Tamsin was panting for breath but she stopped clawing at the mask and pointed to a dress.

‘Pink? Good choice. I love pink, too.’ Ella pulled the pink dress over the doll’s head and Tamsin reached out a hand for the doll.

‘Say please, Tams,’ the child’s mother muttered, but Ella didn’t care about manners. She just wanted the child to keep the oxygen mask on.

‘Are you going to help me put a mask on Angie? Oops—it’s a bit big.’

Forgetting her own mask, Tamsin tried to help the doll.

‘Good girl. Aren’t you clever? She’ll soon be feeling all better.’ As Ella praised the child she glanced at the monitor again and felt a flash of unease. Worried about what she was seeing, she glanced at the child’s mother. ‘Amanda, has she had an attack like this before?’

‘Nothing this severe.’ The woman was cradling a young baby and trying to calm Tamsin at the same time. ‘Just breathe through the mask like the nurse is telling you, Tams.’

‘Has she had a cold? Any sort of infection you’re aware of?’

‘Nothing.’ The baby started to cry and Amanda shifted the tiny bundle onto her shoulder with an apologetic look. ‘Sorry. I wouldn’t have brought the baby but I didn’t have anyone to leave her with. Shh, Poppy—not now. Good girl, hush.’

Alan pushed his glasses higher up his nose. ‘Someone could give your husband a ring, if that would help?’

Amanda gave a quick shake of her head and looked anxiously at Tamsin, clearly afraid of upsetting her still more. ‘He’s not on the scene any more,’ she murmured quietly. ‘Not since he discovered I was having this one.’

Ella felt a rush of sadness as she focused on Tamsin’s sweet face. Long eyelashes. Blonde curls. And no father.

Another fractured family.

He should be here, she thought grimly, holding his little girl when she needed him.

Mortified at having been tactless, Alan mumbled an apology, but Ella was too concerned about the condition of the little girl to dwell on the unreliability of the male gender.

‘Alan, that salbutamol inhaler isn’t having much of an effect. Do you want to give her some prednisolone?’

‘She doesn’t seem to be wheezing that badly.’ Wary of approaching the child and unsettling her again, Alan hovered a safe distance from the trolley. ‘Perhaps we ought to just try checking her peak flow?’

‘She won’t be able to manage it. She’s too young.’ Ella contemplated telling him that wheeze didn’t give an accurate indication of airway obstruction, but decided it would be better to mention it later when they were alone. She didn’t want to worry the child or the mother.

Suddenly she wished that Nikos hadn’t chosen that moment to disappear with Ruth. It was impossible not to compare Alan’s hesitant, hyper-conservative style with Nikos’s bold, fearless approach to every emergency that crossed his path. He might be the last man in the world she wanted to see personally, but professionally he was a dream.

She was swiftly weighing up her options when Tamsin’s small hand slid into hers. She looked exhausted and frightened, but the trust in her eyes tugged at Ella’s heart.

‘You’re going to be fine, sweetheart. We’ll make you better.’ Her hand tightening over the child’s, Ella looked at Alan. ‘She needs prednisolone.’ She spoke firmly, hoping that Alan would realise that she had experience in this area and just agree with her. ‘I think a dose of 20 milligrams would be a good idea.’

Alan rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. ‘I’m wondering whether perhaps I might just pick the prof’s brains on this one.’

Ella gritted her teeth. ‘Go ahead.’ She didn’t really care, just as long as someone with more experience than Alan checked the little girl. ‘See if he’s free.’ Do it now.

As if the cosmos had ordered it, Nikos strode into the room at that moment. He’d shed his jacket, rolled his shirt-sleeves up to the elbows and everything about him was relaxed and confident. ‘Everything all right in here?’

‘Professor…’ Alan straightened, a flicker of awe in his eyes. ‘We weren’t sure whether or not to go straight ahead and give her a dose of prednisolone or wait a bit and see if the inhalation improves her breathing. It’s been a bit tricky, persuading her to co-operate.’

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