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Authors: Kate Hardy

Achristmas knight

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“A knight's supposed to ask the woman he's in love with for her favor,” Tyler said.

Dominic and Louisa both froze.

“But I expect you'll ask Mom because I'm going to be your page and you don't want her to feel left out,” he added.

Later that evening, when Tyler had gone to bed, Dominic kissed Louisa goodbye. “I'm sorry about earlier. For a moment I thought he'd guessed about us.”

“No. He was trying to put himself in my shoes. I think all that social-skills training he's doing at school and my backup at home is starting to pay off,” she said lightly.

“Probably.” Dominic paused. “How do you think he'd feel? About you and me seeing each other, I mean?”

“It's still early days,” she said softly. “Let's wait a while before we tell him.”

He nodded. “You're right. Best to take it slowly.”

But right now Dominic's heart felt fuller and lighter than it had in years—and he knew it was thanks to her. Her warmth, her selflessness, that air of calm. Maybe, just maybe, she'd help him to forgive himself. And maybe, just maybe, he could do something for her, too. Repair some of the damage that Jack had inflicted when he'd rejected her and their son.

Dear Reader,

I've always loved the romance of a knight in shining armor and his castle—and that's exactly what my heroine gets in this book! This story started taking life when we were on a family holiday in Sussex and visited Arundel Castle on a day when they had medieval jousting. The children were transfixed, and so was I—and then Dominic walked into my head and suggested that a doctor could also be a knight in shining armor. I'd been playing with the idea of my hero living in a castle for a while, so it all fit perfectly.

This book's about getting a second chance at happiness, this time with the right person. Louisa's particularly protective of her son because of his Asperger's (something that's quite close to home for me), and in Dominic she finds the right person to complete their family. And with Louisa and Tyler, Dominic discovers the place in the world he's been looking for and finally learns to forgive himself.

Add in a wedding, snow and Christmas, and you can see why I enjoyed writing this so much!

I'm always delighted to hear from readers, so do come and visit me at www.katehardy.com.

With love,

Kate Hardy

A CHRISTMAS KNIGHTKate Hardy

A CHRISTMAS KNIGHT

For Benita BrownWith many thanks for the story about her wonderfulGP father and the milkman's horse

CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

EPILOGUE

CHAPTER ONE

‘LETme get you a coffee, and then I'll take you round and introduce you to the team,' Essie, the charge nurse, said with a smile.

‘Thanks. I, um, brought some biscuits for the staffroom,' Louisa said, handing her a large tin.

‘Thanks very much.' Essie beamed as she peered at the lid. ‘Chocolate ones, too. Excellent. You'll fit right in.' She gave Louisa a sympathetic look. ‘The first day's always the worst, isn't it? Like being back at school.'

Louisa smiled back. ‘I've been doing agency work for the last three months, so you'd think I'd be used to change. But, yes, you're right. It feels like the first day at school, when you don't know anyone and you don't know the routine—well, as much of a routine as you get in the emergency department,' she finished. No two days were ever quite the same.

‘You'll be fine,' Essie told her warmly. ‘I've rostered you onto Minors—but if anything big comes in, I might need to borrow you for Resus.'

‘That's fine,' Louisa said. As a nurse practitioner, she was able to see patients through from start to finish for the less serious problems—from taking the medical history through to doing the clinical examination, ordering and interpreting tests, diagnosing the ailment and organising atreatment plan for the patient. She loved the responsibility and the feeling that she was in charge of her own day, but she also enjoyed the busy, hands-on role in Resus, working as part of a team.

‘Dominic's the senior registrar in Resus today. He's our resident heart-throb,' Essie said with a grin. ‘He looks like Prince Charming.'

Heart-throb. Jack had been a heart-throb, too. But he'd been very far from being Prince Charming. He'd walked out on Louisa just when she'd needed him most. So much for promising to love, honour and cherish her. Jack had left her—and Tyler—because he couldn't handle the idea of having a son with Asperger's. As soon as Jack had heard the paediatrician say the words ‘autistic spectrum disorder', he'd closed off, and Louisa had seen it in his eyes. She'd known that her marriage was cracking beyond repair, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Less than two months later, he'd moved out and asked her for a divorce.

She could cope with Jack's rejection of her; but she'd never, ever forgive him for rejecting their bright, quirky, gorgeous son. And she'd taken notice of the old saying, ever since:Handsome is as handsome does.

Essie didn't seem to notice Louisa's silence. ‘He's been here for eight years now. He joined us as a wet-behind-the-ears house officer, and worked his way up.' She sighed. ‘Though he's not one for settling down, our Dominic. Women used to fall at his feet in droves, but nowadays he doesn't even date—he's completely wrapped up in his work. Pity, because he'd make a fantastic husband and father.'

Louisa had already spotted the photograph on Essie's desk; the charge nurse was smiling for the camera, looking blissfully happy with her husband and two children. It seemed that Essie was the type who wanted everyone to be as happy and settled as she was. Well, shewashappy andsettled. She just wasn't in a two-parent family. ‘Marriage isn't for everyone,' she said quietly.

‘You're not married, then?'

‘Not any more.' Not that she wanted to talk about it. Though, given the photograph on Essie's desk, she could offer the perfect distraction. ‘But I do have a gorgeous son. Tyler.' She took a photograph from her purse to show the charge nurse.

‘Oh, he looks a sweetie. And he's so like you.'

‘He is,' she agreed with a smile. ‘I'm really lucky.' And she meant it. Tyler was the light of her life, and she loved him with a fierceness that she knew probably made her protect him too much.

‘So how old is he?' Essie asked.

‘Eight. He started middle school last week—so this summer was the least disruptive time to move here from London.' Louisa took a deep breath. ‘Actually, that's why I started today, not last week—I wanted to give him a few days to settle in to his new school first.'

‘It's always hard, changing schools, whether you're from the local first school or not,' Essie agreed. ‘Though I'm sure he'll soon make friends.'

Louisa would be very, very surprised if he did. Tyler was self-contained in the extreme. Having Asperger's meant he saw the world in terms of black and white, with no shades of grey. Other children quickly noticed that—especially as Ty was a walking encyclopaedia on his favourite subjects, and wouldn't hesitate to correct anyone instead of just letting it go for the sake of social harmony. She'd tried to help him, inviting children home for tea after school—but Tyler had never been invited back. Probably because most of the time, when someone came over, he'd lose interest in whatever game they were playing, disappear up to his room and start drawing. ‘Maybe,' she said.

‘Give it a week and he'll be playing football with the rest of them,' Essie said cheerfully.

Louisa wrinkled her nose. ‘He's not really into football.'

‘Computer games, then?' Essie asked. ‘Tell me about it. My eldest is glued to his console.'

‘What Ty really likes is horses. I'm going to ring round the local riding stables to see if there are any places for lessons.' Louisa had read an article about how good riding could be for children with Asperger's; it was just a matter of finding the right stables, one that could accommodate Tyler without making a big deal out of things. And maybe he'd find it easier to make friends with children who shared his passion.

‘Horses?' Essie looked thoughtful. ‘Then you definitely need to talk to Dominic. He's got a horse. He's bound to know a good riding school locally.'

Louisa smiled politely, but she had no intention of asking a heart-throb for help. She'd already learned the hard way that heart-throbs weren't reliable—and she'd never, ever take any risks with her son.

Essie had introduced Louisa to everyone except the resus team when her bleep went off.

‘Resus—and I'm needed,' she said ruefully, glancing at the display. ‘Sorry. Can I leave you with Jess to open up Minors?'

‘Sure. No worries,' Louisa said.

Her first case was a seven-year-old girl who'd fallen and bent her fingers back the previous day; now her hand was stiff and swollen.

‘I know I should've brought her here earlier. I thought she'd just banged herself and was making a fuss, and it'd settle down,' Mrs Aldiss said, chewing her bottom lip.

‘That's often the case, after a fall,' Louisa reassured her.‘It's a tough one to call. Have you given her anything for the pain?'

‘I've been giving her paracetamol, and I put an ice pack on her hand yesterday.'

‘That's good.' She crouched down so she was on a level with the little girl. ‘Hello, I'm Louisa—and you're being ever so brave, Pippa,' she said with a smile. ‘Can I have a look at your hand, so I can see what's wrong and make it better?'

The little girl was white-faced, but she nodded.

Gently, Louisa examined her fingers. ‘Can you make a fist for me?' she asked, showing Pippa exactly what she wanted her to do.

The little girl tried, but her sharp intake of breath told Louisa that it was just too painful.

‘OK, sweetheart, you can stop trying now. You've done really well,' Louisa reassured her. ‘I don't want to do anything that'll make it hurt more. But what I do want to do is see what's making it hurt so much, so I'm going to send you to X-Ray. It's not going to hurt, but they have special cameras there to take a picture of your bones so I can see if you've broken your finger or whether you've hurt one of the ligaments—that's the bit that helps you bend your finger.' She ruffled the little girl's hair. ‘And once I know that, I'll know how to treat you. If it's just a little break, I'll do what we call buddy taping—that means I'll strap your poorly finger to the one next door, to help it mend.'

‘If it's a big break, will she need a plaster on her hand?' Mrs Aldiss asked.

‘It depends on the break. But I'd definitely recommend resting her hand in a sling. If you can just wait here for a second, I'll make sure Pippa's booked in with X-Ray and they know exactly what I want to see,' Louisa said.

Mrs Aldiss cuddled the little girl. ‘And we'll have a story while we're waiting, OK, honey?'

Louisa swiftly booked a slot in X-Ray, explained what she was looking for, and then went back to her patient. Pippa's mother was clearly near the end of the story, so Louisa waited for her to finish. ‘You're very good at that.'

‘It's Pip's favourite. I've read it that many times, I know it off by heart,' Mrs Aldiss said.

Louisa smiled at them and took a sticker out of her pocket. ‘I'll see you again after you've gone to X-Ray, Pippa, but in the meantime I think you deserve one of my special stickers for being really brave.'

‘Thank you,' Pippa said shyly, brightening slightly at the sight of the glittery badge.

Louisa directed Mrs Aldiss to the X-ray department, then went to collect the notes for her next patient.

The morning was busy, with a steady stream of patients; when Pippa came back after her X-ray and Louisa pulled the file up on the computer screen, she was relieved to see it was a stable fracture.

‘See this little tiny mark on here?' she asked. ‘That's where you've broken your finger. So what I'm going to do is strap it to the finger next to it, to be a buddy to keep the poorly one straight.' Gently, she strapped up the little girl's finger. ‘You need to rest your hand, sweetheart, so I'm going to give you a sling—that will help you keep your hand up and make the swelling go down, so it doesn't hurt so much. And I'd like you to come back in a week's time for another X-ray so we can see how well it's healing.'

‘How long will she need her fingers like that?' Mrs Aldiss asked.

‘Usually it's three or four weeks, and then another couple of weeks where you keep the hand rested—not toomuch exercise, and I'm afraid that includes using games consoles.'

‘Just as well it's you and not your brother, then,' Mrs Aldiss said ruefully, ‘or we'd really be in trouble!'

‘It is your writing hand, Pippa?' Louisa asked.

Pippa shook her head. ‘So I can still draw?'

‘You can definitely still draw.' Louisa smiled at her.

‘I'll bring you a picture when I come back,' Pippa said.

‘I'd love that. I've only just moved to this department,' Louisa said, ‘so I have a whole wall that's just waiting for pictures. I'll see you in a week, sweetheart. Remember to rest your hand as much as you can.'

Things had quietened down slightly, just after lunchtime, when Essie came into the office where Louisa was catching up with paperwork. ‘The lull before the storm, hmm?' she asked.

‘Probably. So I'm making the most of it and sorting out this lot,' Louisa said, gesturing to the notes and the pile of letters she was working through.

‘Can I borrow you for a minute to meet the resus team? They're on a break—and very grateful for your biscuits, I might add.'

Essie continued chatting until they reached the rest room, and then introduced her to the resus team. ‘This is Sally, our student nurse.'

Sally greeted her warmly, and then Essie motioned to the man who was sitting apart from the others, reading a medical journal.

‘Louisa, this is Dominic Hurst, our senior reg. Dominic—Louisa Austin, our new nurse practitioner.'

Essie had described him as looking like Prince Charming. And that wasn't the half of it, Louisa thought. Dominic Hurst looked like a Pre-Raphaelite painting of amedieval prince, all dark flowing locks and fair skin and chiselled cheekbones and dark, dark eyes. Even dressed simply in a plain white shirt, sober tie and dark trousers, he was incredibly striking. No wonder women fell at his feet in droves. He was tall—just over six feet, she'd guess—and, at close range, those navy-blue eyes were devastating. Not to mention that beautiful mouth, which sent all kinds of crazy thoughts spinning through her head.

‘Pleased to meet you, Dr Hurst,' she said politely.

He looked up from the journal and blinked. ‘Sorry?'

‘Dominic, I can't believe you're still working when you're on a break.' Essie rolled her eyes. ‘You didn't hear a word I just said, did you?'

‘'Fraid not. I was reading.' He gave her a wry smile. ‘Sorry.'

‘This is Louisa Austin, our new nurse practitioner,' Essie repeated.

‘Pleased to meet you, Nurse Practitioner Austin.'

Dominic's handshake was firm, precise and brief—and it felt as if an electric current was running through her veins. Which was crazy, because she never reacted like that to anyone. It hadn't even been like that with Jack, in the good days. So why now? And why this man?

‘Louisa's looking for riding lessons, because her son likes horses,' Essie continued, and Dominic's expression turned wary.

Oh, for pity's sake, did he think she was going to use her child as an excuse to come on to him? Still, she wasn't going to be rude to him. ‘He does indeed. He wants to be a knight when he grows up,' Louisa said, keeping her tone light.

If anything, Dominic's expression grew even warier. She didn't have the faintest idea why, but despite Essie's suggestion she wasn't going to bother asking him if hecould recommend any riding stables locally. Clearly he'd take it the wrong way, so she'd be better off doing what she always did and sorting it out for herself.

Dominic Hurst might look like Prince Charming, but he definitely didn't have a charming manner. She sincerely hoped he was better in a work situation, for the sake of his patients and his colleagues. She made a polite murmur, and to her relief Essie stepped in again. ‘Let me introduce you to Sasha and Ronnie,' Essie said, and swept Louisa over to where two women were making coffee.

 

Dominic took a gulp of coffee. Whatever was the matter with him? It was the poor woman's first day in the department and he'd been rude to her.

Well, not rude,exactly—he had at least acknowledged her and shaken her hand.

But the zing of attraction when her skin had touched his had thrown him, made him tongue-tied. Which was crazy, because he was never that boorish. Essie had even given him an opening, saying that Louisa was looking for riding lessons for her child. He could've given her Ric and Bea's number, because he knew they had a couple of spaces on their list. They'd talked about it last night, how people were cutting back on extras in the recession and riding lessons were expensive, and Bea had suggested that they should hold an open day to get people interested in the stables.

But then Louisa had said something that slammed right through him.He wants to be a knight when he grows up.Yeah. Been there, done that, and the absolute worst had happened.

Though that wasn't her fault and he shouldn't have taken it out on her.

He'd apologise later, and hopefully she wouldn't holdit against him if she was needed to work with his team in Resus.

Riding lessons. For her son.

Though she wasn't wearing a wedding ring. And there wasn't a tell-tale band of pale skin on her finger to say she'd removed it for work. He'd looked. And he was cross with himself for looking.

Dominic took another gulp of coffee, needing the bitter liquid to jolt some sense back into him. Louisa Austin was gorgeous, with beautiful grey eyes and long dark hair; she'd tied it back hygienically for work, but he could imagine what it looked like loose. Like waves of shiny silk. Her mouth was a perfect rosebud, and it sent a shiver of pure desire running through him, along with an insane urge to find out how it would feel against his own mouth. It had been a long, long time since he'd felt an attraction that strong and that immediate—and that was what had thrown him most.

He knew that it would be pretty stupid to act on that attraction. He wasn't in the market for a relationship; and, even if he was, Louisa had a son. Which meant that either she was already spoken for, despite the lack of a wedding ring, or she was a single parent who'd be wary of taking any risks in a relationship, for her child's sake, and would want someone responsible in her life.

Responsible.

Right.

Which was about as far from him as you could get: hadn't he ruined his brother's life, two years ago?

He needed to get out of here. Now.

‘No rest for the wicked,' he said, striding over to the sink and rinsing out his mug. ‘If we're to have any chance of meeting our targets today, I'd better get back out there and hope Resus stays quiet for the rest of the afternoon.Welcome to the team, Nurse Practitioner Austin.' And he left the rest room before he could do anything ridiculous. Like asking her to have lunch with him tomorrow so they could get to know each other a little better.

 

The rest of Louisa's shift turned out to be as busy as the morning, but she managed to get to the after-school club on time to meet Tyler.

‘Hi, Mum.' He gave her the shy smile that always made her melt.

‘How was your day, honey?' She gave him a hug.

‘OK.'

‘Best bit?'

‘Lunch. We had pasta. It wasn't as good as yours, though.'

She really hoped that he hadn't actually said that to the dinner ladies. She could still remember the time they'd had Sunday lunch at her best friend's house and then, when asked if he'd enjoyed it, he'd very politely thanked Mel and gone on to tell her that her gravy was slimy and her potatoes weren't nice and crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle like his mother's were. Luckily Mel hadn't taken it to heart, but Louisa had had to explain to Tyler that sometimes it was OK to tell a little fib so you didn't hurt people's feelings. And even after she'd finished explaining, he still didn't get it. ‘Let's go home and make dinner. Do you have any spellings or times tables I need to test you on?'

‘No. Do you want to see the horse I drew at lunchtime?' He had his sketchbook out of his schoolbag as soon as he'd put his seat belt on.

She stared at the drawing in awe. ‘It's beautiful, darling.' The horse was drawn in painstaking detail, and was incredibly realistic. Tyler really did have a talent forart—something she could only assume came from Jack's side, because nobody in her side of the family was arty. But there was nobody to ask, because Jack's family had severed all connection with them as soon as Jack had left—and for the same reason.

Though it didn't bother her any more. She knew that she and Ty were better off without them. Her parents accepted Tyler as he was and gave him enough love for two sets of grandparents. They didn't need the Listons.

Tyler disappeared to his room as soon as they got home, and Louisa knew exactly what he was doing. Putting his drawing in a plastic wallet, labelling it and adding it to his database. One good thing about having a son who was obsessed with order was that she never had to tell him to tidy his bedroom. It was always immaculate. Smiling, she busied herself preparing dinner, and when everything was ready she called him down, careful not to let the new potatoes, chicken or vegetables touch each other on Tyler's plate.

He chattered happily about horses all the way through dinner; and then it was the usual routine of washing up while he had a bath, nagging him to clean his teeth, and giving him a kiss goodnight.

Carefully, he turned the kitchen timer next to his bed to twenty minutes. ‘I'll put my light out as soon as the alarm goes off, Mum,' he promised.

And she knew he would, even if he was in mid-sentence. Tyler was one for sticking to the rules. ‘See you in the morning, darling. Sleep well,' she said, giving him another kiss.

Then she curled up on the sofa with her laptop and looked up all the local riding stables, listing them with their phone numbers in her diary. She'd start calling them tomorrow. It was a pity that Dominic Hurst had turnedout to be so formal and unapproachable—she would've appreciated some tips on choosing the right riding school. But she was used to doing things on her own, so she wasn't going to let it throw her.

And as for stray thoughts of a tall, dark, gorgeous and reserved medic with a mouth that promised sin…she'd banish them all from her head, because there just wasn't room in her life for someone like that.

Handsome is as handsome does.

CHAPTER TWO

TUESDAYwent without incident in Minors, but on Wednesday Louisa was called in to help in Resus.

‘Essie tells me you're very experienced, so I'd like you to work with me, please, Nurse Practitioner Austin,' Dominic said.

She noticed again that he'd addressed her by her title rather than by her name. Was he just being like that with her because she was new, or was he like that with everyone? Then she remembered that Essie had called him by his first name. Better get things straight now, then. ‘OK, but can we spend thirty seconds now to save us a lot of time when our patients arrive?' she asked.

He frowned. ‘How do you mean?'

‘It goes without saying that I respect your seniority, but I'm used to working on first-name terms. It's quicker, easier, and less of a mouthful. Would you mind?'

He blinked. ‘OK, Nu—Louisa.'

‘Thank you, Dominic.' She used his name deliberately. ‘So what's happened?'

‘Car crash. Three casualties,' Dominic explained. ‘Both drivers are coming in with suspected whiplash, and the passenger has suspected multiple fractures. Ronnie and Sasha are going to treat the drivers, and I need you with me as lead nurse to treat the passenger—Sally will assist us.'

She nodded. ‘How long have we got to prepare?'

‘Five minutes. I'm going down to the ambulance bay now.'

She busied herself getting the trolley ready; when Dominic came back with the paramedic and their patient, the team swung into action.

‘Rhiannon, this is my team, Louisa and Sally,' Dominic said calmly. ‘They're going to help me look after you.'

‘Hurts,' Rhiannon mumbled. ‘Where's Gary?'

‘Your husband's right here,' he reassured her. ‘Ronnie's looking after him, and as soon as she's checked him over and made him comfortable, he'll be able to come and see you. And we're going to give something to help with the pain,' he said. ‘I'm going to put an oxygen mask on you to help you breathe better, and then we're going to have a proper look at you, OK?'

On Dominic's direction, Sally gently cut through Rhiannon's clothes so he could do a full body assessment, top to toe. Meanwhile, Louisa hooked Rhiannon up to a cardiac monitor, put in a second line and started taking obs.

‘Heart rate 135, respirations twenty-six, blood pressure 82/54,' she said. Tachycardia and low blood pressure pointed to major loss of blood—probably caused by internal injuries, Louisa thought.

‘We need to get some fluids in. Start with a litre of Hartmann's, and get six units cross-matched for me,' Dominic said—and looked approving when he saw that she already had the saline solution in her hand.

Dominic had given Rhiannon painkillers to make her more comfortable; but when her blood pressure didn't respond to the fluids and her sats started dropping, he glanced at Louisa. ‘Can you do ABGs for me, please, Louisa? And, Sally, I need X-rays.' He listened to Rhiannon's chest.

From the bruising on Rhiannon's skin, it looked as if she had several broken ribs. No doubt Dominic wanted to check for pulmonary contusions. There were a lot of problems that could be caused by blunt trauma at high velocity, Louisa knew; with damage in Rhiannon's chest area, there could be trauma to the heart as well as the lungs.

‘I think we need to intubate.' He held Rhiannon's hand as he explained to her what they were doing. ‘You're struggling to breathe, sweetheart, so we need to help you with that and make sure you get enough oxygen. I'm going to put a tube down your throat so you won't be able to speak, but I'm going to give you some medication first so you won't feel it and it won't hurt—it'll make you more comfortable. I know you're feeling tired and it's hard to talk, so just squeeze my hand if you're OK with that—once for yes and twice for no.' He paused. ‘That's a yes—that's my girl. We'll get you comfortable as soon as we can.'

Louisa was just drawing up the ampoules of anaesthetic when one of the drivers who'd been brought in came over to them, his face ashen. ‘Oh, my God, Rhi! I'm so sorry. I couldn't avoid him—he just pulled out on me and there was nothing I could do.' He looked distraught as he stared wildly at Dominic and Louisa. ‘I can't believe I've come out with just bruises, and Rhi's so…so…' His voice caught.

‘Gary, isn't it?' Dominic said, somehow managing to divide his attention and eye contact between his patient and her husband.

‘Yes.'

‘She was asking for you.'

‘Can I hold her hand?' At Dominic's brief nod, Gary curled his fingers round his wife. ‘Honey, I'm here, and I love you, and I'm so sorry.' He dragged in a breath and looked pleadingly at Dominic. ‘Is she going to die?'

‘Not on my shift,' Dominic said, ‘though it might beeasier on you if you wait outside. There's a vending machine just round the corner. I promise we'll come and find you as soon as we've got her stable and let you know what's going on, but for now we need to concentrate on Rhiannon here and treat her.'

Gary shook his head. ‘No. I need to stay with her.'

‘Unless you're a trained medic, it can look very worrying in here,' Dominic said gently. ‘Especially as we're just about to intubate her to help her breathe. Trust me, we're going to do everything we can for your wife, but it will be much better on your nerves if you go and get yourself a hot drink and leave us to it for the next few minutes.'

‘I'll come and get you as soon as there's any news,' Louisa promised. But she noticed that Gary was staring at his wife, looking stunned. In shock, she thought—not the medical kind, but the emotional kind. They needed to get him out of here. ‘Do I have two minutes, Dominic, to show Gary where everything is?'

‘Two minutes,' Dominic confirmed; the expression in his eyes told Louisa that he knew exactly what she was doing and approved. Which was a huge relief: he was much easier to work with than she'd expected. And he was sensitive with patients and relatives. Maybe she'd just caught him on a bad day on Monday.

‘Come on, I'll show you where the drinks machine is,' Louisa said, slipping her arm through Gary's and guiding him out of Resus.

‘I was coming down the hill. I wasn't speeding. I could see the other car approaching the junction, but he wasn't even indicating! And then he just pulled out in front of me. It was as if it all happened in slow motion. I could see we were going to crash, and I couldn't do anything to stop it. I slammed on the brakes, but it wasn't enough.' Gary shivered. ‘We hit him and the car spun round. Rhi's side of thecar was squashed against another one. And…' He covered his face with his hands. ‘Shecan'tdie. We celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary last week. I can't… Not without her…'

Louisa got him a cup of hot, sweet tea from the vending machine—even if he didn't normally take sugar or drink tea, she knew it would help—and settled him in a chair. ‘Gary, it wasn't your fault, and the staff here are really good,' she told him gently. ‘We're going to do our very, very best. Now I have to go back and help Dominic treat Rhiannon, but I'll be back as soon as I can with any news.' She squeezed his shoulder. ‘I know waiting's hard but hang on in there, love.'

‘You're so kind. Thank you. And please—' Gary's face was stricken ‘—please, don't let my wife die.'

By the time Louisa got back into Resus, the medication had taken effect, and Dominic started to intubate their patient. She'd seen it done before, but never with this calm, confident efficiency—and he was amazingly quick.

Dominic Hurst was a superb doctor, she thought. And she liked the way he'd made time to talk to his patient and her husband, clearly aware of how important communication was as a way of bringing down stress levels.

He blew up the cuff on the tube and turned to the other nurse. ‘Sally, are they ready for us in Radiology?'

‘Yes.'

‘Great. Thanks for that. Can you bleep the orthopods, please, and let them know we have a patient with suspected flail chest? I want to have a look at the X-rays, so I'm going down to Radiology with Rhiannon.'

‘Do you want me to give ITU a call, to put them on standby?' Louisa asked quietly, so Rhiannon couldn't hear her and start to worry. In her experience, it was best to involve the intensive care unit as early as possible, becausecases of pulmonary contusions often led to ARDS—adult respiratory distress syndrome. And if there were multiple broken ribs, she'd need careful monitoring.

‘Yes, please. And could you tell Gary I'm taking her to X-Ray? Not because he should worry himself sick, but because it means I can see the X-rays straight off and it'll save us some time. Tell him I'll come and talk to him as soon as we know more.' He smiled at her. ‘Thank you, Sally. You've done a really good job. You, too, Louisa. Even though this is the first time we've worked together, it's felt as if we've been on the same team for years. Your old department must really be missing you.'

The compliment made her feel warm all over—especially as she hadn't expected it from him. And it was good to work with a doctor who appreciated the nursing staff rather than taking them for granted, especially one who bothered to give a student praise where it was due. She smiled back at him. ‘Thanks.'

While Dominic went off to X-Ray with Rhiannon, Louisa contacted the intensive care unit to put them in the picture, then went in search of Gary to let him know what was happening.

‘Is she going to be all right?' he asked. ‘I'll never forgive myself if anything happens to her. And that stupid guy who tried to get into a gap that wasn't there, just to save a few seconds…' He was shaking, clearly near tears.

Louisa put her arm round him. ‘I know, love. You said yourself there was nothing you could do, so don't blame yourself. The police will deal with the other driver.' Who'd also walked away without a scratch, according to Ronnie, but that wasn't something Louisa intended to share. ‘We'll know a lot more when the X-rays are back, and Dominic will talk you through what Rhiannon's injuries are and how we're going to treat her. But for now we're keepingher comfortable. Try not to worry—and, yes, I know that's a lot easier said than done.' She gave him a sympathetic smile. ‘Is there anyone we can call for you?'

‘I… No.' He shook his head. ‘I'd better call our daughter myself. She'll be devastated.' He dragged in a breath. ‘I can't use a mobile phone here, can I?'

‘In the corridors, you can,' she reassured him. ‘The phone won't interfere with equipment there.' It wasn't the only reason the hospital preferred not to have people chatting on mobile phones—loud conversations disturbed other patients, and some ringtones sounded eerily like alarms on equipment. The blanket ban on mobile phones throughout the hospital had been relaxed, except for critical-care areas such as the emergency department, the coronary care unit and the special care baby unit, where equipment could be affected by electromagnetic interference.

‘Thank you.'

When Dominic came back from Resus, he looked serious but calm. ‘Gary, I've seen the scans and I'm sending Rhiannon up to Theatre where the surgeons can help her. She's got four ribs broken in two places, pulmonary contusions—that's a bruise on the lung and you often get that with broken ribs—and what looks to me like a cut to her liver.'

‘So the surgeons can fix her ribs?'

‘They might decide to let them heal without fixing them,' Dominic said. ‘But the contusions are going to make it a bit hard for Rhiannon to breathe, so she'll be in Intensive Care afterwards until they heal—they can keep a close eye on her and make sure she's comfortable.'

‘You mean she's going to be ventilated?' Gary's eyes widened. ‘Oh, my God.'

‘It looks and sounds a lot scarier than it is. It's going to be the best treatment for her,' Dominic reassured him.‘We're taking her up to Theatre now, and if you'd like to you can come with us, as far as the doors. There's a waiting area there, and one of the surgeons will come out and talk you through what's happening. The staff at the ICU—the intensive care unit—are lovely, and they'll be happy to answer any questions you have.'

They headed up to Theatre, Gary holding his wife's hand all the way.

‘I'm so sorry, Rhi. I love you,' he said, clearly trying to hold back tears.

‘They'll take care of her,' Louisa said gently, putting her arm round his shoulders as Rhiannon was wheeled through the doors to Theatre. ‘Is your daughter coming?'

‘She's on her way.' He bit his lip. ‘And I'm keeping you from your work.'

‘That's OK.' If necessary, she'd work through her lunch hour to make sure that the targets were hit. People came before admin, in her book, and always would; and if she had to explain herself to the bean-counters, so be it. Nursing was about people, not numbers. ‘I'll wait until she gets here.'

When Gary and Rhiannon's daughter arrived, Louisa explained what had happened and what would happen next, made sure they both had a hot drink, then headed back down to the emergency department. She was back in Minors as nurse practitioner for the rest of her shift, and her lunch break consisted of two minutes to bolt a sandwich so that she could catch up with the delay in treating her patients. When it was clear that she was still running late, she made a quick call to her mother to ask if she could pick up Ty from after-school club, and continued working steadily through her list. After she'd seen her last patient, she headed for Resus, hoping that Dominic would be there and that he knew how Rhiannon was.

‘Shouldn't you have been off duty half an hour ago?' he asked.

She shrugged. ‘It happens. I just wondered if you'd heard anything from the ICU about Rhiannon?'

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