When Max sees his wife, Marina, for the first time in four long years, his heart skips a beat. Max has done everything, including risking his life, to forget the searing loss of their baby that blew their tender young marriage apart. But that doesn't stop the longing, the desire for his lovely wife. His feelings for Marina are one thing, but seeing her with another man's child...
But Marina's baby isn't her own, he finds. Confronted with working together in the emergency department of London's Victoria Hospital, and taking care of this child together, can she and Max mend the marriage they have always wanted so very, very much?
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March 01, 2010
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Excerpt from The Doctor's Lost-and-Found Bride by Kate Hardy
'Excuse me. I couldn't help overhearing the shouting. I'm coming in.'
Marina froze as she heard the voice on the other side of the curtain.
No; of course it wasn't him.
Apart from anything else, Max Fenton didn't work at the London Victoria. So it was completely ridiculous that she'd think he was standing on the other side of the curtain. And she was furious with herself for, yet again, hearing a slightly posh voice and thinking immediately of her ex.
After four years, she should be over him--completely over him. Yet every time she had an oblique view of a man with dark hair that flopped over his forehead, every time she heard someone who sounded faintly like him, she immediately thought of Max. And every time it turned out to be a stranger and she ended up cross with herself for being such a fool.
Of course he wouldn't have followed her to London-- not after all this time. He'd signed the divorce papers a year ago, and they'd been separated for three years before that. Sure, Eve had said something about a new senior registrar taking over from Ed, but she hadn't mentioned his name and, as far as Marina knew, the new doctor wasn't starting until next week.
And then the curtain to the cubicle twitched open.
Shock kept her silent.
Since when had Max been working at the London Victoria?
He was definitely staff. Apart from the fact that he was wearing a white coat with a stethoscope flung casually around his neck, his name-badge sported the hospital logo and his name was printed underneath his photograph. But how on earth had she missed the news that he'd joined the team?
She stared at him. There were lines she didn't remember etched on his face, and he was thinner. Too thin. But his hair was just the same, still flopping over his forehead. And she'd forgotten just how blue his eyes were, a smoky, slate-blue that still managed to make her heart miss a beat when she looked at him, even after all the mess and misery that had happened between them.
For one crazy moment, Marina almost reached out to touch him, to press her palm against his cheek and make absolutely sure that he was really here, that this wasn't some weird kind of hallucination.
But she didn't have the right to touch him. Not any more. For all she knew, he could be married.
With a child.
The pain at that thought was so intense that she nearly gasped out loud. Then anger bubbled up to block out the pain. What the hell was he doing here? There were plenty of other hospitals in the world. Why did Max have to muscle into hers, push his way back into her life?
Max's face was completely unreadable. She had no idea what he was thinking, or whether he was filled with the same confusing mixture of pain, anger and longing that she was.
He glanced at Marina's name-badge before turning to the woman who'd been yelling at her; when he spoke, his voice was clipped, and made it very clear that he was in charge. 'You're disturbing the other patients. I suggest you leave, so Dr Petrelli can concentrate on treating her patient--or do I need to call security to escort you out?'
The woman curled her lip at him and continued to chew gum loudly. 'It's all wrong, that lot coming over here and taking jobs off English people.'
'Not that it's any of your business,' Max said, 'but Dr Petrelli is as English as you are. And, even if she wasn't, this department operates a zero-tolerance policy. Our staff have the right to do their job without abuse.'
'I know my rights,' Ms Gum-Chewer said, folding her arms. 'And you're not getting away with bullying me.'
'The way you're bullying my staff, you mean? Three seconds and I'll be calling security to escort you out. Or you can step outside and let Dr Petrelli treat your friend without interruptions. Your choice.' He gave her an implacable stare. 'One...two...'
'I'll be just out here, Ally. And you make sure she treats you properly.' The gum-chewing woman sniffed loudly and stalked out of the cubicle.
Grumbling, and with a last, hostile look at Marina, the woman left the cubicle.
Marina still hadn't got over the fact that Max had called her his staff.
Ha; she'd stopped being his anything a long time ago.
'May I have a word?' Max looked at Marina and gestured to the cubicle curtain.
'Excuse me, Mrs Marshall,' Marina said to her patient. 'I'll be back in just a moment.'
Max closed the curtain behind them. 'Are you all right?'
His voice was formal and polite. How different it had been when they'd first met. She'd been a fresh-faced graduate in her first job as a pre-registered house officer. Everyone had been rushed off their feet on the first day, and Max had introduced himself swiftly in the five-minute break she'd managed to take, before giving her half a chocolate bar to keep her going, along with a cup of lukewarm coffee that she could gulp straight down. His warm, open smile had turned her weak at the knees, and she'd discovered that love at first sight wasn't a myth at all. She'd fallen dizzily, headlong in love with Max Fenton within seconds of meeting him.
But a lot had happened in those five years. And, given their shared past, and the fact that they were clearly going to have to work together, polite, formal and distant was definitely the best way forward.
She glanced at his name-badge again to check his rank and what she should call him. 'Senior registrar': so he was the guy who'd taken over from Ed. Still 'doctor' rather than 'mister', then. Odd, because he'd been so focused on his career that she'd expected him to make consultant at a scarily young age. 'I'm fine, thank you, Dr Fenton.'
That was a complete lie. Seeing him again had made her feel as if she'd just ridden an enormous rollercoaster--at double speed, and sitting backwards. She managed to pull herself together. Just. 'Thank you for coming to my rescue.'
'Not a problem.' He gave her an equally cool nod. 'I'll let you get back to your patient.'
'I'm really sorry,' the woman on the bed said when Marina returned to the cubicle. She bit her lip. 'Claire's really kind-hearted.'
Maybe, on her own terms; Marina forbore to comment.
'It's just that sometimes she can come on a bit strong.'
That was putting it mildly, but it wasn't Mrs Marshall's fault that her friend was so overbearing. 'I've had worse-- you should see the bad-tempered drunks who end up in here on a Friday night,' Marina said with a smile, wanting to put her patient at her ease. 'Don't worry about it.'
'It's because her husband always looks at your bit in the paper on a Wednesday--he fancies you something rotten,' Mrs Marshall confided.
'I'm very flattered,' Marina said, 'But your friend really doesn't have anything to worry about.' Even if she had been in the market for a relationship--and right now life was too complicated for her to cope with dating someone--she only ever went out with single men.
'I've told her how much Stewie loves her, but she's convinced he's going to look elsewhere because of her weight.' Mrs Marshall sighed and shook her head. 'She's trying so hard to make herself look good for him. She put on three stone when she stopped smoking. That's why she chews gum all the time--to stop herself going back on the ciggies.'
Marina knew that people with low self-esteem often lashed out at others as a way of making themselves feel better. Though it still hurt when you were the one they decided to pick on. 'She's done the right thing for her health, giving up the cigarettes. But we really should talk about you rather than your friend,' she said gently. 'I think you've broken your wrist, Mrs Marshall. From what you've told me about the way you landed, and the way your wrist looks, I think you have what's called a Colles' fracture. I'm going to give you some pain relief to make you more comfortable, then send you for an X-ray. When I've had a look at your X-ray and I'm happy that everything's straightforward, I'll put a temporary plaster on your wrist to keep it stable until the fracture clinic can see you.'
'You mean I'm going to be in plaster?' Mrs Marshall looked shocked.
'Modern casts are really lightweight,' Marina reassured her. 'But, yes, you'll need a cast for a few weeks, while your wrist heals.'
'Will I be able to go back to work?'
'It depends what you do for a living. If you use that hand a lot, then it's a good idea to have some time off to let your wrist heal properly. And I'd definitely say no lifting or carrying.'
Mrs Marshall looked upset. 'I don't get paid if I don't work.'
'But if you go back too early, and put too much weight on the fracture, there's a strong chance you'll make it worse and you'll be off work for even longer,' Marina said gently. 'I know it's not going to make you feel much better, but you're the fourth patient I've seen today with a Colles' fracture. When it's icy like this, no end of people slip, put their hands out to save themselves and end up breaking their wrists.'
She gave Mrs Marshall some painkillers, then directed her to X-ray. 'Come back when you've had the X-ray and I'll finish treating you,' she said with a smile.
Max grabbed a file and started to read his next patient's notes, needing a couple of minutes to get himself back under control. When he'd heard someone shouting in the cubicles, and realised that someone was haranguing one of his colleagues, he'd instinctively gone to the rescue.
What he hadn't expected was to see his ex-wife standing there.
He'd had no idea that Marina even worked at the London Victoria, so he hadn't been prepared to face her again. It was a double shock to see her again for the first time in four years.
She was still as gorgeous as ever, with that long, silky, dark hair he'd so loved playing with, albeit tied back for work; those expressive, dark eyes, and the perfect rosebud mouth he'd fallen in love with the very first day he'd met her. She was twenty-eight now, but still looked younger than her years, all soft skin and lush curves. Just as she'd done the first time he'd met her, she'd taken his breath away.
He only hoped that it hadn't shown on his face.
Then again, Max had spent months stuck in a hospital bed with nothing to do except brood and teach himself to mask his feelings. Between that, and three years of working for Doctors Without Borders, he was pretty sure he could keep his expression blank and professional in just about any situation.
Including unexpectedly coming face-to-face again with the love of his life.
He'd told himself that he was ready to work in England again, that he was over Marina. But seeing her just now had taught him how wrong he'd been. He wasn't over her at all. He never had been, and if he were honest with himself he probably never would be.
Not that he was going to do anything about it. Marina's expression had been pretty clear--shock, followed by hurt and anger. Given that she'd been the one to start divorce proceedings, it was obvious that she'd keep her distance from him. For all he knew, she could be in a serious relationship--married, even. He hadn't noticed a ring on her left hand; then again, he'd been too busy trying to look professional and detached to think of even looking. The idea of seeing another man's ring there made him feel sick to the stomach, but what right did he have to protest? He'd signed the papers, after all, agreed to end their marriage instead of fighting for it.
He'd been angry when he'd signed them--angry with Marina for walking out on him, and angry with himself for not doing more to keep them together. But he knew now that the anger had been just a mask for the hurt, something to cover the pit of loss so he couldn't see how deep it was.
He swallowed hard. What a mess. Now they were going to have to work together, and there was a fair chance that they'd be rostered onto the same team in Resus. So, for both their sakes, he was going to have to keep a lid on his feelings and pretend they'd never met before.
Thank God he'd chosen to specialise in emergency medicine, where he'd be kept way too busy to think about his ex-wife. He strode out to the reception area and called his next patient.
As always, when the weather was icy, the waiting area in the department was standing-room only. Most of the patients had fallen; some were badly bruised, but there were several with Colles' fractures that needed backslabs to keep the break stable before referral to the fracture clinic. But even though Marina was too busy to have a proper break she made sure she spent enough time with each patient to reassure them--particularly one elderly patient who suffered from osteoporosis and had cracked both arms and a hip. Rather than sending her up to the geriatric ward with a porter, Marina took the old lady herself and spent time settling her in to the ward.
Lunch was a sandwich eaten while sorting paperwork between patients. Halfway through the afternoon, Eve, the charge nurse, caught Marina before she saw her next case. 'You haven't had a break today. Go and grab a coffee.'
'We're busy,' Marina protested. 'And you haven't had a break either, Eve.' Nobody in the department did when it was as busy as this. There just wasn't time.
'Go and grab a coffee,' Eve directed. 'You need a break. And you're off at five today, yes?'
Marina nodded. 'I feel awful, leaving early when we've still got a full waiting-room.'
'You were in at eight, and you haven't stopped since you've been in. So leaving at five isn't exactly leaving early, is it? And we all know where you're going to be, anyway, if we need you.'
Yes. Picking up Phoebe, then going upstairs to the maternity department and spending a while at her elder sister's bedside.
Eve smiled at her. 'How's Rosie doing?'
'Getting there. She's feeling well enough to moan about being stuck in here and wanting to be at home with Neil and Phoebe.'
'That's a good sign. And the baby's doing OK?'
'Doing fine.' Marina bit her lip. 'Though I think we'll all be a lot happier when he or she's here safely.'
'Rosie's in good hands. You know as well as I do, Theo Petrakis is the best.' Eve patted her shoulder. 'Now, scoot.'
'Five minutes and I'll be back.'