Dating The Millionaire Doctor

By: Marion Lennox



Jake was chief anaesthetist in a specialist teaching hospital in Manhattan. Once upon a time he’d spent time with patients, but that seemed long since. Now he handled only critical cases. Patient interviews and examinations were done by his juniors. His personal contact with patients was confined to reassurance as they slipped under anaesthetic, and occasional further reassurance as they regained consciousness.

If there were problems during an operation, it was mostly the surgeon who talked to the family. As anaesthetist Jake took no risks. He did his job and he did it well. There were seldom times he needed to talk. Now, as he faced Tori’s real and dreadful grief, he realised he actively kept away from this type of anguish.

His mother had cried at him all of his life. He’d done with tears.

And this was just a koala.

Just a koala. Even as he thought it, he recalled the limp little body lying alone down at the house, the scar tissue, the evidence of a six-month battle now lost. He looked around him and saw the blackened skeletons of a ravaged forest. His mother had cried for crying’s sake. He knew instinctively that Tori’s tears were very different.

So much death…

Tori was trying desperately to pull herself together, sniffing against his shirt, tugging back. ‘I’m sorry,’ she managed. ‘This is stupid. It was a risk, operating on her. I should have put her down. I should have…’

‘You weren’t to know what you should or shouldn’t have done,’ he said gently. ‘You did your best. That’s all anyone can ask.’

‘No, but she was wild. She’s been through so much.’

‘You didn’t add to that. Tori, you had to give her every chance.’

‘But was I operating for me?’ she demanded, sounding desperate. She’d managed to pull back now and was wiping her hand furiously across her cheeks. ‘I named her! How stupid was that?’

‘You told me you didn’t.’

‘I told everyone I didn’t. All the volunteers I’ve worked with. The nurses. The drivers. The firefighters who brought animals in. I told them we can’t afford to get attached. There are so many. If we get attached we’ll go crazy. Let’s do our best for every individual animal and let’s stay dispassionate.’

There was nothing dispassionate about Tori. She looked wild. Her face was blotched from weeping. The spade she was working with was covered with ashes and dirt. Her hands were filthy and she’d wiped her hands across her sodden face.

She looked like someone who’d just emerged from this burned-out forest-a fire victim herself-and something inside him felt her pain. Or felt more than that. It hurt that she was hurting, and it hurt a lot.

He wanted to hug her again-badly-but she was past hugging. She had her arms folded across her breasts in an age-old gesture of defence. Trying to stop an agony that was unstoppable?

This was much more than the death of one koala, he thought, as bad as that was. There were levels to this pain that he couldn’t begin to understand.

‘Keep yourself to yourself.’ His mother’s words sounded through the years. ‘Don’t get involved-you’ll only get hurt.’

Wise advice? He’d always thought so, but right now it was advice he was planning to ignore.

‘What did you call her?’ he asked, and she hiccupped on a sob and tried to glare at him. It didn’t come off. How could it?

‘Manya’

Why was she glaring? Did she think he’d mock?

Maybe she did. He knew instinctively that Tori was assessing him and withdrawing. As if he’d think she was stupid-when stupid was the last thing he’d think her.

‘Why Manya?’ he asked, searching for the right words to break through. ‘What does it mean?’

‘Just…“little one.” It’s from the language of the native people from around here. Not that it matters. It was only… I talked to her.’ She sounded desperate again, and totally bewildered. ‘I had to call her something. I had to talk to her.’

‘I guess you did,’ he said. And then, as she still seemed to be drawing in on herself, he thought maybe he could make this professional. Maybe it’d make it easier. ‘Do you know why she died?’

‘No.’ She spread her filthy hands and stared down at them, as if they could give her some clue. She shook her head. ‘Or maybe I do. She’s been under stress for months but I thought we were winning. I knew she wouldn’t be able to go back to the wild, but there are sanctuaries that’d take her, good places that’d seem like freedom. And she was so close. But one tiny abscess… It must have been the last straw. She was fine when I checked on her at seven, and when I checked at eight she was dead. Everything just…stopped.’

‘It does happen,’ he said softly. ‘To people, too.’

‘Have you had it happen to patients?’ she managed, and he knew she was struggling hard to sound normal. Her little dog nosed forwards and she picked him up and held him against her, shield-like. He licked her nose and she held him harder.

The dog was missing a leg, he saw with a shock, and his initial impression of him as an old dog changed. Not old. Wounded.

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