Somehow Leah found the courage to bury last night’s humiliation and start the new day. She swallowed a few tasteless bites of lunch, dressed for work and cracked open the front door. Good. No reporters. However, her relief soon turned into dismay. Her unfolded newspaper, lying innocently upon her welcome mat, revealed its bold headline for all the world to see: “Robber steals Valentine’s dream date.”
She flung the paper inside, but the accompanying photo landed face up, the picture a moment frozen in time. She’d just stepped out of the limousine - embarrassingly alone. The barrage of flash bulbs had hit, capturing her total mortification.
She shuddered. She never wanted to relive a night like that again.
Pywacket cried and nudged the newspaper, drawing Leah’s gaze to another headline. James Rourk had apprehended the robber and had taken him into custody. At least that story had a happy ending.
“What a dangerous business police work is, Py.” She gave her cat an affectionate pat. “A cop can never relax, can never be off duty.”
The funny thing was, that even after last night’s disaster date, she liked James. A lot.
The beeping of her wristwatch reminded her of her own duty. “Gotta go, Py.” She grabbed her coat and hurried out the door.
Arriving at the hospital, she received a few good-natured ribbings. One of her favorite lab technicians greeted her with a sly grin. “So what did you do, Leah? Scare that Rourk fellow off?”
“Yeah, Frank. I let him see me without my makeup,” she joked. “He’ll call you. Take my word for it.” Frank punched the elevator button for her, then waved good-bye.
Leah smiled. It would be nice to see James again. Under different circumstances, though. No cameras, no reporters, and no onlookers. Just the two of them.
She shook her head. No sense dreaming. Last night was over. Reaching the second floor and the Intensive Care Unit, Leah reported to the nurses’ station.
Margaret, the nurse manager, gave her a once-over. “Rough date?”
Leah shrugged. “Well, let’s just say it was as romantic as being peered at from underneath a microscope.”
“Plan on seeing him again?”
A strand of hair flopped down into Leah’s eyes. As she smoothed it back, her hand trembled. “No. We agreed it was a one-time-only date.” She straightened her shoulders. Forget James. “I’ll check on Mrs. Saunders now.”
Leaving the door open to Mrs. Saunders’ room, Leah checked the woman’s pulse and chart. “How are you feeling today, Mrs. Saunders? Looks like tomorrow you’ll be released to another floor.”
The woman’s smile was weak but determined. “I’ve been given a new lease on life.” She squinted at something in the hallway. “But tell me, my dear, is it your birthday?”
The sudden switch in topics confused Leah. “No, my birthday was months ago. Why do you ask?”
“How lovely, then! You’ll have to introduce me to your young man.”
Young man? “But I don’t have a boyfriend.”
Mrs. Saunders pointed to the door. “In the hallway.”
Leah spun around. There, blocking the door frame, stood James Rourk. Tall, dark and carrying two dozen vivid red roses. Her stomach dropped.
“Hi, Leah. Margaret told me I’d find you in here.” His deep voice sounded unnaturally sexy in the somber Intensive Care atmosphere.
When she’d seen him before, he’d worn his uniform, and then last night, a tux. Now he was dressed casually - tight blue jeans and bomber jacket. Every time she saw him, he looked better than the last.
Taking advantage of her silence, he stepped into the room and handed her the flower-filled vase. Then he cupped Mrs. Saunders’ frail hand in his. “Afternoon, ma’am. I’m James, Leah’s young man.” He had the audacity to wink.
From behind the thicket of roses, Leah muttered, “You are not.”
His merry blue eyes took in her discomfort. “Maybe not yet. But I’d like to be.”
“Now, children,” Mrs. Saunders said. “When you get to be my age, you realize time is not a commodity to be wasted.”
His gaze held Leah’s. Heat rose to her cheeks. The velvety petals brushed against her skin, and without intending to, she inhaled the flowers’ sweet fragrance. Ever since meeting him, her life had been turned upside down.
“What happened to only one date?” she asked.
James set the vase down on Mrs. Saunders’ night stand. “Tell you what, let’s go to the cafeteria for coffee. We need to talk.”
Leah shook her head. “But I just started my shift.”
“So, you’ll take your break a little early. I cleared it with Margaret.”
Leah grinned. He was persistent, she had to give him that much. “All right, James. I’ll cave in - just this once.”
He grinned back at her, then gave Mrs. Saunders’ hand another pat. “You’ll look after Leah’s flowers, won’t you, ma’am?”
The woman’s smile seemed stronger, more vibrant. “I most certainly will, young man. This is better than watching my soaps!”
Leah allowed James to escort her out of the room. Oh, good, she thought. Now all of Spokane was plotting to improve her love life.
Wednesday: A fresh start.