‘Perhaps you’d better give me one, too. I deserve it.’ Helen rummaged in her bag for a tissue and blew her nose. ‘I hate to say this but we’re due at the hospital. We’re both on a late shift. Do you want to call in sick? The new paediatric emergency department will probably fall apart if you’re not there, but I can make excuses.’
‘No way.’ Ella closed her eyes for a moment. She couldn’t afford to lose her job. She had a baby to support. And, anyway, they needed her at the hospital. ‘I’ll be fine. Management have refused Rose’s request for extra staff yet again and the place is so busy.’
‘It’s the hot weather.’ Helen looked out of the window at the blue sky. ‘The tourists will already be on the beach, hitting themselves with cricket bats and being stung by wasps.’ She bit her lip and turned back to her friend. ‘I’m sorry, El.’
‘Forget it. It’s done.’ Numb with shock, her mind in a spin, Ella stared sightlessly out of the window. ‘You go. I’ll lock up here.’
Helen hesitated, clearly torn between going and staying. ‘Ella…’
He wouldn’t come, Ella tried to reassured herself as she listened to the soothing lap of the water against the sides of the wooden boat and tried to stay calm. He was married. He probably already had children. She’d been a convenient distraction while he’d been in London, nothing more.
Greek or not, he wasn’t going to care that she was pregnant.
It was over.
His emotions threatening to overwhelm him, Nikos glanced around the waiting room of the paediatric emergency department, aware that some sort of response was expected from him. Never before had it been this difficult to concentrate on work. His stress levels mounting with every second that passed, he dutifully scanned the neat rows of small red seats, the colourful play area and the bright murals that livened the walls. ‘You have a separate entrance for the children?’
‘Yes. From the moment they come through the main door, they’re separated from the adults. What do you think?’ Rose, the senior nurse in charge of the main emergency department, looked at him nervously. ‘We’ve had builders working non-stop for the past four months.’
Trying to show an interest, Nikos strode through the cheerful reception area and paused in the doorway of one of the cubicles. As well as state-of-the art equipment, there were neat boxes of toys, piles of children’s books and DVDs. ‘Resuscitation room?’
‘Next door on your left.’ Rose hurried along next to him, struggling to match her stride to his. ‘Can I ask you something, Professor?’ They were in the resuscitation room now and Nikos was mentally itemising each piece of equipment in an attempt to distract himself from the issue that had dominated his brain for the past week.
‘Call me Nikos, and, yes. Ask.’
‘We’re thrilled you’re here, obviously but—why did you take this job?’ Rose gave an apologetic shrug. ‘You’re in demand all over the world. I heard you lecture two years ago. The auditorium was completely packed out—there wasn’t even breathing room.’
‘Perhaps it was raining outside,’ Nikos drawled lightly, and Rose gave a lopsided smile.
‘I think we both know that wasn’t the case. You could be working anywhere. Why us?’
‘Sick children are sick children. It doesn’t matter what the setting is.’ Nikos cast his eye over the intubation tray, refusing to reveal his real reason for being there, even though he knew it would become apparent soon enough. ‘Tell me about the staff.’ He kept his tone neutral. ‘They are paediatric trained?’
‘We have a core of staff who are paediatric trained and we also rotate staff from the main emergency department according to need. This afternoon the paediatric nurse in charge will be Ella. She’s wonderful.’
A hard knot of tension settled in his stomach and his brain was filled with a distracting image of perfectly smooth blonde hair, a sweet, seductive smile and curves designed to fuse a man’s brain. ‘I know Ella.’ Not by a flicker of an eyelid to Nikos reveal just how well he knew her. ‘We worked together in London.’
And now she was pregnant with his child.
A fact she’d concealed from him.
Sharp claws of anger dug into him like talons and he breathed deeply, searching for control, shocked by the raw intensity of his rage. Well aware that people called him the ice doctor, he wondered what they’d say if they knew that at the moment he was close to meltdown.