Whilst Mac knew that all these things were incidentals, they helped to put the children at their ease and that, in turn, helped him and the rest of the team do their job. By the time his shift ended, he knew that he was going to enjoy working there. Not only would it allow him to develop his skills in paediatric medicine, but it promised to be a fun place to work too. Several of the nurses were leaving at the same time as him so he held the door open for them, bowing low as they all trooped past.
‘After you, ladies,’ he said, grinning up at them.
‘Thank you, my man,’ one of them replied, sticking her nose into the air as she sallied forth.
They all laughed, Mac included, and it was a pleasant change to enjoy a bit of light-hearted banter. He hadn’t been overstating how bad things had been on his most recent aid mission. It had been extremely grim at times and it was a relief to feel that he could legitimately enjoy himself, even though he didn’t regret going and would do the same thing again if it were necessary. He often thought that he had the best of both worlds: he got to help people who were in dire need of his skills and he also had a job he loved to come back to. There was nothing else he could wish for...except, maybe, someone to share his life.
The cool tones brought him up short. Mac straightened abruptly when he recognised Bella’s voice, feeling decidedly awkward at being caught on the hop. Although he and Bella had spoken several times during the day, their conversations had been confined to work. He had made sure of it, in fact. Although he had promised himself that he wouldn’t say anything to her about Tim, he had realised how hard it was going to be to bite his tongue. Bella had let Tim down. Badly. And it was painful to know that she was capable of such behaviour when he had expected so much more from her.
‘You’re welcome.’ He forced himself to smile even though his insides were churning with all the conflicting emotions. On the one hand he knew it was none of his business, yet on the other it still hurt to know that she had fallen so far short of the picture he had held of her. ‘It’s been a busy day, hasn’t it?’ he said, struggling to get his feelings in check. It wouldn’t serve any purpose whatsoever to tell her how disappointed he felt, how let down. After all, why should she care how he felt when she obviously didn’t care about Tim?
‘It has. We’re seeing more and more children now that word has spread that we’re open. Obviously, the other hospitals know we’re up and running, but it’s the parents bringing in their children that has made the difference.’
She gave a little shrug, immediately drawing his eyes to the slender lines of her body, elegantly encased in an emerald-green coat that he knew without needing to be told was from some exclusive designer’s collection. Bella had money—a great deal of money that she had been left by her grandparents—and it showed in the way she dressed, even though she had never flaunted her wealth. It was a tiny point in her favour and Mac found himself clinging to it. Maybe it was silly but he wanted to find something good about her, something to redress the balance a little. His smile was less forced this time.
‘It must take the pressure off the other A&E departments if more kids are being treated here. That can only be a good thing.’
‘Yes, although so many A&E units have closed that the ones which are left are still under a great deal of pressure.’
Bella headed towards the car park, making it clear that she didn’t expect Mac to accompany her. He hesitated, wondering why he felt so ambivalent all of a sudden. He had been planning an evening doing nothing more taxing than watching television. It was what he needed, some downtime after the hectic couple of months he’d had and yet, surprisingly, he was loath to spend the evening slumped in front of the box. He came to a swift decision even though his brain was telling him that he was making a mistake.
‘Do you fancy grabbing a bite to eat?’ he said as he caught up with her. He saw the surprise on her face when she glanced round but he ignored it. For some reason he didn’t intend to examine too closely, he wanted to spend the evening with her. ‘Nothing fancy, just a curry or something.’
‘I don’t know if it’s a good idea.’ She stopped and looked him straight in the eyes and he could see the challenge in her gaze. ‘It’s obvious how you feel, Mac. You blame me for what’s happened, don’t you?’
‘So why don’t you set the record straight and tell me your side of the story?’
He shrugged, wishing he felt as indifferent as he was trying to make out. Maybe he was wrong to blame her, but he couldn’t help it when he felt so let down. For all these years he had considered her to be the model of perfection and he didn’t want to have to change his view of her, especially when he sensed that it could have repercussions. Now that Bella had fallen from her pedestal, she was just a woman like any other. A woman he had always been deeply attracted to.