on her lashes. Absently she felt the tears cascade down her face as she tried to compose herself in front of an incredible-looking—hulk!
Oh, my, he’s big.
He filled the doorway with his immense frame, thick-muscled neck, broad shoulders and chest. That was her first impression of the stranger, but it was quickly chased away by others—jet-black hair that curled at the nape of his neck, full mouth turned slightly down in worry, the handsome bronzed planes of his face; and his steel gray eyes, penetrating in their survey of her.
“Ma’am, are you all right?” He hobbled a few feet into the waiting room.
She knew she should respond, but in her weakened emotional state she was at a loss for words. He towered over her. She slowly craned her neck upward past the leg cast, the narrow waist, the wide expanse of chest, the solid neck, to look into his puzzled expression.
Words suddenly flooded her mind. She bolted to her feet, nearly knocking the man backward. “I’m fine. Really, I am. Nothing to worry about, but thanks for asking. Sometimes I just need a good cry. It cleanses the soul, don’t you think?” She paused, fluttered her hand in the air and continued, “Well, anyway, it helps me to keep going when things are a little tough.” As suddenly as she started talking, she came to an abrupt halt at the shocked expression on the stranger’s face. Her cheeks, beneath the white makeup, flamed as red as her clown nose, which she’d placed on the table next to her.
The best possible solution to this embarrassing situation would be a quick retreat, which would be near impossible in her oversize shoes. She sidestepped the giant, muttering, “Thanks again for your concern.”
As she clumsily walked toward the exit, she was all too aware of his perceptive gaze on her back. She could imagine it singeing a path down her spine, and she shivered.
She was about to hasten into the hallway and disappear with a small thread of dignity still in place when he said, “You forgot something.”
Her pride, she decided, and spun to face the man. In his grasp lay her red ball nose.
She started to snatch it from his outstretched hand when his long fingers closed around it. He shifted closer, positioning himself in front of her. Disconcerted, Tess found herself gulping.
“Here. The least I can do is fix your nose. I can’t do anything, though, about the makeup.”
He replaced the ball on her nose. The brush of his fingers against her skin was amazingly gentle and extremely warm, too warm. The touch stirred a fluttering in the pit of her stomach, a sensation she hadn’t experienced for several years. The scent of sandalwood swirled about her, setting off alarm signals in her brain.
Tess stared into his gray eyes, caught by the intense look he directed at her. The ball was on her nose, but his fingers hadn’t dropped away. Five seconds. Ten. An eternity. She was sure he could hear her heartbeat clamoring against her rib cage. It seemed to drown out all other noise.
When his gaze slid away from hers, his hand returned mercifully to his side. “No decent clown should be without a proper nose,” he said, amusement causing his eyes to glint like diamonds in sunlight.
Suddenly, always quick to find humor in life, Tess laughed. “The penalty at the very least would be a pie in the face, which come to think of it might not be so bad since I skipped breakfast this morning. I guess I could compromise with a fruit pie and cover at least one of the food groups.”
His grin reached deep in his eyes. “Haven’t you heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?”
“Yes, and I don’t usually miss any meals.”
His gaze trekked down her length. “That’s hard to believe.”
She blushed again, something she was doing a lot around this stranger. “My name is Tess Morgan.”
“Peter MacPherson.” He held out his hand.
She slipped hers into his grasp, silently preparing herself for his long fingers to close about hers. Nothing, though, had prepared her for the electric feel his touch produced, as though she had stuck her finger into a socket. She quickly removed her hand from his grasp and edged back to give herself some breathing room.
“Are you visiting a family member?” Tess took another large step back, sandalwood-scented aftershave lotion still teasing her senses.
“No, just a friend.”
“I hope it’s not too serious.”
“No, Tommy should be leaving in a few days.”
“Tommy Burns? You visit him often?” She would have remembered seeing this man. He wasn’t a person anyone could easily forget.
“Several times, but I usually come in the evening. Today I’m getting my cast off so I decided to see Tommy before I went to the doctor’s office across the street. Do you know Tommy?”
“When I’m not wearing all this white makeup, I’m a nurse on this floor. I dress up several times a week to entertain the children. It’s a kind of therapy I’ve developed.” The waiting room was warm, and she knew it had nothing to do with the thermostat setting and everything to do with the man standing in front of her. She was sure her white makeup would soon start running in rivulets of sweat down her face.
“How long have you been doing that?”
“Six months, Mr. MacPherson.”
He grimaced. “Please don’t call me that. My friends call me Mac.”
“Okay—Mac,” she murmured, wondering what it would be like to be his friend. In the next second she realized being his friend would be too dangerous for her peace of mind. He was a bit too overwhelming for her.
“What made you come up with the idea of clown therapy?”
“I read about a program back East and thought it was a good idea.”
“Why were you crying? Something go wrong today?”
His questions, so full of concern, pierced the invisible armor she wore to protect herself. She wasn’t sure how to answer him. The truth was she hadn’t cried in several years—wasn’t sure why she had today. Maybe she was tired of fighting to keep everything in. But how could she tell a stranger that?
“Are you all right?” Mac moved closer.
Every fiber of her being went on alert at his nearness, though he was still an arm’s length away. She nodded, trying to put together an answer that would satisfy him. “Not enough sleep lately. That’s all,” she finally said, realizing it was only a small part of the truth. She needed to focus on the good things about her job—the laughter, the smiles of joy and the reprieves she offered from pain. But she couldn’t forget Johnny and the battle he might lose. The chemotherapy would work, and Johnny would go into remission.
“My, you are flirting with danger. No sleep and skipping breakfast,” Mac said, a gleam dancing in his eyes.
“Tess.” A man in a white coat stopped in the hallway and popped his head into the waiting room. “I just wanted to let you know Johnny is through with his therapy.”
“How did it go?”
“Fine. He asked about you.”
“I’ll make sure to stop by and see him. Thanks for the update.”
“A friend or patient?” Mac asked when the man left.
“Both.” Tess thought about her struggle to get Johnny to smile this past week. She wasn’t sure Johnny felt she was his friend, but whether he wanted her to or not she was going to stand by him.
“Johnny must be someone special.”
“Why do you say that?”
“From the expression on your face when that man was talking about him.”
“I’ve only known him a week, but he’s become important to me in that short time. I know I shouldn’t become emotionally involved with a patient, but sometimes it’s so hard not to. Johnny doesn’t have any family. No one comes to visit him.” And that was the reason she was drawn to him, Tess realized.
“How old is he?”
“Ten going on forty. He’s a ward of the state.” Tess glanced at her oversize watch that didn’t keep time. “And if I don’t get moving, I might be looking for another job. It was nice to meet you.” She backed out of the room, glad she was hidden beneath tons of makeup and a red wig. If she stayed much longer, the man would have her whole life’s history. It was too easy talking to him, and the last thing she wanted to do was become interested in any man, especially one who made her heart pound.
Tess started down the hospital corridor, her oversize shoes slapping against the linoleum floor. She was conscious of Peter MacPherson following her undignified exit with his sharp gaze. The hairs on her neck tingled, and the fluttering in her stomach intensified.
She had to get a grip on herself. Peter MacPherson was a man she would probably never see again. But she vividly remembered the warm, gentle touch of his fingers as he adjusted her round red nose. A gentle bear, she thought as she hurried to the nurse’s locker room to remove her makeup.
After scrubbing the makeup off and dressing as a nurse, Tess left the locker room, determined to put the gentle giant out of her mind. She had no time in her life for a relationship. She was trying to piece her life together after the disaster in South America.
Pandemonium greeted Tess with a cold blast of panic when she approached the nurses’ station.
“Tess, am I glad you’re back. I was just going to page you,” Delise said as she rushed up to Tess. “Johnny wasn’t in his room when I went to check on him.”
“Have you notified security? Looked all over this floor?”
“Yes. Yes. What should we do? We have medications that have to be given out.”
“There’s nothing we can do until we’ve given out the medications. I’m sure security will find him before we’re through,” Tess said in a calm, controlled voice, though her stomach muscles were tight as a fist.
What if Johnny had collapsed somewhere unconscious? What if he had a reaction to the therapy? What if—She had to block from her mind what could happen to Johnny. He would be all right, she told herself as she put a bottle of medicine on the counter, closed her eyes and breathed deeply. But the antiseptic-laced air underscored in Tess’s thoughts her fear that the child might not come out of this all right.
Mac stared at himself in the mirror in the men’s room, an image of a clown stealing into his thoughts. A picture of her tear-streaked face with rivulets of black paint ruining her white makeup materialized in his mind. He remembered how she’d drawn in a deep breath, her hands clasped tightly in her lap to keep them from shaking. Slowly, while they had talked, she had pieced herself together, but the effort had left a vulnerability in her eyes that struck a chord deep in him.
What did she look like under all that white makeup and the red curly wig? He knew she was tiny, but that was about all. His curiosity was aroused. He wondered if he could fit his hands around her small waist. Shaking his head, he looked away. He would probably never know. Besides, he wasn’t looking for a relationship of any kind.
He couldn’t image finding anyone to take the place of Sheila. As he remembered his deceased wife, his throat constricted, making it difficult to swallow. In the past few years his life had changed drastically, and if he hadn’t known the Lord’s love, he wouldn’t have been able to hold himself together for his daughter.
A noise behind him brought Mac up short. He’d thought he was alone. He glanced at the stalls, cocking his head to listen.
The muffled sound filled the air. Someone whimpered. As quickly as his leg cast would allow, Mac hobbled to the stall at the far end of the bathroom.
“Are you all right in there?”
Silence. Even the whimpering stopped.
“Is everything okay?” Mac asked, alarm beginning to form in his gut.
A sound as if someone was falling launched Mac into action. He threw his body against the stall door, and it would have crashed open except that Mac stopped it. Carefully he swung the door wide. On the floor lay a boy, his pale face streaked with tears, his eyes fluttering closed.
After checking for a pulse, Mac stooped, picked up the child and cradled him. His small chest rose and fell with each shallow breath. Mac quickly carried the child from the bathroom down the multicolored corridor toward the nurses’ station.
As Mac approached, he caught sight of a tiny nurse whom he somehow immediately knew was Tess. She was like a pixie with short brown hair feathered about her oval face, a cute turned up nose, a mouth meant for laughter and dark brown eyes he could imagine sparkling with mischief. It was those eyes that had given her away and drew him to her.
When she looked at him, her gaze widened, and her hand halted in midair. For a few seconds he saw fear in her eyes. Then a professional calm descended.
“Delise, notify Dr. Addison. Please come with me, Mr. MacPherson.”
Mac started to correct her use of his name but stopped when he looked at her. He sensed she needed her professional facade, that it was the only thing that held her together. He followed her to a room across from the nurses’ station, placed the boy on the bed, then backed away while Tess checked the child, her movements precise, efficient. But he saw the slight quiver in her fingers, as though the effort to be businesslike was taking its toll on her.
“I think he’ll be all right,” she said, the rigid set of her shoulders easing.
Mac started to ask about the child when the doctor came into the room. Mac quietly left to stand outside as if on guard at the door. He wanted to appease his curiosity about the child and the tiny woman who had touched him deep inside.
With his body propped up against the wall, he tried to ignore the ache in his leg. In his old profession he had certainly dealt with his share of pain. Massaging his tight muscled thigh, he focused his thoughts away from the dull throbbing and onto one nurse clown who captivated him more than he wished.
He remembered the helplessness he’d felt when he’d seen her in the waiting room crying, her face streaked with the evidence of her tears. A strong urge to comfort had drawn him into the room before he could stop himself. Her vulnerability had moved him, causing him to forget his losses for a short time. Seeing her again renewed his interest. He wanted to know what had put that look in her eyes that declared she’d seen more than her share of pain and suffering. He wanted to get to know her, ease the burden he sensed she carried.