The quietly elegant woman in the expensively tailored slacks and plain cotton blouse stood on the porch in the bright summer sunlight and listened to the sound of the motorcycle approaching. The unpaved lane that wended its way through the quiet countryside in front of her 19th century farmhouse was lined on either side by wildflowers, and the stone path leading from it to her front door was edged with a collection of vividly colored petunias and marigolds. As she watched, a figure clad from head to toe in black-T-shirt, jeans, and boots-pulled up on a huge Harley-Davidson and dismounted by her front gate.
Sax removed her helmet and propped it on the seat of her Harley. She ran both hands through her dark hair and started up the walk, grinning faintly at the woman waiting for her. "Hey, Maddy," she said by way of greeting, taking the stairs up to the wide wooden porch two at a time. She slipped her arms around the other woman's waist and hugged her, bestowing a light kiss on her cheek. "You look splendid as always."
It was said lightly, but it was true. The older woman was possessed of a timeless beauty born of good bones and fine skin and a figure that artists had attempted to render on canvas and carve from stone for centuries. She would have been beautiful at any age, in any time.
"You might have called to tell me you were coming," the other woman admonished fondly, ignoring a compliment that had long since lost all meaning to her. "I would have gotten a list of chores together. Are you staying?"
"Until tomorrow," Sax said, one arm still loosely around Maddy's waist. "I don't suppose there's breakfast?"
"It's noon, Saxon."
Sax grinned charmingly. "I came straight from the hospital, but you always tell me not to speed so it took me a while."
Madeleine Lane regarded her granddaughter with a critical eye. She knew very well that Saxon's unpredictable visits were usually prompted by her need to escape from something-too much work, too much horror, too much of life's disappointments. There were faint shadows under her eyes now, and she looked thinner and more drawn than the last time Maddy had seen her. It had been nearly two months, and then it had been in the middle of the night and her granddaughter had arrived in a driving rain, drenched and shaking from far more than the cold. As had so often been the case, they had talked until dawn about nothing of consequence, and when Saxon had pulled away on her motorcycle, Maddy still had had no idea what had made her come. Saxon's silences didn't matter to her. They never had. All that mattered was that she always returned.
"Have you been to bed?" Maddy asked as they walked arm-in-arm through the dimly lit living room. Lace curtains were pulled across the windows to filter the sunshine and keep the room cool. The house was not air-conditioned, because Maddy had never liked the way it felt.
"I'm not tired," Sax said, avoiding a direct answer. She was seething with too much restless energy to sleep, and she hadn't been able to face the thought of returning to her expensively appointed but undeniably cold apartment. It wasn't for lack of a good decorator that her apartment lacked warmth; it was just because there was nothing of herself in the place. She hadn't even thought about her destination when she'd climbed onto her bike and headed north out of the city. The humid air had blown cool around her face at sixty miles an hour, and she had soon shed the lingering pall of sadness and death that had seeped past her defenses. In less than an hour and a half, she had reached home. She hadn't grown up on the out of the way farm, but it was home nevertheless-because it was where Maddy lived.
"Did you work all night?" Maddy tried again.
"Hmm?" Sax asked. God, what a night. I can't remember the last time we had one so bad. She caught herself just as she began thinking about Stephen Jones and his missing leg and his ruined life. She couldn't afford to remember the look on his parents' face when she told them of his injuries or to imagine what the future would be like for him. Treat them. Don't live with them. Keep your sanity.
But sometimes the utter madness of it all crept up on you, and you went a little mad yourself.
"Oh, yes, I did," she answered off-handedly. "We were a little busy."
They had reached the large kitchen that ran almost the entire length of the rear of the farmhouse. Two years before, Sax had replaced the small rear porch and adjoining mudroom with a large glass-enclosed solarium that connected to the kitchen through double French doors. She had built it after Maddy had admitted that the nagging arthritis in her right hip bothered her less when she could sit in the sun. There, Sax had declared, you can sit in the sun all winter long and still be warm.
"Sit down while I make you some breakfast. Waffles okay?"
"Waffles are always okay," Sax said as she stretched her legs out under the broad oak tabletop.
Maddy set a cup of coffee by her granddaughter's right hand. As she removed items from the refrigerator and cupboards, she asked casually, "How are things at the hospital?"
Sax cradled the coffee mug in her hands and shrugged. "As crazy as they always are in July. New residents to keep an eye on, more people on the streets to get shot or mugged, more cars on the road to run into each other. It's the busy season."
"Uh huh," Maddy responded noncommittally as she dropped a bit of batter on the griddle to test the temperature.
"There's a film crew doing a documentary in the trauma unit."
Maddy glanced over, trying to read Saxon's feelings from her expression because her voice rarely revealed anything, but she hadn't really expected to be able to. Her granddaughter, she knew, had learned as a child to hide her feelings. That distance probably served her well in the highly volatile environment of the trauma unit, but it was very frustrating for anyone who wanted to know her. "That's rather unusual, isn't it? It seems like it would be a terribly difficult place to film. How on earth could you have any kind of order on the set?"
"It's not like what you were used to," Sax said with a laugh. "No elaborate scenes, no retakes, and no spoiled starlets to cater to."
"I'll have you know that I was never spoiled," Maddy said haughtily. "I was always the picture of refinement."
"That's not what it says about you in the stories I've read."
Placing a plate full of steaming waffles in front of Sax, Maddy said curtly, but with a laugh in her voice, "Those reports were greatly exaggerated."
"At any rate," Sax said, turning her attention with anticipation to the home-cooked meal, "this is more what you would call cinema verité."
Maddy carried a cup of coffee with her and sat down opposite Sax. "Must make things pretty hectic if they're filming while you're working," she observed.
"I thought it would be, but the director has been good about keeping her crew out from underfoot."
"A woman director?" Maddy remarked in surprise. "I've always wished I had been able to do that rather than act. Or maybe along with it."
"Really?" Sax said, finally feeling the pressure in her chest begin to ease with the familiar rhythm of their banter. "I never knew that."
"It just wasn't possible then-or maybe it was, and we just didn't know to try."
Sax reached across the table and touched her grandmother's hand. "I'm sorry."
Maddy laughed. "No need to be. I haven't been pining about it all these years, but I'll look forward to seeing what she does with you."
"It's not about me," Sax hurried to clarify. "She's focusing on my new trauma fellow, Deb Stein."
"Hmm, and I imagine you just fade into the background."
Sax caught the end of a fleeting smile and chuckled, her heart suddenly lighter than it had been in weeks. No one had ever been able to make her laugh at herself the way Maddy had. Maybe because no one had ever made her feel so…loved. "I don't think Jude Castle would agree with that. I've given her a hard time, I guess."
"Why?" Maddy asked seriously, wondering if this was the reason Saxon had come. It had been her experience that eventually her solitary granddaughter would work her way around to what was bothering her, even if she didn't realize it herself.
Sax turned in her chair to look out the window, noting that one of the double doors on the garage was hanging askew. "I'll have to replace that hinge," she remarked absently.
Maddy waited silently.
"Photography is a treacherous thing," Sax said softly, almost to herself. "It's merciless and unkind in the way it captures the moment, exposing-no-revealing the truth without the benefit of pretense or masks. You can't hide from it, not forever."
"Yet there is no judgment in simply recording events," Maddy pointed out. "It's a neutral process."
"No," Sax responded vehemently, shaking her head. "It would be neutral if it weren't selective - but it is. Jude Castle directs the camera- she determines what the film will reveal, what moments will be emphasized, what story will be told. She has all the power."
"Ah," the older woman said, thinking of how many years it had taken Saxon to feel she was in control of her own life, and safe. "She frightens you."
It wasn't a question.
Sax looked at her in astonishment, ready to protest once again. She met those blue eyes so like her own and felt the words die on her tongue. It was true, and it wasn't just her fear of what Jude Castle might see when she looked at her through the eyes of Melissa Cooper's camera. It was realizing how badly she wanted to be seen.
"Saxon," Maddy called, pulling the shawl tighter around her shoulders as she peered up into the night at the shadow moving on her rooftop. "You have to stop. That lantern is not enough light-you're going to fall off and break your neck. Besides that, it's the middle of the night."
Sax pounded another nail into the flashing around the chimney and called down, "I'll be done in a minute."
She hadn't been able to sleep. Or rather, she'd fallen asleep soon after dinner and had awakened in a sweat around midnight. She'd been dreaming. It had been a very vivid dream. Her body was still tingling with a combination of arousal and fear as she sat up in bed, breathing hard, trembling. She'd dreamed of a woman leaning over her, holding her down with the barest of touches while she turned her blood to fire with a kiss. She's awakened still aching with the memory of that kiss. When she couldn't get the image of the red-haired woman with the emerald eyes from her mind, she'd vaulted from the bed, pulled on her jeans, and sought some chore to distract her from the insistent throbbing in her belly.
It hadn't worked, but at least she didn't feel like she was going to explode. Resolutely, she climbed down the ladder and headed back upstairs. She hated to admit it, but part of her hoped that Jude Castle would visit her dreams again.
"Are you sure you can't stay longer?"
"I need to get back," Sax said as she straddled her motorcycle, cradling her helmet under one arm. "I'm on call again tomorrow."
"I know very well that you don't have to take call so often, not since you're the boss," Maddy pointed out, leaning against the picket fence and shading her eyes from the morning sun with one hand. She'd heard her granddaughter prowling the house half the night and wondered if she'd slept at all. It had been years since she'd seen her this restless and agitated-not since those first few months right after Saxon had come to live with her, back when she'd still had her Manhattan apartment. There had been a time then that she wasn't sure either of them would ever sleep again. "You could let some of the others fill in for you."
Sax shrugged, but didn't argue. "Sometimes there's more work if I'm not there, just piling up and waiting for me."
And you wouldn't know what to do with yourself if you weren't working, Maddy thought as she stepped forward and stroked Sax's arm. "Come back sooner next time."
"I will," Sax replied, pulling on her helmet. "Call me if you need anything. And make that list of things that need repairing." She leaned to kiss the other woman's cheek. "I love you," she murmured.
"And I you," Maddy replied. "I'll work on that list." She would, too, although she could easily afford to hire a handyman to keep the place in working order. But she knew that her granddaughter needed the excuse to pull herself away from the demands, and the repercussions, of her work.
"Why don't you bring that film director with you sometime? I'd like to hear what things are like in the industry these days," Maddy added conversationally. She couldn't see the surprise in her granddaughter's eyes, because Sax had already lowered the smoke gray visor over her face.
"Sure," Sax responded automatically, almost laughing at the absurdity of that thought. She couldn't imagine that a busy, cosmopolitan woman like Jude Castle would have any interest in spending an afternoon with her and a reclusive aging movie queen out in the middle of nowhere, sitting on the porch watching the corn grow.
"It's good, Jude," Melissa said, leaning back in her chair with a sigh. The two of them had been sitting shoulder to shoulder in front of the desk that Sax had arranged for them in their on call room for a good part of the afternoon and evening. They'd set up a computer to screen the videotapes from Mel's cameras and had been reviewing the first footage from the trauma alert two nights before. "I was there, and I was still holding my breath in places today."
"Yeah," Jude murmured absently, consulting her log and keying in the digital markers to find a scene she wanted to see again. She muted the sound on the computer and watched Deborah Stein and Sinclair leaning over the small blond child, comforting her while simultaneously examining her, quickly and proficiently. "Do you see that?" she asked intently. "Watch the difference from here…to here…"
Melissa moved closer, following Jude's instructions. "Yeah?"
"Everything changes when they start examining her-even their expressions. Something clicks in-or clicks off."
"They're working, Jude. What do you expect," Melissa responded, not sure she understood what the director was getting at. "They're just focused."
"I know that," Jude said with a hint of frustration, "but that's the whole point. In order to do the work, they have to turn something off-shut something down inside. They have to sever the emotional connection, the…the empathy that most people would feel-are compelled to feel-just because that's what makes us human. What did you feel while you were watching?"
"I was working, too," Melissa pointed out adamantly. She didn't want to admit how relieved she'd been when Jude had told her to take off as soon as the trauma team had transported the motorcycle victim up to the OR the previous day. She'd needed some air, and that had shaken her.
Jude fixed her with an unyielding stare. "So was I, and it was still hard to take. Stop avoiding the question."
"We've seen horror before, Jude," Melissa insisted, shifting uncomfortably in her chair. "Come on-tanks on fire, buildings crumbling on top of us-not to mention twenty-five year old guys who looked eighty taping their final moments. What's the difference?"
"The difference is that in Eastern Europe there was physical distance between us and the events, and from the victims, too. When we did the AIDS feature, we knew going in what we would be filming. We had time to prepare."
"There's an immediacy, an uncertainty, to what happens in the trauma unit. You don't know what to expect, so you can't ever be ready."
"And I got that on tape," Melissa said emphatically. "Just look at the way we've got the wide angle arrival-boom, through the doors, a whole crowd of people and somewhere in there is the patient. Then we zoom in, cutting back and forth from patient to patient and from doc to patient. It's all there-the motion, the energy, the frantic pace. For crying out loud, the camera movement alone tells the story."
It was clear by her tone that the photographer was very happy with the way things had gone.
"Exactly," Jude agreed. "And next time I want you to slow it down."
Jude grinned. They'd been at this place before, where what Melissa saw, and what she captured on film, wasn't precisely what Jude wanted to emphasize. The director's role, as Jude saw it, was to shape the bits and pieces of events into a cohesive whole with a clear message, thereby leading the viewer unconsciously to the same conclusion. That happened by virtue of what she included, and very often, by what she excluded from the hours and hours of footage they accumulated during the course of a long project. It would make her job easier if she and Melissa were looking for the same thing right from the start. "Mel, what's the purpose of this project?"
"I can't do this on an empty stomach," Melissa growled, abruptly rising and starting to pace in the twelve-foot square space between their beds. She refrained from pulling her hair, but she was getting close.
"Do this goddamned mind-melding thing you always insist we do at the beginning of a shoot. I should have known that's why you got me over here this afternoon. Need I remind you that tomorrow Deb is on call again and we're going to be here for another thirty hours or so?" She flopped onto the small bed which she had a feeling she would not be spending much time in and grumbled, "I was hoping to get out of here in time to go home, shower, climb into something irresistibly hot and go out cruising for someone wild and wanton."
"You can still do that. I just want to get us on the same page before we get too far into this and discover we're missing the shots we need."
"I always get the shots!"
"You do, I know," Jude responded soothingly. "But it will be simpler, don't you think, if you had some insight…"
"Oh, God, I hate that word. I hate it. You're going to make me process next, aren't you?" Melissa pulled the pillow over her head and shouted obscenities into it.
"Is there any chance we can avoid the part where you say you can't work with me again, and where you tell me to find another fucking photographer because I'm too controlling?" Jude asked when her associate had finished screaming, smiling her most charming smile. For almost four years Melissa Cooper had been her DP on every major project she'd done, and she couldn't imagine doing something of this magnitude without her on board. The photographer's skill and vision were second to none. Plus she was a lesbian, and her friend, and there had been a time, a long time past, when for a few fevered weeks, she'd come close to being more. "And how can you manage to stay in shape when you eat as many times a day as you do?"
"Sex. Sex burns calories, especially if you do it a lot," Melissa answered, turning on her side on the bed and facing Jude across the tiny space. "If I do this, will you buy me dinner?"
"Yes. Yes, anywhere."
"Will you go out clubbing with me?"
"Mel," Jude said hesitantly. They'd had this debate for weeks. Mel wanted her to go barhopping, and she had resisted. She'd used her relationship with Lori as an excuse, saying that she didn't need to go out looking for other women, she already had one. In reality, she was a little bit worried that if she accompanied Mel to one of her favorite hangouts, she might just be tempted to experiment. And she simply didn't have the time. She hadn't not been working on one project or another for almost two years. Her production company was young-she was young-and she needed to establish herself in a competitive market where, unfortunately, men still ruled. Lori was perfect for her for a lot of practical reasons, and she didn't want anything to upset that image in her mind.
"I won't take you to any place grungy, just a little edgy, okay? I promise," Melissa said matter-of-factly. "Other wise-no deal. I'm outta here."
Jude worked at looking affronted, but she was trying not to grin. The woman had always been irresistible. "I don't think the ink is even dry on your contract yet and you're making me regret it."
"All right. Deal," Jude relented with a sigh. "Now sit down over here and watch this. Then I'll buy you dinner."
Melissa pulled her chair close to the monitor again and waited while Jude found the section she was looking for. All business now, she narrowed her eyes and put herself back in the moment. Her vision tunneled down to the view she'd had through her lens, and she murmured, "Go ahead."
"Watch her face," Jude said softly. The camera had caught Saxon Sinclair in a three-quarter profile as she leaned close to the innocent, vulnerable young girl peering up at her through tear-softened eyes. The surgeon's full lips moved silently as she spoke to the child, but no sound was needed to convey the tenderness in her expression. There was a world of feeling in the depth of her eyes. "God, she's beautiful," Jude whispered, without realizing she had spoken aloud.
Melissa glanced at her quickly, stunned by her tone, and even more astonished by her expression. The way Jude was looking at the image of Sinclair made her instantly hot. She'd always wanted to see that look directed at her, but even second hand it was doing the trick. She definitely needed to find a date later.
"Jude…" she began tentatively.
"There! Right there…" Jude exclaimed, pointing at a frame she had frozen on the screen. "She stands up to begin her exam and, bam-look at her now."
Melissa looked. Cool, calm, completely composed. Sinclair was glacially removed from any part of the human drama raging around her. "Wow."
"Yes," Jude agreed softly. "Wow. Instant transformation-all emotion just-gone. Don't you see the contradiction in that? She's supposed to be the healer, only she also has to be-I don't know, detached and dispassionate. That's what makes her so good, but god, at what cost?"
Melissa thought about Sinclair and her obvious capability and her perfect control and wondered what she was like when that restraint broke. "I bet there's a powder keg behind those cool blue eyes," she muttered.
Jude chose to ignore that remark, but something inside her twisted as she thought about the glimpses of fire she'd seen in Sinclair's gaze. Clearing her throat, she instructed, "Now-go back and find Deb somewhere."
Into it now, excited, Melissa searched the footage. "Okay, here's where I got her when she first evaluated the little girl."
"Watch for that change."
After a few minutes, Melissa remarked, "It never happens."
"No," Jude agreed, "I didn't think it would. But it will-sometime this year. That's what Sinclair is going to teach her-how to do what needs to be done no matter the cost, to herself or anyone else. That's the critical lesson."
"And that's the angle," Melissa said almost reverently.
"Find me that moment, Mel. That's the story."
"What are you doing here?" Sax asked as she closed the door to her on-call room and turned to discover Jude leaning against the wall in the deserted hallway. Finding her there so unexpectedly, she was reminded of Maddy's request that she bring 'that director' along with her on her next trip north, and for one brief moment, she imagined Jude Castle behind her on the bike, body pressed to her back, arms around her waist, hands tucked into the curve of her thighs. She could feel the warmth of the redhead's hands cupping her. Her legs quivered unexpectedly, and she thrust her hands into her front pockets as if to hide the response.
"Waiting for Mel," Jude replied, uncharacteristically flustered at running into the woman she had just spent the last few hours studying. Even the stark, powerful images of the surgeon on tape paled in contrast to how compelling she was in the flesh. Feeling the need to elaborate, she added, "She's in the OR locker room. Shower-she's taking a shower."
"Ah," Sax replied carefully, raising one expressive brow. "Something wrong with the plumbing in her apartment?"
Laughing, Jude explained, "I dragged her here from the gym earlier, and we ended up taking a lot longer than I expected. We were reviewing some film and time got away from us."
"I'm sorry there's no bathroom in your on-call room. I'll get you a key for mine. You can shower there if you need to."
"Thanks," Jude responded, although the prospect of inadvertently walking in on Sinclair in the shower, or vice versa, was strangely unsettling. Trying to dispel the image of them in a small steamy room with one of them naked, she asked quickly, "What are you doing here? I thought you weren't due to be on call until the morning."
Now it was Sax's turn to be caught off-guard. She grinned a little sheepishly. "Just checking up on things. I was out of town for a while and I wanted to make sure everything was stable here."
"So," Jude said, "we're both working," adding under her breath, "why am I not surprised?" She wondered, though, if Sax really were working, considering what she was wearing. Totally in black, dusty and disheveled, she looked so unlike a doctor and so much more like a Soho artist or a bartender at one of the clubs Mel loved to frequent. It was difficult reconciling this vision with that of the woman she had watched conduct a masterpiece of high-tension drama just moments before. One thing she was certain of, though. The surgeon was intriguing. And sexy, she thought, remembering the way Sinclair's hands had moved so surely over flesh and bone. Without intending it, her gaze traveled from those hands that now rested part way in the pockets of low-slung jeans, up the long stretch of torso to linger briefly on the tantalizing hint of breasts beneath a body-hugging silk T-shirt, along the sculpted column of her neck, and finally over the angled architecture of her face to her eyes. Deep-blue eyes that were laser sharp and penetrating--and staring directly into hers. Jude blushed, feeling unexpectedly exposed. God, I'm standing here cruising her and she knows it. I never do that!
Completely unaware, both women took a step closer until they were only a few feet apart. Sax said quietly, watching the smooth ripple of blood surge and throb beneath the ivory skin of Jude's throat, "You should get some rest. Tomorrow's Friday and there's going to be a full moon. We'll get killed tomorrow night."
"You think?" Jude inquired, her voice so oddly thick she almost didn't recognize it. The air between them was nearly vibrating and her skin began to sing.
"Count on it," Sax murmured, captivated by the way Jude's lips began to darken and swell as her neck flushed a pale rose. A fist of fire forced the breath from her lungs and she almost gasped out loud.
"I will then. Get some sleep. Tonight," Jude managed, aware that she was having trouble forming sentences. In another second she'd be incoherent. Dear god. She caught herself leaning forward, drawn by the intensity of Sinclair's gaze on her mouth, and stunned, almost jumped back. For a heart stopping second, she thought Sinclair was going to take a step forward and close the distance between them, but, mercifully, a voice interrupted.
"Time for dinner?" Melissa asked lightly as she approached from down the hall, not entirely certain what she was seeing. It appeared for all the world like the two of them were about to jump each other. However, she knew that couldn't be true because Jude Castle just did not do that kind of thing. It wasn't because her drop-dead gorgeous friend was too uptight to do something risky or outrageous, she was just too preoccupied and too damn practical to do it. A pity, that was for sure. "You coming with us, Doctor?" she added.
Sax turned slowly to face the newcomer, her vision cloudy, as if she were underwater. Except she was anything but cool. Her entire body was hot; she was surprised she wasn't dripping sweat. The blood was roaring through her head and she wondered if either of the women next to her could sense the sex seeping from her pores. Jesus Christ.
"No," Sax replied, her voice low and gravelly. She cleared her throat as she straightened and stepped back. "No, I need to…uh…I have some things I need to take care of." She took another step away and pulled herself together, back from the edge. "Goodnight, Ms. Castle--Ms. Cooper."
The two women stood in silence, watching her walk away.
The silence stretched until Melissa cleared her throat and asked, "What was that all about?"
"Nothing," Jude responded, still slightly dazed. What in God's name just happened?
"Excuse me, but I could have sworn the two of you were about to start ripping each other's clothes off."
"We were just talking, Mel," Jude said a little more sharply than she had intended. She was too unsettled by her unanticipated and completely uncharacteristic reaction to make a joke of it. It was true that she found Sinclair to be a fascinating woman, as well as compellingly attractive, but she had met other interesting, eye-catching women in her life and they hadn't thrown her system into overdrive. It wasn't like her to respond so physically, so mindlessly, to anyone, but particularly not to a near stranger. Her legs were still quaking, and arousal thudded persistently between her legs. What she wanted at the moment was not dinner. What she wanted was to have Sinclair's hands on her. "Let's go," she said hoarsely, determined to ignore the wholly unwelcome signals her body was emphatically sending.
"Anything you say," Melissa responded as she hurried to keep pace with her friend, who was heading for the stairwell like the place was on fire. "But you've got to admit, she's fantasy material."
Jude didn't even want to consider that. She didn't have time for that kind of complication.
Sax swung one leg over her Harley and tilted her head back to the sky, breathing deeply. Her T-shirt clung to her chest, soaked through in places with sweat that was rapidly turning cool. She shivered in the heavy scorching night air, running a shaking hand through her hair, astonished at the tremor. Nothing made her hands shake, not fatigue or caffeine or disaster. Not even the perfunctory physiologic release of orgasm did what standing three feet away from Jude Castle, feeling the redhead's eyes move over her body, had done to her. Even now, she was burning. She glanced back at the hospital, half expecting to see Jude and Melissa emerge. She really didn't want to see the filmmaker again so soon, because it had taken all her restraint not to accept the offer to join the two of them for dinner. She didn't need any further stimulation; she needed to get her mind off those green eyes stripping her bare.
"This is really a bad idea."
"Why? We're not breaking any rules," Melissa pointed out. "And I promise to behave myself. I haven't tried to seduce you in at least three and half years."
"We have an early call tomorrow, in case you've forgotten," Jude responded grumpily, even as she handed over her twenty-dollar cover charge. "And I know you're not going to try to seduce me."
How do you know that, when I don't even know it myself? Mel thought, waving hello to one of the two bartenders who were working the length of a long bar that extended along one wall of the cavernous space. A heavy bass beat from speakers at either end of the room made the thick, hot atmosphere in the dimly lit room vibrate. She put her mouth close to Jude's ear and answered, "We don't have to stay late. After all the work we did this afternoon, I think we've earned a couple of drinks. I promise I'll get you home in plenty of time to catch a few hours of sleep, unless you want me to drop you off at your lawyer friend's for a quickie."
Jude gave her a scathing look, but it was hard to be annoyed in the face of Mel's irrepressible good humor. "All right, I agreed to come with you and I'm going to stop complaining. But you might have warned me about this place first."
Feigning innocence, Melissa lifted both hands in mock supplication. "What are you talking about?"
As they talked, they edged their way through the milling crowd of women toward the bar. Along the way, Jude couldn't help but notice that most of the women wore a combination of leather or denim. "This looks like some kind of leather bar. I would at least like to be able to dress the part if that's where you're going to take me."
"It's more of a biker bar, really," Melissa responded. She shouted to one of the bartenders for two beers. "Besides, you're wearing jeans. That's good enough." And if you think it matters one iota what you're wearing, you have no idea how hot you are.
Jude didn't comment on the fact that in addition to the rough trade atmosphere, there was an unmistakable aura of sex in the air, and she didn't need a guide to know what was happening in the murky recesses of the shadowy room. Under the strobing black lights, bodies seethed in a continuous fusion of arms and legs and searching hands.
"It doesn't bother you, does it?" Mel asked, leaning close to be heard as she passed her the beer. She indicated that Jude should follow as she cut a path through the crowd toward a post at one corner of an enormous dance floor. At midnight, the place was packed with writhing revelers in a simulation of dancing that came very close to public sex.
Jude pressed her back against the post to keep out of the stream of constantly moving people. She took a healthy swallow of her beer before answering, "You know it doesn't. Just because it isn't my particular style, doesn't mean I mind." She watched Mel, who was evidently cruising the crowd and asked, "But aren't I going to cramp your style?"
"No," Melissa answered, shaking her head. "I don't have the energy for it tonight anyway."
"My, my," Jude chided good-naturedly. "You were all primed earlier. Is our age showing?"
"Bite your tongue," Melissa snapped, but she was smiling. "I'm going to need some sleep tonight too, especially if we're going to be up until God knows when tomorrow. We'll just have a drink, think about what we're missing while we cruise all these gorgeous women, and toddle off home like good responsible professionals."
"In that case, I'll have another beer," Jude said, turning to make her way back toward the bar. She wasn't much of a drinker, so two beers were just about the right amount to make her feel mellow without making her act stupid. After her intense afternoon and evening of work and her disquieting encounter with Sinclair, unwinding a little seemed like a very good idea.
"Never mind, I'll get them," Melissa interjected, stopping her with a hand on her arm. "I have to go to the john anyhow."
"Okay, but if you pick someone up along the way, let me know. I can always get a cab home if you get tied up."
Melissa gave her a wide grin, and Jude punched her on the arm. "That isn't what I meant."
"I know, I know. I'll be back in a few minutes."
As her friend set off and was quickly swallowed up by the crowd, Jude turned back to the dance floor and idly observed the activities. Smoke hung like mist, and the strobes gave everyone an otherworldly appearance. Watching women moving against each other to the rhythm of the pulse pounding beat, hands disappearing beneath T-shirts, hips straddling thighs, and mouths seeking sweat-dampened skin, she became aware of her own body responding. She doubted she would have been as sensitive if she hadn't already been aroused when she arrived, but the time it taken them to grab a quick sandwich and to walk the few blocks to the bar had not been enough to dissipate the effects of the intensely erotic encounter she'd had in the hallway of the hospital with a woman she barely knew. That was not a thought she wanted to dwell on, and she tried to distract herself from thinking about it by glancing around.
The second time her gaze swept the shadows near the edge of the room, she caught her breath in surprise and pressed harder against the column that supported her, unconsciously attempting to hide from view. Barely ten feet away, Saxon Sinclair leaned against the wall, most of her body shrouded in darkness, but her face starkly highlighted in the flickering strobe light.
Irrationally, Jude didn't want the surgeon to know that she was there. Sinclair had obviously come straight to the club after leaving them earlier; she was still in her jeans and T-shirt. Standing with her head tilted back against the wall, one arm dangling by her side holding a longneck bottle loosely in her fingers, she appeared to be eerily removed from her surroundings. Jude was so close she could see sweat shining like jewels on her face. Her lids looked heavy, her eyes partially closed, and in any other setting Jude would have thought her half asleep. But that clearly wasn't the case. A woman, her back to Jude, was angled against Sinclair's side in such a way as to shield what she was doing from those nearby. From where Jude stood, however, she had an unimpeded view. With a gasp of astonishment and an unwelcome rush of irrational envy, she realized that the woman's hand was moving under Sinclair's shirt. And if the expression on Sinclair's face was any indication, the caress was a little more than casual. Jude knew she should look away, but the bleak beauty of Sinclair's arousal already mesmerized her.
Sax had no idea she was being observed. Her vision was unfocused as she stared unseeing above the heads of those around her. She felt the thunderous vibration of the music hammer through the floor and up her legs, a furtive accompaniment to the echoing surge deep inside her. She was dimly conscious of the heat from the woman leaning into her, but most of her awareness was focused on the cadenced movement of the woman's fingers on her bare skin. The muscles in her abdomen contracted involuntarily as the progressively firmer strokes trailed along her ribs and edged down toward the top of her jeans; the occasional rasp of a fingernail underscored the building pressure with a swift jolt of electricity that threatened to elicit a groan. She had never lost the hard, heavy fullness that had started in the hallway outside her on-call room, and by the time that this stranger had moved up beside her in the anonymous night of the darkened bar, her arousal had moved from pleasure to the edge of pain. Stiffening as a practiced hand discreetly opened the buttons on her fly, she worked to maintain her composure. She was willing to acknowledge her physical needs, and accepted the offered release, but emotionally she was determined to remain detached. Even as her hips involuntarily arched forward, her fingers tightening on the smooth cylinder of the beer bottle, she didn't look at the woman touching her. When skillful fingers unerringly found her, closing firmly along her length, her thighs shook with the effort to contain the explosion. She pressed her head hard against the wall, swallowing convulsively, struggling not to orgasm immediately. She forced herself to concentrate on the faces swimming in the crowd in front of her, meaning to distract herself from the rhythmic torment of the fingers now stroking harder and faster over her clitoris, pushing her closer to her limits. With sudden clarity, she found herself staring into the same incendiary gaze that had nearly demolished her a few hours earlier. She fell into Jude Castle's eyes, and came instantly.
Jude almost felt the orgasm as it flew across Sinclair's face, and watching her shudder--jaws clamped shut, body rigid--imagined she could hear her moan. Her own stomach clenched, a molten trail of fire searing along her spine, and for one precarious second, she feared she might go over with her. It took every shred of will power she possessed to contain the surging pulsations that gathered between her legs and threatened to peak as Sinclair's eyes fluttered closed with the last wrenching spasm.
Jude forced herself to breathe. Finally, with an effort that tested much more than her mental resolve, she dragged her eyes away from Sinclair's face. She didn't need to view anymore to know that she was going to be haunted by what she had seen.
When Sax finally opened her eyes, aftershocks still rippling through her, the woman who had delivered a brief wordless respite was gone, and so was Jude Castle.
"How did you sleep?" Melissa asked as she joined Jude at a table in the hospital cafeteria. She removed her coffee, a small carton of milk, and a cardboard box of cereal from a tray, sliding it onto the empty seat beside them. "Considering you didn't even want to stay to finish our second beer, I figured you must have been pretty beat."
In fact, she was desperately trying to figure out what had brought about the change in Jude's attitude in fifteen short minutes the night before. After maneuvering her way through the circuitous line to the bathroom and then clamoring over people in the bar line to secure two fresh beers, she had finally rejoined Jude only to discover that her friend wanted to leave immediately. Jude had kindly assured her she would grab a cab and had only waited to let her know she was leaving, but Mel figured she might as well go, too. She wasn't planning on scoring, and would've been too tired even if she had gotten lucky, so there was no point in hanging around. Nevertheless, she couldn't help feeling that something had happened while she was gone. Jude looked positively spooked and hadn't said more than two words the entire time it had taken them to walk back to the hospital and pick up Mel's car. No matter how hard she tried, Mel couldn't get Jude to say anything on the ride uptown either. Finally she had just given up and left her to her preoccupied silence.
"I slept fine," Jude said without elaboration. She was working on her second cup of coffee and trying valiantly to finish a bagel, because she knew it might be a very long time before she ate again, and she definitely didn't want any reason not to be sharp when she needed to be. The last thing she wanted was to get lightheaded from hunger in front of Sinclair. "I feel great."
She had no intention of telling Mel what she didn't want to think about herself. When she had arrived home the night before, she had been too keyed up to sleep. The walk to get Mel's car and the short ride home had mercifully taken the edge off her acute state of stimulation, but she was afraid if she got into bed wide awake, all she would do was think about how incredibly erotic Sinclair's face had been as she climaxed, and then the low-level of desire still humming along her nerve endings would flare into flame and she would never get to sleep. Not without relief. She knew it wouldn't take much, not considering how hot and hard she had been less than an hour before-a few well-placed strokes and a little pressure and she would lose it. Just what I need, she'd snarled to herself, jerk-off fantasies about a woman I have to see every day. God. Instead, she'd settled on a shower and shampoo to rid herself of the smoky, musky scent of the bar and her own pervasive excitement.
"Great," Melissa said, attacking her cornflakes with vigor. So don't tell me what's going on. Fine.
Jude muttered noncommittally, her mind still on the previous night. The shower had relaxed her and helped her get to sleep, but unfortunately it had done nothing to eradicate whatever unfinished business simmered in her imagination. An hour before dawn, she'd been jolted awake by her own sharp cry as the intensely sexual scenario she had been dreaming culminated in a violent orgasm. Gasping, heart racing, her palm pressed against the heat between her thighs, she had curled on her side and moaned into the darkness. Eyes wide open, searching the shadows, she had seen Saxon Sinclair's face.
"What?" Jude asked, vaguely aware that Mel had been speaking to her. Nothing like that had ever happened to her before. She had always enjoyed sex, and orgasm was usually easy to attain with a considerate partner, but she couldn't ever recall climaxing while asleep. But then again, she couldn't ever recall her body taking over quite the way it had the night before during a simple conversation either. For her, sex usually was a head thing. Lori was the perfect example. When they had met at the home of a mutual acquaintance, she had found the bright, outgoing attorney attractive, but that wasn't really the primary motivating factor behind her acceptance when Lori had suggested they see one another again. After having talked with her for several hours at the party, comparing notes on professional goals and relationship philosophies, Jude had realized they would make a good pair. Dating Lori just made good sense.
Nothing about what had happened the previous evening with Saxon Sinclair made sense. In fact, thinking about it made her head hurt. Even worse, thinking about it made her body pick up where it had left off in the early morning hours. She absolutely could not walk around for the next thirty hours in a state of arousal. Resolutely, she picked up her bagel and began to eat.
"Hello? Earth to Jude?"
Startled, Jude stopped in mid-bite and stared across the table. Mel was regarding her with a quizzical expression. "What?"
"You said that already," Melissa commented dryly. "I feel like I'm in the middle of an Abbott and Costello scene. Pretty soon I'm going to ask 'Who's on first?'"
"Sorry," Jude replied, firmly banishing all thoughts of sex and sexy surgeons from her consciousness. "Where were we?"
"Uh…I was asking about the game plan for today?"
Thankfully back on familiar ground, Jude informed her, "Deb left a message on my machine that she's doing an 8 AM surgery, so I want to tape it. I asked Jerry to meet us here at 6:30 to set up the sound in the OR. While he's here I want him to look at the situation in the trauma admitting area, too. Maybe we can fiddle with the mic placements down there and boost our sound quality a little bit. I think it's okay, but I don't want to miss anything critical during an alert."
"It won't hurt to check," Melissa agreed. "How do you want to play it during this live surgery thing?"
"Deb said that she'd be doing a lot of the case, so I think our focus should be on showing her level of responsibility now. Then we can contrast it to the changes at the end of the year."
"That makes sense if we're going to focus on her transition from trainee to full-fledged trauma surgeon." Melissa indicated the bagel on the plate Jude had pushed aside. "Are you going to eat that?"
"No," Jude said, still thinking about the upcoming shoot. "Take it. We also need to get the interaction between Sinclair and Deb this morning. Whenever they're together, that's where the action will be."
"Uh huh," Melissa said, reaching for the bagel, "I've got a feeling wherever Sinclair is, that's where the action is."
"For Christ's sake, Mel, can't you keep it in your pants once in a while?" Jude snapped. "At least while we're working?"
Melissa gaped at her, astonished by her implacable friend's quick flare of temper. "Jude? Hello? Are you in there? Did the pod people visit your apartment last night?"
"Hell, I'm sorry," Jude said immediately. She shrugged her shoulders, trying to release some of the tension. "It's just that I've got a lot riding on this project."
"Sure," Melissa said easily, although she considered that explanation total bullshit. Whatever burr Jude had up her butt, it had to do with Saxon Sinclair, because every time the woman's name was mentioned, Jude went into orbit. However, poking a sore spot was not her intention. "Why don't we divide and conquer? I'll head over to the OR with my gear, and you can meet Jerry and check the sound system down in the trauma admitting area?"
"Thanks, Mel," Jude said appreciatively, squeezing her friend's forearm briefly. "I'll meet you upstairs in half an hour...and I'll try to find my sense of humor along the way."
Melissa watched her walk away, wondering what it was about Saxon Sinclair and Jude Castle that she was missing.
"Just make sure you don't touch anything that's green," the scrub nurse said with practiced nonchalance. "All the green sheets are sterile." It wasn't the first time she'd had to contend with visitors in the OR, and it usually fell to her to make sure they didn't contaminate the sterile surgical field. The surgeons were usually too busy working, or too busy talking to the media people, to pay attention to that kind of detail.
"Right," Jude said, standing out of the way as Deb entered the twenty by twenty foot windowless space escorting her patient along with several nurses. The entire bed had been wheeled down the hall from the TICU to the operating suite, apparently to avoid the necessity of moving the patient and all the life-support equipment twice. She looked over at Mel to make sure her camera was rolling. It was unnecessary, but it was a habit she would never be able to break.
Once the patient was situated, Deb left to scrub her hands at the large industrial size stainless steel sinks just outside the door. Jude was surprised that Sinclair was nowhere in evidence. She had assumed that the trauma chief would be participating in the operation with Deb. Occupying herself with dictating her log, noting the time and particulars of the taping session, she refused to acknowledge her disappointment. She'd already spent too much of her morning thinking about Sinclair.
A few minutes later, the trauma fellow returned, keeping her hands elevated above the level of her elbows so that the water would not stream down from the upper part of her arms to her hands, potentially contaminating them. The scrub nurse handed Deb a towel, then helped her into a sterile gown, and gloved her. While this was happening, the circulating nurse exposed the patient and painted the twenty something-year-old man's neck, chest, and abdomen with an antiseptic iodine solution. Twenty minutes later, Deb had finished a tracheostomy and had moved on to his abdomen, where she made an incision that started at his breastbone and ended just below his umbilicus.
"A tracheostomy is necessary because his lungs were damaged by all the fluid we needed to give him during resuscitation as well as by toxic breakdown products from injured tissue. He'll need ventilator support for quite a while," Deb explained as she worked. "Plus, we don't expect him to be conscious and able to eat for at least a few weeks. That's why I'm going to put a feeding tube directly into his intestine so that he can be fed that way."
At that moment, the door opened, and Sax entered. The atmosphere in the room altered perceptibly, or so it seemed to Jude. The light banter that had been flowing easily between the members of the operating team suddenly ceased, the unexpected silence echoing pointedly. Sax appeared not to notice, but moved up close behind her fellow.
"Same case, Stein?" she asked with a hint of challenge in her deep voice. "You've been in here for forty minutes already. I've finished the newspaper and I'm running out of things to read."
"I'm about half done," Deb said, apparently unperturbed by the mild heckling.
"Well, just don't make it your life's work," Sinclair commented sharply as she peered over Deb's shoulder into the wound. "Did you run the bowel yet?"
"Not yet. I just got into the belly."
"Make sure you do."
With that, Sax backed away from the operating table and crossed to Jude's side. "Good morning."
"Good morning," Jude replied, meeting Sax's eyes above the surgical mask that crossed the bridge of her nose and concealed the rest of her face. She hoped her voice sounded calm, because she felt anything but. She hadn't been sure what to expect from their first face-to-face meeting following the previous evening's unintentional intimacy-an awkward embarrassment at the very least. When Sinclair's eyes held hers unflinchingly, unapologetically, it wasn't discomfiture she felt, but an unanticipated excitement. She knows I saw her last night in the bar and she doesn't care.
"Everything going all right?" Sax asked, nodding toward Melissa opposite them with her video equipment.
"Yes, fine," Jude replied. Here we are discussing business like nothing ever happened. First I watched you have sex and then I spent half the night lusting after you. This is nuts. She put her jumbled emotions firmly from her mind and concentrated on her work. "Can I ask a question?"
Sax considered Jude silently for a moment, remembering the astonishing feeling of being driven to orgasm by the mere image of her face. She couldn't ever remember anyone moving her so powerfully, even when they were actually in bed together. I wonder if she has any idea what she did to me?
"Go ahead," Sax said, matching Jude's casual tone.
"What does it mean to run the bowel?" She wanted to know, but mostly she wanted to think about something--anything--other than how heart-stoppingly beautiful Sinclair had looked as she was about to come.
Sax's eyes, the only part of her face visible, revealed a mixture of amusement and regret. Well, that answers that question. Our exchange last night obviously had more of an effect on me than it did on her.
"She needs to physically examine all of the internal organs to be sure there is no damage or disease. One of the easiest ways to do that is to gently pull the intestine through her fingers, so she can check for any tears or tumors or vascular damage. Then she'll hold the bowel aside to look at the liver and spleen and palpate the kidneys et cetera."
Jude watched Sinclair's face while she spoke and something in her tone, and the intensity in her eyes, struck a chord. She had that disconcerting feeling of déjà vu again, and just as she was about to recall from where, Deb called, "Dr. Sinclair?" and Sax looked away.
"I think the gallbladder's necrotic."
"Excuse me," Sax said, turning briskly to the OR table. "Suzanne, get some gloves for me. I'm scrubbing in."
An hour later, Deb joined Jude in the OR lounge. She pushed change into the soda machine and after retrieving her Coke, dropped onto the couch and propped her feet on the coffee table.
"Did the boss leave?" Deb asked.
"Yes," Jude replied. "She said she had a chief's meeting." They'd bumped into each other, almost literally, in the locker room. To Jude's surprise, even without the benefit of masks to cover any awkwardness, their exchange had been comfortable. She hadn't been embarrassed, nor did Sinclair seem to be. Why should we be? It was hardly anything to be ashamed of. We're both adults and it might be assumed that we both have sex. But it wasn't the fact of what she had witnessed, or even where she had seen it, but the fact that she couldn't forget how she'd felt watching it that was driving her crazy. She'd been as aroused as she'd ever felt with someone touching her for real.
"Great case, huh?" Deb continued, oblivious to Jude's distraction.
Grateful for the diversion, Jude indicated her dictaphone. "Can I tape?"
"Sure," Deb said, taking a deep swallow of her soda. "God, I get so dehydrated when I operate."
"What do you do during long cases?"
"Ignore it," Deb said with a shrug.
"So why was this a great case?"
The attractive strawberry blonde grinned her trademark grin. "Because I got to do an open gallbladder, which we don't get to do very much anymore since most of the time it's done through a laparoscope. You know--a small periscope that gets introduced into the abdomen through a tiny incision. Plus, besides getting to actually cut the gallbladder out, Sinclair assisted me."
"Is that unusual?" Jude asked. She had managed to get close enough to the table to observe Sinclair and Deb work, and she had been impressed that Sinclair didn't seem to be doing much except verbally leading Deb through the operation.
"It is for the first week of a trauma fellowship when she hasn't worked with me very often before. She pretty much let me do the whole thing."
"I was surprised," Jude acknowledged. "Why wasn't she there for the entire surgery?"
"This was a pretty straightforward case. She has to be around somewhere in the vicinity, in case there's a problem, but it's up to her how much I do on my own. So she was probably in the OR lounge most of the time."
"Is that..." Jude hesitated, searching for the word. "Legal?"
Deb glanced at the clock, drained her soda, and tossed it in a nearby waste paper basket. "I don't think there's any legality involved. This is a training program. How much I do is up to her. I am a licensed physician, and in theory, I could walk out the door and start my own practice right now. I'm only here for more experience."
Jude chose her words carefully. "What if you weren't... competent? I mean, what if you weren't ready to be by yourself?"
"It's up to Sinclair to decide that." Deb grinned again. Then, with an expression that reminded Jude very much of Saxon Sinclair's, she said, "but you don't need to worry. Everyone's always said I've got good hands."
Jude laughed as she clicked off her recorder. Surgeons. Then again, I suppose if you're going to have someone cutting into you, you want them to be confident about it.
Personal Project Log - Castle
July 5 10:01 a.m.
Digital Reference Marks 3025-4150
This is the kind of thing that will make or break us -- this uncensored view of on the job training. Is the average viewer really ready to see how physicians are made? I read this book when I was a kid, The Making of a Surgeon, and I remember being absolutely fascinated by how easily mistakes could happen even when everyone was trying their very best. I don't suppose that book could get written today, because in today's world, what doctor is going to admit that things go wrong on a daily basis? Not necessarily big things, or fatal errors, but definitely things that could turn out to be disastrous. [Note: ask Deb or Sinclair how the threat of litigation affects their decision-making process]. Maybe that's why Sinclair didn't want us filming in real time -- she didn't want us to expose the potential dangers in the system ... laugh... yeah right, Castle. She's definitely the type to be scared by publicity. Exposure does not seem to be a problem for her.
Jude clicked off the recorder and took a deep breath. That was a line of thought she did not want to pursue.
"May I help you?" the stylishly dressed, auburn-haired woman asked Jude in a pleasant but reserved tone.
"I'm Jude Castle from Horizon Productions," she said, glancing past the woman to the door at the rear of the alcove that opened into what must be Sinclair's formal office. She heard a murmur of voices coming from within and wished she could get a clear view inside. "Dr. Sinclair told me I could stop by for a copy of her CV."
"Of course," Sax's secretary responded, turning to a bank of file cabinets and opening one of the drawers. Within seconds, she handed Jude a surprisingly large document. "I'm Naomi Riley, Dr. Sinclair's personal secretary. If you need any assistance with schedules or information about the training program, just call me."
"Thanks," Jude responded. "Perhaps you could help me arrange a time for a formal interview. I know she's busy..."
"I'll have to get back to you on that," Naomi replied in a practiced manner that suggested Jude might hear from her in the next millennium.
Laughing, Jude explained, "I didn't have much luck the last time I tried, but maybe she'll be a little more receptive now that we've met."
"I'm sure she'll make every effort," the secretary said smoothly, "but her schedule is always full."
"I understand. I'll check back with you." There was no point in making a fuss about it at this point. A two-front attack might gain better results anyhow. She'd speak to Sinclair later, who would undoubtedly refer her back to her secretary. At least then she could tell Naomi Riley that she and Sinclair had discussed it and that might get her one step closer. Despite the fact that she saw the surgeon frequently during the day, it was hard to pin her down long enough for questions and answers. She needed to have the formality of a scheduled appointment to talk to Sinclair both about Deb's training as well as her own background. Jude still knew almost nothing about her, and, considering what she had observed, the irony of that fact did not escape her.
"Okay. Thanks again," she said absently as she walked away, already skimming the first pages of the extensive curriculum vitae. On the surface, it was pretty much what she had expected. Sinclair had been educated at a liberal arts college in the Northeast and had gone on to an Ivy League medical school. Her general surgical training had been at yet another top-ranked hospital and she had completed her trauma fellowship right here in Manhattan at Bellevue, where apparently she then joined the staff.
Jude stopped suddenly, causing the person behind her to nearly collide with her. "Sorry," she mumbled distractedly as she moved over to the wall out of the stream of foot traffic. She reread the words - Trauma Attending, Bellevue hospital -- and the dates. Abruptly, she stuffed the document into her briefcase and resumed walking.
Jude took a chance that nothing would happen for the next few hours. She stopped at a street vendor's cart and bought a cold soda and a bag of hot nuts, and walked until she found a patch of shade in a postage stamp-sized park. She didn't think about much of anything at all for a while, but occupied her mind with the always entertaining street parade of passersby that was New York City. When she'd finished her nuts and settled her mind, she got up and walked back to the hospital, determined that the past would not rule her present, or her future.
She found Aaron Townsend alone in the trauma admitting area, doing what he usually did when no patients were there -- moving outdated drugs and instrument packs onto carts to be disposed of or recycled and taking inventory of what he needed to order or replenish. He glanced over at her with a welcoming smile when she walked in.
"Hi. Have you seen Melissa?" Jude asked, smiling back.
"About an hour ago. She said something about taking a nap -- actually, I think she referred to it as stockpiling zees. She's probably in your on-call room," he offered.
"How about Deb?" she asked, thinking that she might use this time to get some more background.
"I think she's up on the roof with Sinclair."
Damn. I never should've left. Anxiously, she asked, "At the helipad? Is there a trauma alert?"
"If there is, nobody told me. They're just up there passing the time until we get some action. I'm sure they won't mind if you join them."
She hesitated for a moment, and then thought, Why not? She grabbed a small DVcam from the equipment locker her crew had left and waved goodbye to Aaron. This was a good opportunity to get the footage she'd wanted of Deb during the downtime, the inevitable periods of inactivity between trauma alerts. After nearly a week she was getting used to the routine. The morning was usually taken up with rounds in the trauma unit followed in the afternoon by the completion of any work that needed to be done for the patients -- changing intravenous lines, replacing or inserting chest tubes, minor bedside surgeries, review of x-rays and other aspects of daily care. Unlike most specialists, however, trauma surgeons were not free to leave once the work was done. State law required that every level one trauma unit have qualified surgeons on site in the hospital twenty-four hours a day, as well as stipulating which specialists needed to be available for immediate backup call. All of which meant that there were sometimes lengthy periods during a twenty-four hour shift when the entire team was just waiting.
Jude exited the elevator on the top floor of the parking garage and walked up the ramp toward the helipad. Before she even turned the corner onto the flat rectangular landing section, she heard raised voices and an odd, repetitive pounding. She stopped abruptly when she got her first view of Sinclair and Stein. She leaned against the upright support of the elevated parking ramp and raised her videocamera.
"You're slipping, Stein. You're out of shape," Sax taunted, dropping her right shoulder and driving past the blond. She pulled up twelve feet from the basket and sank the jump shot easily. It was two o'clock in the afternoon, and the sun beat down furiously on the concrete surface of the roof. She was in scrubs and her shirt was plastered to her back with sweat. Rivulets of moisture ran down her face, and she had to continuously wipe her eyes with her bare forearm. Surprisingly, she was four points ahead. "Yeah, looks like I'm gonna whip your butt."
"You know, I was trying to be nice," Deb remarked conversationally as she caught the ball on its way through the basket. "Considering your age and the fact you're my boss and all."
"Yeah, sure right," Sax grunted, unsuccessfully attempting to strip the ball from her fellow's hands as Deb dribbled hand to hand, a cocky grin on her face. "What a load of..."
"But now I'm not feeling so charitable."
Deb blew by her so quickly and so effortlessly, Sax was left standing with her mouth open. By the time she got her wits together, she managed to get her hands on the ball only to have Deb immediately steal it away. For the next five minutes she was treated to a display of athletic prowess that was infinitely more satisfying than anything she had ever seen in competition, because there was nothing behind it now except joy. Deb wasn't trying to beat anyone, not even her. She was just having fun. Sax made a valiant effort to get back in the game, but it soon became apparent that would only happen if Deb were feeling kindhearted.
Finally, she called, "That's it, Stein. Gimme my ball. I don't wanna play with you anymore."
Deb looked over and saw her chief smiling, although she was pretty sure she detected a bit of frustration in her eyes as well. Surgeons were competitive about everything; it was just the nature of the beast. Ignoring caution and diplomacy, Deb didn't even try to hide her triumphant grin. She tossed Sinclair's ball back to her, and replied, "Thanks for the game, Chief."
"Yeah, sure right," Sax muttered. She turned, ball under her arm, and noticed Jude, fifteen feet away and still taping. "Turn that damn thing off unless you want me to toss it off the roof."
Jude stopped the videocamera and actually held it protectively behind her back for a second before she saw the smile pulling at the corner of Sinclair's mouth. "What's the matter? Afraid to have a permanent record of you getting your ass kicked?"
"It's her first week," Sax said, coming to stand by Jude's side. "I was going easy on her."
"Yes, I noticed," Jude said as she looked from one to the other. Both were flushed and sweating, but neither was breathing hard. The two of them were damned attractive women, but only one of them made her heart skip a beat. Looking away from Sinclair's dazzling smile, she added, "I especially observed how you let her have a few shots there at the end."
Deb snorted disdainfully. "Tell you what. Next time I'll take on both of you."
"Oh no," Jude quickly countered. "Not me."
Deb muttered something that sounded like chicken, then waved goodbye as she headed toward the elevators. Jude found herself alone with Sinclair, and for a moment she wasn't sure what to say. They were standing three feet apart, Sax with the basketball still under her arm, Jude with her camera tucked under hers. They stared at one another while a faint breeze lifted the hair at the backs of their necks but did little to cool the shimmering heat reflected from the stone surface.
"We should get out of the sun," Jude said softly, aware that Sinclair was watching her intently.
"You're right," Sax agreed quietly. She was hot and she wanted a drink, but mostly she wanted to touch her fingertips to the fine mist of sweat on Jude Castle's cheek. Not a good idea. The last time you had thoughts like this you ended up with your back against the wall and a stranger's hand in your pants. Time to get a grip here. "Do you play?"
For a second, Jude couldn't make sense of the question. "Basketball?" she asked, cringing when she realized how inane she must sound.
What else? Grinning, Sax nodded. "Yes."
"Not well enough to put myself up against the two of you. I'd like to keep my body parts intact for a while longer."
"It's all in fun," Sax said as she took a few steps closer to the waist high, concrete wall that edged the rooftop parking lot/helipad.
Jude came up beside her and looked down to the street twenty stories below. "I could see that. It's a great segment."
Sax laughed. "Do you look at everything through your camera first?"
"I wasn't looking through my camera last night," Jude rejoined sharply before she could stop herself.
"Ah, that's true," Sax responded evenly, momentarily surprised that Jude had brought it up, but quickly realizing that she probably shouldn't be. From their first encounter, Jude had been direct and straightforward in dealing with her. Sax rested the ball by her feet and leaned both hands on top of the wall. Still looking out over the city, she added, "Is there something I should apologize for? I didn't mean for what happened to happen..." I didn't mean for you to see. And I sure didn't mean to go off just from knowing you were watching. Frustrated at not being able to explain it to herself, let alone Jude, she shrugged helplessly. "I'm sorry…"
"No, I'm sorry," Jude acknowledged quickly, belatedly aware that Sinclair had not met anything critical by the camera remark. It wasn't the first time someone had accused her of using her lens to put a barrier between herself and the world, and she had reacted defensively. As with all good defenses, she had attacked. "Absolutely nothing happened last night that you need apologize for. My remark was way out of line."
"No harm, no foul," Sax said, looking at her now. "Shall we simply chalk it up to unusual circumstances then?"
"I think that would be wise," Jude said, smiling slightly. Because otherwise, we'll have to blame it on some kind of mutual insanity, and I'm not quite ready for that.
Reluctantly, Jude started to turn away. "I should probably find my photographer and review this morning's tape while things are quiet. If we get a first look now, it will save us time in the long run."
"You might want to catch some rest while you can. You never know what the night will bring."
"Is that what you're going to do?" Jude asked, and then thought perhaps she was getting too personal.
"No, I think I'm going to find Aaron and play a little chess. Unless you'd like a game?"
"No thanks," Jude said hastily.
"Are you afraid I won't be able to tolerate getting blown out of the water twice in one day?" Her delivery was light but her expression was probing.
Jude averted her gaze and backed up several steps. "I have no doubt you could hold your own."
"Not against you I couldn't," Sax said matter-of-factly. "But I don't mind trying. I'm curious, though, as to why you don't want anyone to know."
"Probably because I spent ten years having people watch me play," Jude said with a tired sigh. "How in hell did you know? I doubt there's another person in this entire city who could even tell you that there's such a thing as a world chess team."
It was Sax's turn to shrug. "Once upon a time chess was about the only thing I enjoyed. I'm just a good amateur, but whenever I'm interested in something, I read everything I can get my hands on about it. When I first started playing, you were still playing the world circuit. Who could forget a champion chess player named Castle?"
"Believe me, I got ribbed a lot about that," Jude said, smiling for real this time.
"Why did you quit?"
"I was seventeen years old, and I'd been playing since I was five. I was tired of all the attention, and I was tired of traveling, and I was tired of not being a normal kid." Jude shrugged, surprised at how easily she could talk about it. She never talked about it with anyone. Melissa was probably her closest friend at the moment and she didn't even know. She'd never discussed it with Lori. Her family was still too stunned, and on some level, still too angry at her for turning away from what was so clearly an enormous talent, to even talk about it. "Then on one of the tours, I got to know some of the people who were doing a documentary about... unusual kids, and I became enchanted with the idea of filmmaking. I quit the circuit and started studying film."
From in front of the camera to behind it, Sax thought. "So, if I promise to keep your secret, will you play me?"
Jude laughed, suddenly feeling much more carefree than she could remember being in a long time. "Is everything a game to you?"
"Not everything," Sax said, smiling as she said it, although her eyes held something serious in their depths. "But almost. Are you going to answer my question?"
"All right, Dr. Sinclair. Let's play."
"What do you think they're doing?" Aaron asked quietly.
"I don't know," Melissa admitted, easing her feet down off the counter and trying to get a clearer view of the board angled between Jude and Sinclair. "I thought they were playing at first," she remarked to Aaron, who sat beside her finishing some paperwork, "but it takes longer than ten minutes to play a game, doesn't it?"
The blond nodded. "Usually, unless you're not very good, and Sinclair is."
"Well, they've set the board up six times in the last hour, and they both look very…grim," Melissa observed. "Do you think this could lead to bloodshed?"
Observing the intent expression on the surgeon's face, Aaron shrugged. "Very possibly. Sinclair takes no prisoners."
While Melissa tried to decide if she should interrupt them, possibly saving her good friend from psychological trauma, Jude whispered for the sixth time--too softly for anyone else to hear, "Checkmate."
Sax stared at the board, playing the next half dozen moves in her mind to the inevitable outcome, seeing now where she had left herself open. Finally she murmured, "Well, that's an improvement. I actually made seven moves this time before I blew it."
"We can stop," Jude offered. It didn't matter that she hadn't touched a board in years; there was no way she could not play the way she played. That was one reason she never played for entertainment.
"Why?" Sax asked, raising her eyes to Jude's, a hint of challenge in her voice. "Afraid I might take you next time?"
For a moment, Jude wasn't sure how to respond. Deciding that diplomacy was probably best, she began, "Doctor Sinclair…"
"Sax," Sax interrupted.
"Sax," Jude said with a smile, "I just thought you might want a break…"
"No, you didn't. You figured I must be tired of getting thrashed and you don't think I have a chance in hell of beating you. Right?"
"But it could happen, right?" Sax persisted. "Maybe not the next game, or the tenth game, or the hundredth game-but it could happen."
Laughing, Jude nodded. "Possibly. Why not? But are you planning on making this your life's work?"
"Maybe," Sax replied, liking the way she laughed--thinking she hadn't seen her look so relaxed before, and liking that, too. "I know I'm a long way from giving up."
"Are you always so persistent?" Jude asked.
"Only when it matters."
There was something in her tone and the way that her gaze played over Jude's face that made Jude's heart race. She flushed, then cursed herself for being so damn susceptible to the surgeon's intense good looks and inescapable charm. She's probably like this with everyone. And why does everything she says go right to my…damn…I'm the one who needs a break.
"Do you want to stop?" Sax asked quietly, very aware of their thighs touching lightly as they pressed close over the game board.
"Oh no," Jude said just as quietly. "Not if you don't."
"Good," Sax responded as she began to set her pieces on the board.
Personal Project Log - Castle
July 7 - 2:27a.m.
This is the first break we've had since a little after 6 p.m. Stein's in the OR now, and we're not taping because I don't think Mel can hold the camera anymore. It's been nonstop downstairs in the trauma admitting area for eight hours. It started with a rush-hour pile up on the bridge involving three cars, a tractor-trailer, and a row of yellow hazard cones. I don't know the total number of injured, even now, but I know some came here and some went to Bellevue and some to a couple of the other level one trauma centers. Sax had to call in the backup team when three people needed immediate surgery for internal injuries and she needed to be available for more incoming. Several got transferred directly from here to the burn unit at NYU. Deb had to stabilize those people before they could be moved, and there's some incredible footage on that... I never realized before how lucid burn victims are right after their injury, and how very little pain they may actually have. Deb explained that with major burns the nerve endings are destroyed so there isn't much acute discomfort. I have to say it made it a lot easier knowing that. [Note: check DRM 5500... there's a segment here of Deb explaining to one of the patients what happened to him and what his injuries were. He asked her if he was going to die. He was very calm. I couldn't see her eyes, because they never moved from his. She didn't hesitate when she answered him, and there was something in the tone of her voice... an absolute certainty... that made you trust her when she told him he was going to be all right. I've heard that tone before, and I know the strength that was in her eyes. She's got it, whatever that thing is that makes some people able to connect with you so powerfully... so quickly... that you believe]
Mel's already crashed. Deb's with Sax finishing a case in the OR. I'm going to stay up and talk to them as soon as they finish. Oh…Note: Episode Title: In the Trenches…
July 7 - 3:40 a.m.
Jude was awakened by a knock on the door. Sitting up in confusion, it took her a few seconds to get oriented. Hospital. On-call room. Damn, I fell asleep. Mel was snoring lightly on the other bed, fully clothed, one arm dangling over the side. Rising hastily, she crossed to the door and opened it. She blinked as the light from the hall struck her, even though the overhead fluorescents had been turned off, as they usually were at night, and only the running lights along the wall provided faint illumination.
"Hey," Sax said quietly, realizing from Jude's perplexed expression that she'd been asleep. "Sorry to wake you, but we have another one coming. I didn't know if you wanted to be called..."
"No," Jude said quickly. "I do, thanks. What is it, do you know?"
"Reports are it's a taxi versus bicycle collision. The cyclist lost."
"At three o'clock in the morning?"
Sax smiled. "It's the city that never sleeps."
"Apparently," Jude grumbled as she watched Sax walk off down the hall. Turning to her bunkmate, she called, "Wake up, sunshine. We've got work."
Jude was jolted into a state of hyper alertness by the arrival of the EMTs, all thought of her previous exhaustion gone. The glaringly harsh lights in the trauma bay, the clatter of wheels over uneven tiles, the hubbub of voices--the general sense of excitement mixed with anxiety--produced a bizarre kind of high that was oddly exhilarating.
The now-familiar routine began again. A male EMT called, "Vehicle versus pedestrian, unresponsive in the field…multiple facial fractures, probable pneumothorax, open left femur fracture… BP 100 over 60."
Mel, with Jude practically glued to her back, maneuvered closer with her camera as Deb and Sax, along with Aaron and several other nurses, moved the young man onto the treatment table.
"Anybody got a name?" Sax asked as Deb began the initial assessment.
"There's a wallet in his pants," Aaron replied as he slit the garment up the sides with large utility scissors. "Uh…Mark Houseman."
"Mark," Sax said forcefully as she leaned close to his face, gently lifting one swollen lid. "You've been in an accident. You're at…"
Bellevue…Can you tell me your name…
Jude blinked, forcing herself to focus on the man on the table. The voice is the same, the words are the same, but it is not you. Not this time. Her vision cleared and the first surge of nausea disappeared. The relief that followed was like a stone lifted from her soul.
"Left pupil's fixed and dilated," Sax proclaimed. "Aaron, call neurosurg and get them in here. He needs to be decompressed."
"Chest tube's in," Deb announced as she connected the thick plastic tube to a negative pressure collection chamber that would reinflate his lung and evacuate blood and fluid from his chest. Continuing her exam, she noted, "His mid-face is unstable…feels like there's an open fracture of the mandible, too."
"How's his airway?" Sax asked, although she had already checked.
"He'll need to be trached," Deb replied. "There's a lot of swelling in the posterior pharynx, and with all the facial fractures…"
"Let's do it now, then," Sax interjected, pleased that Deb had made a quick, accurate assessment. "Aaron, get the trach tray open."
"Have we heard from neurosurg?" Sax asked the room in general as she stepped back from the table.
"Pam Arnold's on her way in. She said half an hour," another nurse answered.
Jude edged closer to Sax, waiting for a break in the action. "Can you talk?" she asked quietly when the surgeon seemed to be free.
"Go ahead," Sax responded, watching Deb prep the man's neck for the tracheostomy.
"Why isn't the neurosurgeon here in the hospital like you are?"
"Because state law only requires that subspecialists be available within a reasonable period of time, and if I insisted that the neurosurgeons and orthopedists and plastic surgeons take call like we do, they'd all quit. We have a bigger staff than those divisions, plus they have much heavier day-to-day elective schedules. They can't work all night and then all the next day very often without burning out."
"Okay," Jude said with a nod, that detail clarified. "One more question-what about consent for the procedures you're doing on this guy. How do you handle that with no family here and him unconscious?"
"Deb…make sure you keep the incision right in the midline…there's a lot of swelling in his neck so watch your landmarks." Sax looked at Jude directly for the first time. "In an emergency situation we can legally perform any life-saving procedure indicated. Once he's stabilized and upstairs in the TICU, though, we'll need family or a court order to give permission before we do anything else."
"Tonight then, what you say goes?"
"Pretty much," Sax agreed. "So, how are you doing?"
Jude wasn't sure what the surgeon was asking, or why, and for an instant she bristled at the intrusion. The look in Sax's eyes, though, was too unwavering, and too warm, to be objectionable. "I'm fine-not even tired. And I think I'm past the-personal stuff."
"Immersion therapy?" Sax asked with a wry smile. "Every trauma has a lot of similarities. It's the little details that make the difference."
"Yes," Jude said, realizing that viewing it over and over was helping her distance herself in a way that actually healed. "But you're good with the details, aren't you?"
It was Sax's turn to wonder what was behind the statement, but at that moment a stately blond in a silk blazer and slacks walked in, looking like she'd just left the country club. "Excuse me," Sax murmured, watching the woman pull a cover gown over her clothes as she approached.
"Hello, Saxon," the blond said in a throaty tone that reminded Jude of Lauren Bacall.
"Pam," Sax replied smoothly.
"What do you have?"
"Closed head injury, panfacial fractures, blown pupil," Deb answered as she finished tying in the trach tube.
"Not done yet," Sax informed the neurosurgeon, who was assessing Mark Houseman's reflexes and general muscle tone.
"Can we send him down now?" Pam Arnold inquired. "I'd like to get him upstairs and get this done. I've got a lumbar laminectomy scheduled for eight, and that patient's already waited two months. I don't want that case to be bounced."
"Deb?" Sax asked.
"He's good to go," Deb affirmed with a nod. "Airway's clear…vital signs are good."
"Excellent," the neurosurgeon commented, pulling off her cover gown. "You still owe me dinner," she tossed over her shoulder to Sax as she watched her patient being transferred to a stretcher for the trip to radiology.
Jude couldn't hear Sax's reply, but she didn't need to. The satisfied smile on the blond's model perfect face told the story. You didn't really expect that someone like Sinclair would be unattached, did you? And why should it matter anyway?
Personal Project Log - Castle
July 25 - 9:45 a.m.
I'm finally going to get my official interview with Sinclair this morning. Even though I've seen her on and off every couple of days for the last three weeks, there hasn't been a good time for us to talk at any length. If she isn't it the middle of a trauma and up to her ears in blood, she's running to a meeting, or unwinding with Deb or Aaron. The term Trauma team is apt-when they're not actually working, they're playing together. It diffuses the tension, I think - the basketball, the chess, hanging around in the OR lounge kibitzing. [Note: Need a segment…or a series of sidebars…on their intense personal relationships-the bonding is very reminiscent of groups under severe stress, like police or firefighters, or soldiers-title it, Officer's Club maybe] I just couldn't cut into that time with more questions for them. Sinclair's been good about answering technical details…I haven't been able to get her to fill in the blanks in her CV for me, though…in fact, looking back over interviews she's given, she manages to sidestep personal questions entirely. There's something off and I can't put my finger on it…
"Ms. Castle?" Naomi Riley asked, interrupting Jude's quietly murmured dictation. "Dr. Sinclair is ready for you."
"Yes, okay," Jude replied, hastily pocketing her recorder. "Thanks."
When she walked into Sax's office she was surprised to see how spacious it was, with windows on two walls that commanded a breathtaking view, a small oriental carpet in front of a decidedly non-institutional antique mahogany desk, and a matching leather sofa and chair set. Saxon Sinclair, in an elegantly cut dark silk suit, looked perfectly at home in the stylish surroundings. Jude had gotten used to her in scrubs or in the causal jeans she usually arrived in for work. Although she'd always found her attractive, for a moment she was stunned by how striking she appeared now.
Sax glanced up from her paperwork as Jude entered, pushed a pile of folders aside, and smiled a greeting. "Good morning."
"Thanks for seeing me," Jude replied, crossing the room and settling into one of the chairs in front of Sax's desk.
Despite the fact that she saw Sax almost every day, here in these formal surroundings, Jude was even more aware of the other woman's personal magnetism. Though she'd seen her working, had watched her play, and had witnessed her in unguarded intimate moments with patients, she realized how little of Sax she really knew. Almost every impression she had of her was visceral-emotional-images and reactions formed by being near her, observing her, listening to her. Jude had never before formed a relationship in this way. Relationships had always been something that developed from a friendship, or from an intellectual exchange, or from an awareness of shared interests-as it had been with Lori. She had never been touched by anyone so primally, with no reason or rationale except the emotions that stirred within her when the other person was near.
Suddenly, Jude was aware of the silence in the room, and the fact that she had very probably been staring. What she found strange was that when she focused on Sax's face, she discovered that the surgeon was regarding her intently as well. Clearing her throat, she continued, "I didn't expect to be able to meet with you today. Aren't we on call again tomorrow?"
"Yes, we are," Sax confirmed, hiding a smile at the "we". Despite her initial misgivings, Melissa and Jude were beginning to feel like part of the team. Jude had been true to her word, taking care to preserve patient confidentiality, respecting the privacy of patients who declined to be filmed, and acknowledging the wishes of families who did not want some footage to be used. And, if she were honest, she liked seeing Jude on a regular basis, even if it were under less than intimate circumstances. She liked her drive and her passion and her sense of humor. She liked... her. She caught her mind wandering down avenues she did not want to travel and reminded herself of the purpose of their meeting. Striving for a businesslike tone, she continued, "But I don't particularly like to make appointments when I'm on call for the trauma unit. Half the time I end up in the operating room with a patient and the meeting has to be canceled. It just clogs up my schedule down the line."
"Why aren't you off today?" Jude asked, still perplexed. "I thought when you were on call in the unit you went home the next day."
"Actually only Deb's off the next day. New York State limits the number of hours a resident can work during the week or at any one time without a break." She smiled a little wryly. "There aren't any such regulations for staff. If I didn't come in today I'd end up buried in paperwork, and Riley would probably leave me. And then I'd have to quit myself, because she's the only one capable of keeping me organized. Besides, I have to be in Albany this afternoon for a state review of funding allocations for level one trauma centers. I need to present our numbers for the last year and do the appropriate amount of glad-handing to see that we continue to get financial support."
"I never realized how much non-medical work there was in being the division chief," Jude said. Aware that time was at a premium, she lifted her recorder and continued, "Do you mind if I tape this?"
For moment, Sax debated. She had agreed to meet formally with Jude simply because Jude had requested it. It wasn't something she would ordinarily have done, and she wasn't entirely comfortable with an uncensored conversation being recorded. "You can tape any part of the conversation that has to deal with Deb's training."
"All right," Jude agreed, although it hadn't escaped her notice that Sinclair had deftly limited the scope of their interview and effectively placed anything about herself off-limits. On the other hand, Jude's professional interests did not include the trauma chief other than for background highlights, and she should rightly focus on Deborah Stein. You just wanted to talk about her because you want to know more about her.
"And I can only give you a half an hour," Sax added with a genuinely apologetic shrug. "We're driving upstate to the meeting."
"I understand. I'll make this as brief as possible."
Jude had prepared a list of issues that she wanted to clarify regarding the hierarchical structure of surgical training, the factors that affected eligibility for the trauma fellowship, and the nationwide impact of level one trauma units on health care delivery and hospital financing. She worked her way through them quickly and efficiently. For her part, Sax answered cogently, having testified multiple times at the state and national level about similar issues.
"Out of all the residents whom you interviewed," Jude said after nearly the full half hour had elapsed, "why did you choose Dr. Stein?"
"Because she was the best qualified candidate," Sax answered immediately. "She performed well in medical school; she had excellent recommendations from one of the top ten general surgical training programs in the country; and she demonstrated a clear and focused intention to pursue a career in trauma surgery."
"What about personal qualifications? How do they influence your decision-making?"
"Obviously, we try to choose individuals with a philosophy and work ethic that will mesh well with that of our team. As you've seen, we work very closely for hours at a time together, and it is helpful to have individuals with similar visions and expectations."
"Does gender affect your choice?"
"No, and neither does any other personal characteristic."
"I understand that's not always the case, even today. Surely it was different when you were training," Jude suggested. "There are still very few female surgeons in this country and definitely not very many division chiefs. Certainly you must have encountered difficulties because of your gender in view of your choice of specialties."
"The face of medicine is constantly changing, and the place of women within it is well-established now," Sax responded neutrally and entirely noncommittally. She glanced at her watch pointedly.
"Just a couple more questions," Jude said quickly. "I was doing the back stories on both you and Doctor Stein, and I need you to fill in a few of the details for me." Actually, she needed a lot more than that. While doing the routine back searches on Sax, she'd literally run into a blank wall. All the educational information in the CV Naomi Riley had provided her was verifiable, but when she had combed her usual sources for family and personal history she couldn't find anything at all. "It's helpful for viewers to form a connection to you. That way they can look forward to returning week after week, because they feel as if they know you. You know the kind of thing -- what your life was like growing up, why you wanted to be a surgeon, how your family feels about your work -- the sidebar type of story that was done so effectively with Olympic coverage recently."
"I'm sure the viewers enjoy that sort of thing," Sax said blandly, but her shoulders stiffened with sudden tension. "And I'm sure Dr. Stein will be happy to provide you with that information. However, this project is not about me and I don't see where it's pertinent."
"You're nearly as visible as Dr. Stein throughout this documentary, and you need to be, because you're her mentor and her... guide... for this year. Her relationship with you is probably the most important one she has during this period in her life. Who you are matters."
"Does it?" Sax mused, standing. She began to push folders into her briefcase. "I think we're done."
Jude stood also, stunned by the change in Sax's tone and expression. The surgeon had very clearly closed a door, and the action was as swift and lethal as a scalpel cut. It left Jude nearly breathless. She had never felt so completely and brutally shut out. It shouldn't have bothered her, because she'd gotten most of the information that she'd come for. She'd certainly worked with difficult individuals before, and she'd never taken their rudeness or lack of cooperation personally. But it wasn't Sax's manner that affected her so deeply; it was the loss of their fledgling personal connection. It was impossible not to take something personally when it hurt.
"Sax..." Jude said, wanting to apologize but having no idea about what.
"I'm late, Ms. Castle. Please excuse me."
And with that clear dismissal, Jude had no choice but to leave.
Jude had the afternoon free, since the next day she would be back in the hospital for another twenty-four hours of trauma call. She'd promised to meet Lori outside the hospital after her interview with Sax so the two of them could go somewhere for lunch. Glancing at her watch as she descended the elevator to the main lobby, she realized she still had a few minutes before Lori was due. Heading for the exit doors, she was surprised to see Sax a few feet ahead of her, briefcase in hand, clearly on her way to her meeting in Albany. For a minute, Jude contemplated catching up to her, and then realized it would just be an intrusion. What could she say that would seem like anything other than what it was -- curiosity about Sax's past and an irrational need to put their personal relationship back on better footing. Reluctantly, she slowed down to avoid her, but when she exited, she found Sax on the sidewalk apparently waiting for a ride.
"Is this an important meeting -- the one with the state this afternoon?" Jude asked when they found themselves standing side-by-side.
"Since a good deal of our funding is controlled by the state, yes." Sax shifted her briefcase to her other hand and regarded Jude silently. After moment, she said softly, "Ms. Castle..."
"Jude," Sax acquiesced with a nod, "we'll probably get along better if we stick to business." She'd noticed the look of confused hurt in Jude's eyes when she'd terminated their interview so abruptly. She hadn't intended to sound so brusque or to react so violently, but she hadn't expected Jude to question her so pointedly either. She'd responded reflexively, with the defenses honed over a lifetime. The way they had parted bothered her all the way down in the elevator from her office, despite how hard she had tried to forget about it.
"I wasn't aware that you were concerned about how we got along," Jude said stiffly, resenting being placed on the defensive, and resenting it even more that Sax appeared to be setting limits on their relationship for reasons that were anything but clear to her. Not that that should even be an issue. Damn, why can't you just ignore her and do the job?
"I find that I am concerned," Sax answered contemplatively. "Despite the fact that you and your crew are a constant source of irritation."
Jude was about to make a caustic response when she caught the edge of a smile. "Believe me, Dr. Sinclair, we have a long way to go before we could possibly master the art of irritation that surgeons seem to possess."
"That's a point I can't argue," Sax said, laughing. Suddenly serious, she continued intently, "Look, about this morning..."
Before she could finish, Jude heard someone call her name and turned to see Lori approaching, a broad smile of greeting on her face.
"Hey," Lori said as she drew near, "I got through the deposition early and thought I'd take a chance that you would, too." She brushed a quick kiss across Jude's lips. "My day's looking better already."
"Hi," Jude responded, momentarily nonplussed. Recovering quickly, she turned to Sax to introduce them and realized that the surgeon was no longer beside her. She glanced to the street where a sleek Jaguar convertible was idling curbside. Sax was just stepping into the passenger side of the vehicle, and Jude instantly recognized the attractive blond at the wheel.
As Sax pulled the door shut and reached for her seat belt, she looked back at Jude. For a moment, their eyes held. Glancing once at Lori's hand resting casually on Jude's back, she smiled wryly and turned away as the Jaguar slipped out into traffic.
"Jude? Who was that?" Lori asked, caught by the intensity of the dark haired woman's gaze.
"That was Sinclair, the trauma chief," Jude responded, trying to shake off the image of Sax and Pam Arnold looking for all the world like a magazine cover couple.
"She is... impressive," Lori remarked, unable to verbalize exactly what it was about the admittedly good-looking woman that had been so compelling. Or what it was about the way she had looked at Jude that made her uncomfortable.
"Yes, she is," Jude said, meeting the attorney's eyes and resolutely banishing the image of Sax from her mind. "Ready for lunch?"
"Sure," Lori said with a smile. She was probably just imagining the almost palpable connection she had sensed between the two women. After all, they had done nothing more than look at one another across the span of a crowded city sidewalk.
Pam Arnold took her eyes from the road long enough to glance at her passenger, appreciating as always the austere attractiveness of Saxon's profile. She'd left the top down on the Jag because the evening was still warm, and the wind streamed through the other woman's dark hair like a lover's caress. With her face illuminated by moonlight, Sax looked wild and remote and seethingly erotic.
"Are you on call tomorrow?" the neurosurgeon asked, reluctantly returning her eyes to the highway.
"Yes," Sax replied faintly, watching the ribbon of macadam sliding hypnotically beneath their wheels, her mind elsewhere.
"I can't believe that after an entire afternoon of arguing our case for continued funding, we had to sit through dinner with those bureaucratic bores and go through the whole thing again. I am sick to death of politics."
"There's no way to avoid it," Sax commented absently. She hadn't been thinking of the afternoon's business as they tore south on the New York State Thruway toward home. She'd been thinking about Jude Castle and the woman who had greeted her outside the hospital. It shouldn't be a surprise that Jude has a lover. She's bright and dynamic and...quite beautiful. A woman like her would not be single.
Sax shrugged against the shoulder restraint, trying to work the tension out of her neck and back, telling herself to forget it. The morning's interview with Jude had caught her off-guard. She was just tired. Still, for a moment, she recalled vividly the sight of the attractive stranger quietly claiming Jude with the subtle intimacy of a familiar touch. The memory sparked an emotion that was not only foreign, but disconcerting-envy. Intimacy was not something she usually missed, or consciously desired. Intimacy came with a price, and that price was often pain.
"I don't know about you," Pam continued, "but I could stand a few hours away from work, away from the very idea of it, and I'm not in that big a hurry to get home. I'd like to take my mind off the fact that I've spent half my life training to do this job, and now I have to ask permission from idiots to do it."
Grateful for the interruption to her troubled thoughts, Sax nodded agreement. "I wouldn't mind forgetting the entire day either."
"We're less than an hour from my cabin," Pam suggested impetuously. "Let's stop there, get a bottle of wine, and stay the night. If we leave at five, we'll be back in the city in plenty of time for both of us in the morning."
Sax's initial impulse was to say no, because she wasn't certain she had the energy to be decent company, and she wasn't certain what kind of company Pam might be looking for. They'd known each other casually for over a year, ever since Pam joined the staff at St. Michael's. Recently their conversations had taken on a decidedly flirtatious air, and Pam had pointedly asked her out a few months before. Sax had vacillated over accepting the invitation because she disliked complications, and dating in the conventional sense always got complicated. Glancing at Pam, trying to glean her intent from her expression, she debated how to respond. Then she realized that she had absolutely no reason to go home. In fact, if she did, she would very likely spend the night pacing or searching for something to help dispel her restless energy and her unwelcome emotions. She'd worry about Pam's intentions when and if she needed to-or wanted to. Pam Arnold was a very desirable woman.
"That sounds fine. We ought to be able to find a package store that's open. Since you're providing the accommodations, I'll buy the wine."
Forty-five minutes later, a chilled bottle of champagne in a cold-wrap bag resting between their bucket seats, Pam pulled up in front of a moderate-sized rustic cabin overlooking one of the myriad lakes in the Catskill Mountains. She'd chosen the hideaway because it was an easy drive from the city via the thruway, but still far enough from popular resorts to be private. She closed the top on the convertible and led the way up to the front porch of the wooden structure, sorting through her key ring as they walked.
"Nice place," Sax remarked as Pam unlocked the door, and she meant it. Through the trees opposite the cabin she could see moonlight glimmering on the smooth surface of the lake, and although lights twinkled along the shoreline, there were no other structures in the immediate proximity. The night was very still and very quiet.
"It's a perfect place to come to read or write or...to have some privacy," Pam said over her shoulder as she held the door open for Sax to enter.
The large front room was enclosed on three sides by windows, while a stone fireplace and a double archway that led into a spacious kitchen took up most of the fourth. Sax assumed the bedroom was in the rear as well.
"Is there ice?" Sax asked as she walked through the room into the kitchen.
"All the modern conveniences," Pam said lightly as she followed. "I may like solitude, but rustic camping is not my idea of a good time. There's electricity, heat, and honest to God indoor plumbing. All the comforts of home."
Laughing, Sax opened several cabinets above the long kitchen counter and found an array of glasses, including wine glasses. She pulled down two as Pam handed her a metal bucket for ice.
"If you'll take care of this, I'll start a fire," Pam said. "It might be July, but what's a cabin without a fire? Besides, if we leave the windows open, it will cool off before long. By midnight, we'll need a blanket."
By the time Sax had opened the bottle, filled the bucket, and found a tray, Pam had a small log burning nicely and had placed several candles on tables by the sofa. The effect was charming and intimate. Saxes handed her a glass of the champagne and sat next to her on the sofa.
"So," Pam said, slipping off her Ferragamos and propping her silk stockinged-feet on the stone coffee table, "let's not talk about the hospital, or surgery, or politics, or anything remotely related to work."
All right," Sax said, smiling as she shrugged out of her suit jacket and laid it over the arm of the sofa. "What does that leave?"
Pam laughed. "We're pathetic. No sports. Let's see--film, literature, art, or plain old-fashioned gossip are acceptable."
"It'll be a struggle," Sax joked, "especially the no sports part, but I think I can manage."
Pam sipped her champagne and studied the woman beside her. She had always loved to look at her, and it wasn't just because of her physical appeal. There was a brooding sense of mystery about her that was incredibly attractive. Pam liked a challenge in her women, and Saxon Sinclair was certainly that. This was as close as she'd ever gotten to a private moment with her, and she didn't intend to let it pass. Leaning forward, the neurosurgeon rested her fingertips on the back of Sax's neck. Softly running a few strands of black hair through her fingers, she murmured, "Or I suppose we could skip conversation altogether."
Carefully, Sax set her champagne glass on the small end table by her side. She turned back to find Pam only inches away, her lips slightly parted and her eyes liquid with promise. The statuesque blond was the very definition of sultry. Desire spread through Sax's body as the fingers in her hair slid under her collar and trailed over her neck.
"I have this rule," Sax remarked softly, her throat tight with the sudden swell of arousal. Usually she didn't find many reasons to resist when a beautiful woman expressed an interest, but somehow she wasn't certain she could let this happen. Not with Pam, not now.
"I don't think I'm going to like this," Pam whispered hoarsely as she moved closer on the sofa, her breasts brushing along Sax's arm. She traced the edge of Sax's ear lightly with one hand as she slid the other over Sax's abdomen. Muscles twitched under her fingers and she smiled at the response. She enjoyed seduction, especially when the rewards were so tantalizing.
"Pam," Sax said gently, catching Pam's hand as it slid lower towards the waistband of her trousers. "We have to work together almost every day. Something like this can make it awkward." She drew in a breath as Pam's fingers danced along her fly. Swallowing the involuntary moan, she added, "And I would rather avoid that."
"Saxon," Pam murmured as she pressed her length against Sax's body and kissed the edge of her jaw, then moved her lips closer to the corner of Sax's mouth. "I'm not proposing marriage here."
"I'm devastated to hear that," Sax said, laughing softly. For a moment, she was captured by the heady scent of Pam's perfume and the subtle hint of desire. Succumbing to the urge that spread hotly through her limbs, she angled her face to accept the kiss.
When they both leaned back to catch their breath, Pam added, "I am proposing you spend the night making love with me, but I'm not opposed to going slower, if that's what you really want." Deliberately, she drew one finger along the pulse in Sax's neck and traced the faint trail of perspiration down the center of her chest. As she worked the first button on Sax's shirt loose, she mused, "Although I wouldn't have thought you the type to need courting."
"It's not courting I require," Sax noted, her hips lifting automatically as Pam's hand slid inside her shirt and over the top of her breast. A couple more seconds of this and it won't matter why I thought this was a bad idea.
"What is it then?" Pam asked as she dipped her head and pressed her lips to the skin she had exposed on Sax's chest. "That you require?"
Anonymity, Sax thought to herself. The ability to walk away and owe nothing.
Sax shifted away slightly, afraid that if Pam kept touching her, she would forget her basic rule of noninvolvement. Already hard and wet, she ached to touch the stiff points of Pam's nipples so clearly outlined against the sheer material of her blouse. She wanted skin against her palms and heat beneath her lips. She wanted to hear a woman cry out as she filled her and held that fragile passion in her hands. She wanted a woman to stroke her own aching need and she wanted to explode against the sweet demanding softness of another's lips. She wanted it badly, so badly that in another minute she'd forget that the woman she imagined in her mind was not Pam Arnold. A few weeks before it had been a dream vision, but even in the dream she'd known who it was that stirred her desire. One unguarded night, she'd nearly succumbed to that same woman in the dark still hallway of the hospital. Instead she'd let a stranger satisfy the lust Jude Castle had ignited in her that night, but she couldn't let Pam do it now. She knew Pam's face. They were friends.
"Pam," she gasped abruptly as skillful fingers found her nipple. "Time out…time out…oh, jesus…" She grabbed Pam's hand and stilled it against her flesh.
"You're serious, aren't you?" Pam said in astonishment, drawing back far enough to look into Sax's face. She knew desire when she saw it, and she recognized the need in those heavy lidded, hazy blue eyes. "I suppose it would be churlish of me to say that I know you want this."
"Wanting... is not the issue," Sax acknowledged, taking a deep breath and willing her heart to stop pounding.
"I don't suppose you'd like to tell me what the issue is?"
"No," Sax replied, relieved to feel some small degree of control returning. I don't want to explain to myself.
"Saxon," Pam whispered, removing her hand reluctantly. "It usually takes more than a kiss to make me want someone as badly as I want you right now. The only reason I care about your issues is because it's preventing me from having you. I'm a big girl... I'm not worried about tomorrow."
"If it makes you feel any better," Sax said with a weary sigh, "you've pretty much fried my circuits, too."
"But you're still not going to fuck me, are you?"
Sax laughed. "Not tonight."
"God, I hate you," Pam said, running both hands through her long blond hair and sighing. "I can't sleep like this, and we both need some rest." She reached for Sax's hand and pulled her upright with her as she stood. "Let's go swimming."
"It's the middle of the night," Sax exclaimed, but she followed obediently as Pam tugged her through the front door.
"Good. Then no one will know we're naked except us."
The night was never truly dark in New York City, because the lights from thousands of buildings and tens of thousands of cars always illuminated the sky in a palette of ghostly pallor. The windows were open, street noises wafted up from below, and a faint breeze cooled the sweat on her skin.
"I'm fine," she whispered, cradling the still trembling woman in her arms. She ran her fingers through the other woman's hair, over her shoulders and down her back, resting her hand in the delicate valley just above her hips. The skin was so soft there, so fragile, and it was such a private place--it never ceased to fill her with wonder each time she touched her there. "You were enough."
"Mmm," Lori sighed, brushing her cheek over Jude's breast. "You were wonderful. And as soon as I catch my breath, I want to return the favor."
"It's late, we should get some sleep."
"I'll put you to sleep," Lori insisted, rousing herself and sliding on top of Jude. She insinuated her leg between Jude's thighs, her breath catching quickly as she felt the wet heat against her skin. "God, I love the way you feel."
Jude sensed her own arousal as if from a distance. They'd made love, because it was part of the rhythm of their relationship, and her body had responded to the familiarity and the stimulation. But even as she caressed the places she knew so well, and drew from Lori cries of pleasure and finally, sobs of release, she'd felt as if she were watching a favorite film. She recognized the players, and the play, and she couldn't help but respond. She was aroused, but still she felt a disconcerting disconnection that left her feeling hollow, and alone.
Lori moved lower over her body and the silken heat of Lori's mouth made Jude gasp. She closed her eyes and tried to empty her mind, willing her body to find release. It wasn't something she usually had to work at. She hovered close to climaxing for agonizing minutes, muscles taut and nerves singing--shivering on the brink, straining for the peak. Breath tore from her lungs on strangled sobs and her heart thundered in her ears. She was burning, bleeding, dying-and still the moment eluded her.
Gasping, she meant to tell her to stop; she meant to say she couldn't. She didn't mean to allow the images of another place, another face, to surface. She didn't mean those other eyes to hold her, or that stark, intense image to claim her. But it happened, and she couldn't stop it-she couldn't stop the swift surge of blood that pulsed through her already painfully distended flesh, plummeting her wildly into orgasm.
"Oh god, oh god, oh god," she whispered, Saxon Sinclair's face shimmering through her mind. What am I going to do?
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