A Date With Her Valentine Doc
Three rules for dealing with Dr. Matt Bishop, my new boss:
No one, least of all Matt, must find out the truth about my being jilted at the altar!
Just because Matt inspires some seriously X-rated thoughts, he’s my boss and is 100% off-limits.
Working on the hospital’s St. Valentine’s Day Ball with him might sound like fun, but with all these sparks flying around I must remain calm, aloof and professional…
An Excerpt from A Date With Her Valentine Doc
The first thing I saw when I walked into the ICU office on my first day back to work after my honeymoon was my postcard pinned to the noticeboard. Well, it was supposed to be my honeymoon. I’d booked the leave for months ahead. It’s hard to get three weeks off in a row at St Ignatius, especially before Christmas. There are a lot of working mums at St Iggy’s and I always feel guilty if I’m stuffing up someone’s plan to be at their little kid’s Christmas concert. Which was why I hadn’t come back to work until the ‘honeymoon’ was over, so to speak.
My postcard was right in the centre of the noticeboard. In pride of place. Flashing like a beacon. The last time I’d seen it had been in my chalet room at the ski resort in Italy, along with two others I’d written to my elderly neighbours. I swear I hadn’t actually intended to post them. It had been a therapeutic exercise my mother had suggested to rid myself of negative energy, but the super-efficient housekeeping staff must have seen them lying on the desk and helpfully posted them for me. That’s service for you.
If I turned that wretched postcard around I would see the lies I’d scrawled there after consuming a lonely cocktail or two…actually, I think it was three. All went amazingly well! Having an awesome time!
Now that I look back with twenty-twenty hindsight I can see all the signs. The red flags and the faintly ringing alarm bells I ignored at the time. I hate to sound like a cliché but I really was the last person to know. My mother said she knew the first time she met Andy. It was his aura that gave him away. My dad said three of Andy’s chakras were blocked. My sister Jem said it was because he was a twat.
I guess they were all right in the end.
The chance to get rid of the postcard escaped me when Jill, the ward clerk, came in behind me with a couple of residents and chorused, ‘Here’s the blushing bride!’ I was blushing all right. Big time. Looking at that sea of smiling faces, I didn’t have the heart or the courage to tell them the wedding hadn’t gone ahead. I smiled inanely and made some excuse about seeing an elderly patient and scooted out of there. I had only been at St Iggy’s a little less than a year so I didn’t know anyone well enough to consider them close friends, although some of the girls were really nice, Gracie McCurcher—one of the intensive care nurses—in particular.
And as to anyone finding out on social media, I’d closed my profile page a couple of years ago after someone had hacked into my account and used my image in a porn ad. Try explaining that to your workmates, especially the male ones.
My home village in Yorkshire is a long way from London—in more ways than one, but more on that later—so I figured it didn’t matter if I didn’t tell everyone I’d got dumped the night before the wedding. Cowardly, I know, but, to tell you the truth, I was still trying to get used to being single. Andy and I were together—not actually living together, because I’m idiotically old-fashioned, which is ironic when you consider my unconventional upbringing—for five and a half years.
I know what you’re thinking. How could I not have known he wasn’t in love with me after all that time? I’m not sure how to answer. I loved him so I expected him to love me back. Naïve of me perhaps but that’s just the way I’m made. But maybe on some level I’d always known he was marking time until someone better came along.
I stood by the bedside of Mr Simmons, a long-term elderly patient, on that cold and dismal January morning and watched as he quietly slipped away. There is something incredibly sacred about watching someone die. Mind you, it’s not always peaceful. Some struggle as if they aren’t quite ready to leave their loved ones. Others slip away on a soundless sigh the moment their absent loved one arrives. It’s as if they’ve waited until that moment of contact to finally let go. I’ve lost count of how many deaths I’ve seen. But I guess that’s one of the down sides of working in ICU. Not everyone walks out with a smile on his or her face. Not everyone walks out, period.
I can cope with the death of an elderly person like Mr Simmons. I can even manage with a middle-aged person’s death if they’ve lived a full and happy life and are surrounded by the people they love. It’s the kids that get me. Babies in particular. It seems so unfair they don’t get a chance to have a go at screwing up their life like I’ve screwed up mine.
Mr Simmons’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren had been in the night before and said their final goodbyes. His wife died a couple of years ago so there was only his son and daughter by his bed. I watched as they each kissed his forehead, and then stroked his papery hand, and each shed a tear or two for the long and happy life that coming to a close.
ICU is a pretty public place to die, which was why I had wrangled for months with the CEO to give me a quiet corner—if there is such a thing in an ICU department—so relatives could spend an hour or two without nurses or orderlies or whatever interrupting their last moments with their loved one. I had even had special permission granted to light candles of reflection and operate an aromatherapy infusion machine so the patients and their relatives and friends could breathe in their favourite scents instead of the smell of hospital-grade antiseptic.
Because it was my baby, while I’d been away things had fallen a little by the wayside, but I was back now and intent on finalising the introduction of my stress cost abatement model. I proposed to show how improving the environment in which relatives experienced illness or death in ICU ultimately reduced costs to the hospital—less demand for later counselling, reduced incidence and costs of litigation, and even reduced stress leave for ICU staff. I planned to present it at an upcoming hospital management meeting because I knew I could prove there would be benefits to the whole department with reduced stress in the ICU environment, not just for patients but for staff as well.
I softly closed the door—yes, not a curtain but an actual door!—on the grieving relatives and headed back to the glassed-in office where the registrars, interns and residents were being briefed by one of the consultants. I hadn’t yet met the new director. He’d started the day after I’d left for my…erm…break.
I was looking at the back view of the consultant. At first I thought it was Professor Cleary—we call him Professor Dreary behind his back because he’s such a pessimist—but when I got closer I realised it was someone much younger. He had very broad shoulders and he was tall. I mean really tall. He was at least a couple of inches taller than the registrar, Mark Jones, who we affectionately call Lurch.
I’m not sure if someone said I was coming over or whether the new director heard me approach. But he suddenly turned and his eyes met mine. Something fizzed in the air like a stray current of electricity. I actually felt the hairs on the back of my neck lift up. I had never seen such startling grey-blue eyes. Piercing and intense, intelligent and incisive, they looked at me in a frank and assessing manner I found distinctly unnerving.
‘Bertie,’ I said with a smile that felt a little forced. ‘It’s short for Beatrix with a X.’
He stood there looking down at me as if I were a strange oddity he’d never encountered in ICU before. I wondered if it was my hairstyle. I have longish wavy honey-brown hair, which I like to keep under some semblance of control when I’m working. That morning I’d tied it in two round knots either side of my head like teddy-bear ears.
Or maybe it was my outfit that had caused that quizzical frown to appear between his eyes. I’m the first to admit I’m a little out there in my choice of clothing. No white coat—not that we doctors wear them any more—or scrubs for me unless I’ve come from Theatre. I like colour and lots of it. It can have a powerful effect on patients’ moods, particularly children. Besides, all you ever see in winter is black and brown and grey. That morning I had on skinny-leg pink jeans and a pea-green jumper with blue frogs on it. The new director glanced at the frogs on my breasts before returning his gaze to mine. Something closed off at the back of his eyes, as if he were pulling up a screen.
I didn’t offer him my hand but, then, he didn’t offer his. I’m normally a polite person but I wasn’t sure I wanted to touch him until I had better control of myself. If his gaze could make me feel like I’d walked in wearing a string bikini then what would his touch do?
‘Matt Bishop,’ he said in deep mellifluous baritone that had an odd effect on the base of my spine. It felt loose…unhinged. ‘I’d like to see you in my office.’ He glanced at his watch before zapping me again with his gaze. ‘Five minutes.’
I watched as he strode away, effectively dismissing me as if I was nothing but a lowly serf. Who the hell did he think he was, ordering me about like a medical student? I was as qualified as him. Well, almost.
I was aware of the staff’s collective gaze as the air rippled with tension in his wake.
‘You’d better not be late, Bertie,’ Jill, the ward clerk, said. ‘He’s a stickler for punctuality. Alex Kingston got hauled over the coals for showing up two minutes late for a ward round.’
Gracie McCurcher gave a grimace and huddled further into the office chair she was swivelling on. ‘He’s nothing like Jeffrey, is he?’
Jeffrey Hooper was our previous director. He retired the week before I left for my…holiday. Think benevolent uncle or godparent. Jeffrey was the kindest, most supportive ICU specialist I’ve ever come across. He could be gruff at times but everyone knew his bark was just a front.
‘That’s part of the problem,’ Jill said. ‘Jeffrey was too lax in running this department. The costs have blown out and now Dr Bishop has to rein everything in. I don’t envy him. He’s not going to make any friends doing it, that I can tell you.’
I moved my lips back and forth and up and down. My sister Jem calls it my bunny-rabbit twitch. I do it when I’m stressed. Which is kind of embarrassing when my whole research project is on reducing stress. I’m supposed to be the poster girl for serenity. But the truth is I’m like the ducks on the Serpentine in Hyde Park. They look like they’re floating effortlessly on the surface but underneath the water their little webbed feet are paddling like crazy.
‘You’d better keep the photos until after work,’ Gracie said.
Photos? I thought. Oh, those photos. I pasted on a smile that made my face ache. Everyone was looking at me. Here was my chance to come clean. To tell them there hadn’t been a wedding. I could see my postcard out of the corner of my eye. It was still in pride of place on the noticeboard. Hadn’t anyone else been on holiday, for God’s sake? I’m not sure how long I stood there with my mouth stretched in that rictus smile but it felt longer than my ‘honeymoon’. I wondered if I could edit some wedding-ish snaps on my phone. Set up a temporary social network account or something. It would give me some breathing space until I plucked up the courage to tell the truth.
‘Good suggestion,’ I said, and taking a deep breath headed to the lion’s den.
I gave the closed door a quick rap and winced as my knuckles protested. It was a timely reminder I would need to develop a thicker skin if I were to survive the next few rounds with Dr Matt Bishop.
I walked into his office but it was nothing like his predecessor had left it. Gone were the lopsided towers of files and patient notes and budgetary reports. There were no family photos on the cluttered desk. No empty half-drunk cups of coffee. No cookie crumbs. No glass jar full of colourful dental-filling-pulling sweets. The office had been stripped bare of its character. It was as sterile and as cool as the man who sat behind the acre of desk.
‘Close the door.’
I paused, giving him an arch look. I might have had an alternative upbringing but at least my parents taught me the magic word.
‘Please,’ he added, with a smidgeon of a lip curl.
Round one to me, I thought.
The door clicked shut and I moved a little closer to the desk. The closer I got the more my skin prickled. It was like entering a no-go zone monitored by invisible radar.
I wondered what my mum would make of his aura. Matt Bishop had a firm mouth that looked like it wasn’t used to smiling. His jaw had a determined set to it as if he was unfamiliar with the notion of compromise. His skin was olive toned but it looked he hadn’t been anywhere strong sunshine for several months…but, then, that’s our English summer for you. His hair was a rich dark brown, thick and plentiful but cut short in a no-nonsense style. He was closely shaven and in the air I could pick up a faint trace of lime and lemongrass, a light, fresh scent that made my nostrils widen in appreciation. I’m a sucker for subtle aftershave.
I hate stepping into the lift with a bunch of young male medical students who’ve gone crazy with those cheap aerosol body sprays. I once had to hold my breath for six floors and the lift stopped on every one. I was wheezing like I had emphysema by the time I got out.
My mum reckons she can read auras. I’m more of a wardrobe reader. Matt Bishop was wearing a crisply ironed white shirt with a black and silver striped tie with a Windsor knot and black trousers with knife-edge pleats that spoke of a man who preferred formality to casual friendliness. But to counter that the sleeves of his shirt were folded back past his wrists, revealing strong forearms with a generous sprinkling of dark hair that went all the way down to his hands and along each of his long fingers. His nails were neat and square, unlike mine, which had suffered the fallout of the last two weeks after months of coaxing them to grow, and were now back to their nibbled-to-the-quick state.
I curled my fingers into my palms in case he noticed and sat down in the chair opposite his desk. I sat not because he told me to. He didn’t. I sat because I didn’t care for the schoolgirl-called-into-the-headmaster’s-office dynamic he had going on. It was much better to be seated so I could look at him on the level. Mind you, with his considerable height advantage I would have had to be sitting on a stack of medical textbooks to be eye to eye with him.
His unreadable gaze meshed with mine. ‘I believe congratulations are in order.’
‘Erm…yes,’ I said. What else could I say? No, I found my fiancé in bed with one of the bridesmaid’s sisters the night before the wedding? And that he dumped me before I could get in first? And how I tipsily wrote postcards that were subsequently sent about what a fabulous time I was having on my honeymoon? Not going to happen. Not to Matt Bishop anyway. I would tell people on a need–to-know basis and right now no one needed to know.
I needed no one to know.
There was a pregnant silence.
I got the feeling he was waiting for me to fill it, though with what I’m not sure. Did he want me to tell him where I went on my honeymoon? What I wore? Who caught the bouquet? I thought men weren’t all that interested in weddings, even when it was their own.
I stared back at him with my heart beating like a hummingbird had got trapped in one of my valves. You could tell him. The thought slipped under the locked door of my resolve. No way! the other side of my brain threw back. It was like a tennis match was going on inside my head. I was so flustered by it I shifted in my seat as if there were thumbtacks poking into my jeans.
His eyes drilled into mine. ‘Is everything all right?’
‘Yes.’ I smiled stiffly. ‘Sure. Fine. Absolutely.’
Another silence passed.
Here’s the thing. I’m not good with silences. They freak me out. It’s because my parents went through a no-speaking phase when Jem and I were kids. They wanted us to pretend we were living in an abbey like at St Mont Michel in Normandy in France, where talking is banned in order to concentrate on prayer. It would have helped if they’d taught us sign language first. Thankfully it didn’t last long but it’s left its mark. I have this tendency to talk inanely if there’s even a hint of a break in the conversation.
‘So, how are you liking St Iggy’s so far?’ I said. ‘Isn’t it a nice place? Everyone’s so friendly and—’
‘Harrison Redding, the CEO, tells me you’re doing a research project on stress reduction,’ Matt Bishop said.
‘Yes,’ I said. As much as I didn’t care for his clipped tone, at least I was back on safer ground. I mentally wiped my brow. Phew! I could talk all day about my project. ‘I’m looking at ways of mitigating the stress on patients, relatives and staff when a patient is in ICU, in particular when a patient is facing death. Stress is a costly burden to the unit. Staff take weeks—sometimes months—of stress leave when cases are difficult to handle. Patients lodge unnecessary and career-damaging lawsuits when they feel side-lined or their expectations aren’t met. My aim is to show how using various stress intervention programmes and some physical ways of reducing stress, such as aromas and music tones and other environmental changes, can significantly reduce that cost to the hospital. My stress cost abatement model will help both staff and patients and their loved ones deal better with their situation.’
I waited for his response…and waited.
After what seemed like a week he leaned forward and put his forearms on the desk and loosely interlaced his fingers. ‘You’ve had ethics approval?’
I watched as he slowly flicked one of his thumbs against the other. Flick. Flick. Flick. I tried to read his expression but he could have been sitting at a poker tournament. Nothing moved on his face, not even a muscle. I was having trouble keeping my nervous bunny twitch under control. I could feel it building inside me like the urge to sneeze.
His eyes bored into mine. ‘I have some issues with your project.’
I blinked. ‘Pardon?’
‘I’m not convinced this unit can afford the space you’ve been allocated,’ he said. ‘I understand Dr Hooper was the one to approve the end room for your use?’
‘Yes, but the CEO was also—’
‘And the room next to relatives’ room?’
‘Yes, because I felt it was important to give people a choice in—’
‘What sort of data have you produced so far?’
I wished I hadn’t gone on leave for more reasons than the obvious one. It felt like ages since I’d looked at my data. Most of it was descriptive, which was something the survey questionnaire over the next few critical weeks would address. I understood the scientific method. Data had to be controlled, repeatable and sufficient otherwise it was useless. But I also wanted a chance to change the thinking around death and dying. Everyone was so frightened of it, which produced enormous amounts of stress. ‘I’m still collecting data from patient and staff surveys,’ I said. ‘I have a series of interviews to do, which will also be recorded and collated.’
I wasn’t too keen on the sceptical glint in his eyes. ‘Multiplication of anecdotes is not data, Dr Clark.’
I silently ground my teeth…or at least I tried to be silent. Jem says she can always hear me because she listened to it for years when we shared a bedroom when we were kids. Apparently I do it in my sleep.
I so did not need this right now. I had enough on my plate in my private life, without my professional life going down the toilet as well. I understood how Matt Bishop was in brisk and efficient new broom mode. I understood the pressure of coming in on budget, especially when you’d inherited a mess not of your own making. But I wasn’t going to be intimidated by a man who had taken an instant dislike to me for how I dressed or wore my hair.
He would have to get over himself. I wasn’t changing.
‘Will that be all, Dr Bishop?’ I asked in mock meekness as I rose from the chair. ‘I have some pre-assessments to see to on the ward.’
This time a muscle did move in his jaw. In and out like a miniature hammer. A hard sheen came over his gaze as it held mine—an impenetrable layer of antagonism that dared me to lock horns with him. I’m not normally one to pick fights but I resented the way he’d spoken to me as if I were a lazy high-school student who hadn’t done their homework. If he wanted a fight then I would give him one.
I felt a frisson pass through my body, an electric current that made my nerves flutter and dance. I can’t remember a time when I felt more switched on. It was like someone had plugged me into a live socket. My entire body was vibrating with energy, a restless and vibrant energy it had never felt before.
Without relaxing his hold on my gaze, he reached for a sheet of paper on the desk in front of him, which I presumed was an outline of my research. His top lip lifted in a sardonic arc. ‘Your project name has a rather unfortunate acronym, don’t you think?’
I looked at him blankly for a moment. And then I got it. I was annoyed I hadn’t realised it before. Stress Cost Abatement Model. S.C.A.M. Why on earth hadn’t someone pointed it out earlier? I felt like an idiot. Would everyone be snickering at me once Matt Bishop shared his observation around the water cooler? My stomach knotted. Maybe they already were… Was that why everyone had looked at me when I came to the office just now? Had they been talking about me…laughing at me?
I was incensed. Livid to the point of exploding with anger so intense it felt like it was bursting out of each and every corpuscle of my blood. I could feel the heat in my cheeks burning like the bars of a two-thousand-watt radiator. I had spent most of my childhood being sniggered at for my unconventional background. How would I ever be taken seriously professionally once this did the rounds?
I don’t often lose my temper, but when I do it’s like all those years of keeping my thoughts and opinions to myself come spilling out in a shrieking tirade that I can’t stop once I get started. It’s like trying to put a champagne cork back in the bottle.
I hissed in a breath and released it in a rush. ‘I detest men like you. You think just because you’ve been appointed director you can brandish your power about like a smart-ass kid with a new toy. You think your colleagues are dumb old chess pieces you can push around as you please. Well, I have news for you, Dr Bishop. This is one chess piece you can’t screw around with.’
I probably shouldn’t have used that particular word. The connotation of it changed the atmosphere from electric to erotic. I could feel it thrumming in the air. I could see the glint of it in his grey-blue gaze as it tussled with mine. I’m not sure where his mind was going, but I knew what images mine was conjuring up—X-rated ones. Naked bodies. His and mine. Writhing around on a bed in the throes of animal passion.
Thing is…it’s been ages since I’ve had sex. I’m pretty sure that’s why my mind was running off the way it was. I’d put Andy’s lack of interest over the last couple of months down to busyness with work as a stock analyst. I put down my own to lack of interest, period. I blamed it on the contraceptive pill I’d been taking. But then I changed pills and I was exactly the same. Go figure.
I saw Matt Bishop’s eyes take in my scorching cheeks and then he lowered his gaze to my mouth. It was only for a moment but I felt as if he had touched me with a searing brand. I bit my tongue to keep it from moistening my lips but that meant I couldn’t say anything to break the throbbing silence. Not that I was going to apologise or anything. As far as I was concerned, he’d asked for a verbal spray and, given another chance, I would give him one again.
He sat back in his chair, his eyes holding mine in a lock that made the backs of my knees feel fizzy. It took an enormous effort on my part not to look away. I had an unnerving feeling he could see through my brief flash of anger—the overly defensive front that disguised my feelings of inadequacy. I’d spent most of my life hiding my insecurities but I got the sense he could read every micro-expression on my face, even the ones I thought I wasn’t expressing. His gaze was so steady, so watchful and so intuitive I was sure he was reading every thought that was running through my mind, including—even more unsettling—the X-rated ones.
‘I’ll keep that in mind,’ he said. ‘Close the door on your way out.’ He waited a beat before he added with an enigmatic half-smile, ‘Please.’