It was an ordinary Monday morning in July, and she scarcely took notice of the people around her as she leaned against the metal pole in the center of the subway car. Her briefcase was secured in one hand, the Times folded in half length-wise and held up in front of her face with the other. It was seven-thirty a.m., the height of rush hour, and eighty early morning commuters filled every seat and pressed against her in the narrow aisle. She had thirty blocks to ride underground to her destination.
She had given up trying to drink coffee during the trip; she had ruined one too many suits while trying to manage a cup amidst the jostling crowds. Had she stopped to purchase her usual fare of espresso-spiked French roast, she would have taken a different train. Sometimes five minutes can change the course of a lifetime.
"Damn driver's gonna shake us all to death," someone nearby grumbled.
"Excuse me, sorry," her pole-mate mumbled for the third time after losing his balance and stumbling into her.
"No problem," she murmured, lowering her paper and glancing through the thick, scratched glass of the sliding double doors opposite her. Shadows of vertical concrete supports and the gaping mouths of dark recesses flew by quickly in the dimly lit tunnel. Too quickly. When the businessman next to her lurched into her once again, she tucked the newspaper under her arm, pressed the briefcase to her chest with an elbow, and grasped the pole with both hands. The car rocked heavily, and she had to spread her feet to keep her balance. She glanced forward the length of the car and realized that everyone else was having difficulty staying upright, too. Her pulse quickened as she fought to steady herself. The train went into a curve and seemed to tilt up on one side. Over the noise of her own heart pounding erratically in her ears, she heard the reassuring squeal of the brakes being applied. Nothing to worry about.
That was her last conscious thought before the world turned upside down amidst the sounds of rending metal and helpless humanity. Then there were only fragments of words and dizzying images and jostled movements that catapulted her in and out of consciousness, until finally reality coalesced into a blinding light in her eyes and a crimson roar of pain in her head. She struggled to sit up, but just the slight movement she was able to manage caused a new agony in her right leg to surge upward and force the air from her lungs with its terrible intensity. Forcing her eyes open despite the piercing glare, she found herself looking into a huge silver disk with a hot white bulb in its center suspended over her head. Almost instantaneously, she realized that her arms were tied down. Then she began to hear voices, strident tones forming half-sentences and clipped short-hand phrases.
Closed head injury...open tib-fib fracture...
Somebody call the O. R.…another one coming up...
Type and cross her...four units...
We need a CT of the chest and abdomen…STAT...
Fighting down the pain, she gathered all her strength and tried to speak. "What... oh... where am..." Suddenly, a silhouette swam into her field of vision, backlit by the bright light, and she tried unsuccessfully to focus. “Please…”
Gentle hands restrained her as a deep, calm voice spoke. "You were in an accident. You're at Bellevue. Can you tell me your name?"
She tried to shape the sounds of her name but they floated away from her on a new wave of anguish. She continued to stare upward, dimly aware of fingers brushing over her face. Finally, features began to emerge from the shadows above her, giving her something to cling to in the sea of confusion and pain. A face bending near—blue eyes, so dark they were almost purple, intense and penetrating. Black hair, thick and unruly, escaping from beneath the band of a surgeon's cap that slashed across a strong broad forehead. Prominent cheekbones and a bold, nearly masculine jaw.
"You're going to be fine."
She had no choice but to deliver herself into those confident unwavering eyes—and to believe.
Five years later
"I don't have time for interviews," Saxon Sinclair said with barely contained irritation as she walked unannounced into the Chief of Surgery's office late on the last day of June. "And I'd appreciate it if you didn't schedule things for me without discussing it first."
The distinguished-appearing, fifty-year-old man behind the broad walnut desk smoothed his expensively styled, silvered hair, carefully placed his Waterman pen into the chest pocket of his spotless starched white lab coat, and tried to conceal his aversion to his visitor. He leaned back in the padded swivel chair and regarded the intense, dark haired woman in navy surgical scrubs who stood too close to the front of his desk to be respectful. She wore two beepers on her belt, the trauma pager that would summon her to the helipad or the trauma admitting area, and the code beeper that would call her to the trauma intensive care unit in the event that a patient arrested. Rangy and lean, she was too athletic-appearing for his taste, and too aggressive for his liking. She probably wasn't aware of the fact that she was leaning forward with her feet spread and her hands clenched at her sides.
"I'm sorry," he said in his practiced bureaucratic voice. "I thought my secretary had cleared it with your office."
"Apparently not," she said, her tone indicating that she didn't believe him. "Tomorrow is July first, and I've got three fresh attendings, two first-year fellows, and a handful of brand new residents in my trauma unit. I can’t leave them to meet with some journalist. You'll have to get someone else to talk to him."
Preston Smith smiled, thinking how much he'd like to fire her arrogant ass. Too bad the university was so concerned about the gender and minority profiles of their department chairs and division heads. A clear bias might have a negative impact on future state and federal funding, and every institution was feeling the financial crunch. The powers that be—more importantly—the powers that controlled his own budget, would not take kindly to him firing one of the few female chiefs in the entire university hospital system. He conveniently ignored the fact that she was also one of the premier trauma surgeons in the state and had been the focus of several newspaper and magazine articles. He couldn’t even find anything, professional or personal, to hold over her head to threaten her with. Private and solitary, apparently wedded to her work, her reputation was unimpeachable. She would not be easy to get rid of. "You're the one they want to talk to, Sax," he said solicitously, assuming a familiarity she had never invited. "You're the one with the name recognition."
"Then they can come back in September and talk to me then," she said as she turned and started towards the door. Pompous idiot. He hasn’t actually been in the operating room in so long, he’s forgotten how hairy the first few weeks of July can be.
"I thought you'd want to meet with these folks and lay down the ground rules," he called after her, "but it's up to you, of course. You know how you want to run your unit."
These folks? She stopped suddenly and pivoted slowly, her eyes narrowing. "Is there something else you haven’t told me, Preston?"
"Image is everything in today's marketplace, and we’re no exception. We’re not the only level one trauma unit in Manhattan, nor the only cancer center, nor the only tertiary care facility," he said smoothly, as if she weren’t aware of these facts. "St. Michael's needs the exposure, and this is a perfect opportunity."
"What is this, exactly?"
He couldn't quite hide his triumphant smile. "One of the independent networks will be airing a documentary medical series, and the production company be filming it here. It's an excellent opportunity for free advertising."
For a moment, she simply stared, rigidly still but for a muscle that jumped along the border of her jaw. Very quietly, in a voice edged in steel, she asked, "And what precisely does that have to do with me?"
"The producers felt that the exposé would have more impact if viewers could identify with a particular individual throughout the episodes, so they're going to present a year-long show based on the life of a surgical trainee."
Smith made a show of moving some papers around on his desk, but Sax knew damn well that he didn't need to search for a name. This had all been decided without her input and had probably been set in motion weeks before.
"Ah...here we are. Deborah Stein."
"My first-year trauma fellow." It was a statement, not a question. Sax rubbed her eyes and contemplated homicide. "Does Stein know about this?"
"Of course," Smith replied, his tone implying surprise. "She agreed to it when she signed her contract." He didn't add that the final contract was contingent upon her agreeing to the project, nor did he add that he had led the incoming surgical trainee to believe that Sinclair was aware of the circumstances.
"Are you trying to tell me that I'm going to have civilians crawling around in my trauma unit with cameras and microphones and God knows what else while I'm trying to triage injured patients? You can't be serious."
Preston Smith stood up, his eyes suddenly hardening. "Actually, Sinclair, that's exactly what I'm telling you. The hospital needs this, and I've already agreed to it. You'll have to find a way to live with it, so I suggest that you meet with the director as planned."
She left without another word, because any longer and she wouldn't have been able to contain her temper. This was a fight she knew she couldn't win, and she had battles of much more importance to wage.
July 1 - Six A.M.
A figure, back turned, leaned against the wall outside her office, a newspaper held aloft in the traditional lengthwise, half-fold configuration of the habitual New York City subway rider. All Sax could make out was a mass of rich red curls fanning out over the collar of a khaki safari-style shirt and long legs encased in tailored trousers. She slowed as she approached, curious, because she was quite certain she was not expecting anyone. Her orientation with new residents and staff was scheduled for seven.
At the sound of the footsteps in the deserted hallway behind her, Jude Castle turned and got her first look at the elusive Doctor Saxon Sinclair, Chief of Trauma at St. Michael’s Hospital in lower Manhattan. The surgeon wasn’t entirely what she expected of someone with that title—particularly not with the motorcycle helmet tucked under one arm, the well-worn black leather jacket, and the faded blue jeans. Jude stared, momentarily perplexed, because the woman standing a few feet away, studying her with a raised eyebrow and a slight frown, looked familiar. And she was sure they had never met. She would not have forgotten someone with the simmering good looks and unapologetically self-assured attitude that this woman exuded. Probably a promo photo from somewhere, she thought, dismissing the uneasy feeling of déjà vu.
“Dr. Sinclair?” Jude said, finally finding her voice and stepping forward with an outstretched hand. “Jude Castle, Horizon Productions.”
Sax’s frown deepened, but she accepted the proffered hand. The redhead’s grip was firm and definite. Her green eyes were direct and self-possessed, too. Sax released the other woman’s hand and pulled her keys from the pocket of her leather jacket. Fitting them to the lock in her door, she said over her shoulder, “Do we have an appointment?”
“No,” Jude said, edging closer to the door, planning to jam her foot in it if necessary, “we don’t. I’ve been trying to set something up for weeks, but your secretary wasn’t able to pin you down as to a convenient time.”
“Probably because there isn’t one,” Sax said, turning to block the path into the small room she used as an auxiliary office as well as an on-call sleeping area. She was startled to find the other woman almost nose to nose with her across the threshold. “This is a hectic time of year, and I don’t have time for…” She ran a hand through her hair, disheveling the already wild strands of midnight waves, and tried for restraint as she finished, “… public relations.”
“Understood,” Jude agreed, holding her ground. “I have an entire crew arriving here tomorrow, and I’m short on time, too. Maybe we could do this over coffee?”
“Do what?” Sax asked pointedly, stripping off her jacket and tossing it onto a narrow bed covered with medical journals and a pile of navy blue scrubs. Relenting, she motioned Jude to enter. "Close the door," she said offhandedly as she reached for a pair of scrub pants and began to unbutton her jeans. “You can fill me in while I change.”
Jude stared wordlessly for an interminable moment when she thought Sinclair was going to step out of those sexy, nearly threadbare levis right in front of her, and then she hurriedly spun around to face the opposite wall where an old wooden desk labored under the weight of a modern computer system. She cleared her throat, which was suddenly dry, and replied evenly, “I had hoped we could talk logistics. I don’t want to get in your way, Dr. Sinclair…”
“You’re already in my way,” Sax pointed out, pulling her T-shirt over her head and replacing it with a navy top. Moving around the redhead to her desk, she found a pen, which she stuck in her chest pocket. She leaned her hip against the edge of the desk and regarded her visitor, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a sigh of exasperation. “I’m stuck with this, aren’t I?”
Shrugging, Jude smiled. “’Fraid so. I’ll try to make it as painless as possible.” She wasn’t sure that levity would get her anywhere with the clearly aggravated surgeon, but she just couldn’t help herself. Besides, she needed to do something to take her mind off how damned attractive Sinclair was. It wasn’t like her to be quite so affected by a pair of deep, brooding eyes and a mane of black hair that begged for fingers to run through it. She tried to ignore the faint flush of heat in her limbs. She had work to do.
Sax pushed away from the desk and strode rapidly to the door, pulling it open. She looked back over her shoulder and called, “Well, come on then. You’ve got twenty minutes to fill me in.”
“Thirty,” Jude responded, hurrying after her. “Make it thirty, and I’ll buy the coffee.” She didn’t get an answer, but she could have sworn she saw a grin. It was a small victory, but she’d take it for now.
Jude was used to running while on the job. She’d filmed almost everything there was to film at one time or another except actual combat, but she’d been close enough to the front in Kosovo to need to sprint to avoid being flattened by falling debris during bombing raids. She was practically racing now to keep up with Sinclair as they rushed through the halls on their way to the cafeteria. As Jude started to turn right around a corner clearly marked with a sign indicating the cafeteria, Sinclair grabbed her arm and pulled her left.
“This way,” Sax said, drawing the other woman with her in the opposite direction.
“What…?” Jude started to ask.
“Some things are essential in this business,” Sax informed her, fishing a handful of bills out of her shirt pocket, “and good coffee is one of them.”
Then Jude saw the tiny kiosk tucked into the corner of the large admissions area waiting room. The top of a brass and chrome espresso machine was visible behind a stack of cups and a plastic bin of pastries. “Ah, I see,” she noted. “A real coffee drinker.”
Sax leaned over the counter and peered around the cash register down the narrow aisle beyond. Then she smiled in satisfaction. “Terry! Coffee – quick!” Glancing at Jude, she inquired, “What’ll you have? Terry’s making me a red eye.”
“Perfect,” Jude replied. A minute later she accepted the cup of coffee with an added shot of espresso with a grateful sigh. When Sax started to pay, she caught her hand. “I’ve got it, remember?”
For a second they both stared at Jude’s hand on Sax’s wrist. Jude stared because her fingers were tingling, and that didn’t make any sense at all. She had no idea what the surgeon was feeling, because her face was expressionless as she pulled away and said, “Sure. Thanks.”
Carrying their cups, they walked across the lobby level public seating area toward the elevators.
“So,” Jude began, anxious to take advantage of every minute with the reluctant surgeon, “I need to clarify a few details of the shoot with you.”
“So I gathered,” Sax responded dryly. She pushed the up button, a little surprised at how easily the persistent director had maneuvered her into a discussion of something that she wasn’t at all sure she wanted to happen. Usually not so susceptible to persuasion, she had to admit that the redhead had a subtle charm about her that was hard to resist. To take her mind off that disconcerting thought, she said, “I have an orientation meeting with new staff in forty minutes. We can talk in the conference room before everyone arrives. That’s probably the only time I’ll have free all day.”
“Fine,” Jude replied. She sipped her coffee and groaned faintly. “Oh yeah. Nice.”
Sax grinned in spite of herself. “Definitely.”
When they were seated in the small meeting room adjoining the hospital cafeteria, Sax leaned back in her chair and regarded Jude seriously. “Preston Smith told me last night that you want to film a documentary in my trauma unit.”
“Last night?” Jude said in surprise. “You just found out yesterday? We’ve been negotiating with the hospital for months about this, and I’d been told everyone involved was onboard. Why didn’t he tell you before?”
“Probably because he knew that I would refuse,” Sax offered mildly, watching her companion over the top of her coffee cup. The other woman so far had been unflappable – confident and capable, but surprisingly nonconfrontational. An iron hand in a velvet glove. Sax was impressed, and she didn’t impress easily.
“Really?” Jude commented just as placidly. She thought she understood some of the surgeon’s resistance now. She could hardly blame Sinclair for being aggravated if she’d just been informed about the project, and that also explained why she hadn't been able to get an appointment with her sooner. But she sensed something else beneath the other woman’s opposition. Something more personal than bureaucratic conflicts. “Mind telling me why you’re opposed to it?”
“Because you and your cameras don’t belong in a trauma unit. It’s an invasion of privacy to film what might be the most intimate and personal moments of someone’s life.” Her concern about patient confidentiality was true, even if it wasn’t her only objection. She had no intention of disclosing her own aversion to publicity.
“We’ll get releases for anything that we air. We can block their faces electronically if we need to,” Jude pointed out reasonably. She’d had practice fielding these kinds of objections before.
“And what about the ones who can’t give consent—the comatose, or the moribund, or the children?”
Jude was about to give another stock answer, but something in Sinclair’s voice made her stop. There was an edge of anger, of protectiveness, that intrigued her. She sat forward, meeting Sinclair’s admittedly intimidating gaze head on. “What if I guarantee that every precaution will be taken to protect individual privacy? I’ll be there myself the entire time the cameras are rolling. I’ll talk to the families personally if I have to. No one will be filmed without consent.”
“Your presence is going to interfere with Deb Stein’s training. She’s going to be more worried about looking good for you than about learning to make decisions and exercise good judgment.”
“I thought the trauma fellows took call with a senior attending who supervised them,” Jude stated.
“They do,” Sax agreed. “Deb Stein will be on duty with me most of the time.”
“And you’re concerned that…what? That she’s going to pay more attention to me than to you?” Jude’s voice rose in a way that suggested she was trying not to laugh.
Sax was forced to grin again. The dynamic director was proving hard to resist. “She’ll be distracted at least.”
Jude regarded her intently, aware that this confrontation could spell success or failure for a project that she had invested all her energy and considerable resources into for six months. She could do it without Sinclair’s cooperation if she had to. She had a signed contract from the hospital, and it would stand up in court if it came to that. But if she went that route, going over Sinclair’s head to get the job done, it would make the work hellishly difficult. And she didn’t want this woman as an enemy – for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that she found the surgeon’s obvious lack of concern for diplomacy refreshing. “What is it that really bothers you about all of this?” she asked quietly.
“There are some things people don’t need to know, maybe don’t even want to know,” Sax said, surprising herself. I don’t even know this woman and she has me admitting things I wouldn’t say to a single living soul before now. “What happens in that unit—not always—but often enough, in those few seconds when life hangs in the balance are not things to be exposed for the sake of curiosity. These patients aren’t just naked and defenseless—they’re helpless. And sometimes what we do in there is not pretty.”
“This is human drama, Dr. Sinclair. This is real life. Don’t you think that the public can appreciate that and understand how special it is?”
The public’s right to know—the relentless pursuit of the story in the name of truth—is often just a convenient excuse for invasion, Sax thought, but didn’t say. She shrugged instead and answered flatly, “I don’t know. I’m not a sociologist—I’m a surgeon.”
“Yes,” Jude agreed, thinking that Sinclair was much more than that. “And it’s your trauma unit. But can we agree to give it a try?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“I’m sorry,” Jude said, to her surprise, meaning it. “No.”
Personal Project Log – Castle
July 1 - 7:50 a.m.
Sinclair stood up at seven a.m. on the dot and every person in the room grew quiet. There were a dozen people present – six senior staff, two first year trauma fellows, two general surgery residents, and two medical students. I was the only outsider—the only non-physician. She walked to the front of the room, leaned against the edge of the conference table and crossed her arms over her chest. She looked relaxed in just a scrub shirt and pants – like she didn’t have a care in the world. She never said a word until every eye was on her. I felt like I should jump up and salute. I thought a couple of the younger residents might. God, she looked tough.
I expected a speech. She didn’t give one.
She laid out the ground rules instead. [Note: Title First Episode Rules of Engagement]. Twenty-four hours on, forty-eight hours off. Rounds in the trauma unit at eight a.m. and no one goes home until they’re over. Which by my calculations turns out to be somewhere in the range of thirty hours straight without much sleep. I lost track of what she was saying after that, because I was trying to imagine that kind of schedule. I’m used to working hard, sometimes days at a time when a story is breaking. But I’ll be the first to admit I don’t function at my peak the whole time. And I’m not cutting into people.
She got my attention with the very last thing she said—the only direct order I can remember her giving. She said, “Some will die in the field, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Those you let go. But if they come into my trauma unit warm and with a pulse, you’d better not lose them.”
Jude caught up to Deborah Stein just outside the conference room. “Deb,” she called, pulling even with her as they started down the stairwell.
“Hey, Jude,” the blond, two-time basketball Olympian answered with her trademark effervescent grin and sparkling blue eyes. “Good to see you again.”
“What happens now?” Jude asked, hurrying along beside her. They exited on the first floor and double-timed down an intersecting corridor off the main hallway. Doesn’t anybody walk at a normal pace around here?
“You heard the Chief. Rounds in the trauma intensive care unit in five, and then we wait for a trauma call. I’m assigned to the admitting unit this month, so I don’t have any floor responsibilities.”
“Gotcha,” Jude affirmed, mentally reviewing what she remembered from the all too brief synopsis the surgical department had provided her. She had a feeling, however, that Sinclair didn’t adhere to any script. “So once the patients are transferred from the trauma intensive care unit to a regular floor bed, you don’t have any responsibility for them?”
“Well, I’ll be involved in that aspect of things during the weeks I’m not taking trauma call. It’s an either-or kinda deal because you can’t really do both at once.” Deb held open the heavy gray windowless door with the red rectangular sign announcing the TICU – Trauma Intensive Care Unit. “Grab a cover gown. I’ll get you some scrubs later so you don’t have to worry about your street clothes getting ruined, and you won’t have to keep covering them up every time we go in and out of the units.”
“Thanks,” Jude replied absently, standing just inside the door and scanning the length of the brightly lit rectangular room. A u-shaped counter area just inside the entrance to her right was empty save for a few swivel chairs left askew in the middle of the space, a plethora of charts scattered over the countertops, and a misshapen box of fossilized donuts. What captured her attention were the ten beds lined up along the opposite wall, separated from each other by a few feet of space and featureless curtains on ceiling tracks that were all pushed back to expose the occupants to anyone who happened to be looking.
Almost every spartan, steel-railed adjustable bed contained a genderless, nearly naked form dwarfed by the dispassionate machines of modern medicine. Free-standing ventilators the size of dishwashers flanked every bed, delivering a predetermined volume of gas ten to fifteen times a minute through the hard plastic breathing tubes jutting from the vicinity of every patient’s mouth. Arms were strapped akimbo to extremity immobilizers or tied by soft cotton restraints to the bed rails. Tubes of all sizes ran from every orifice, delivering salvation in the form of antibiotics and liquid nutrition or removing the waste of injury and decay. Monitors occupied every available space, metering out lifetimes in monotonous beeps and flashings pinpoints of light.
The trauma intensive care unit, one of the triumphs of medical technology, was a cold and impersonal place. Jude shivered.
“You okay?” Deb Stein asked, noticing Jude’s reaction.
“What? Oh…yes, I’m fine. Sorry,” Jude replied, dragging her gaze away from the silent tableau. She searched the room, trying to shake the eerie sensation of having stepped into a nightmare, and finally found something to occupy her attention. Sinclair stood at the center of a group of figures wearing white coats or rumpled scrub suits who were crowded around the bottom of the first bed. Her foot was up on the seat of a wheeled chair, one arm propped on her raised knee. She held a long sheet of paper in her hand as she leaned forward, her face sharply focused on the figure in the bed as she listened to what a young man next to her was saying.
“Let’s go, then,” Deb whispered urgently. “Sinclair’s already started.”
“Will I be able to film in here?” Jude interjected, because she wanted this on tape. Sinclair, with every eye upon her and every expression expectant, looked like a commander surveying a battlefield.
“Probably,” Deb said as they approached the people clustered around Sinclair. “We’ll figure it out later—after rounds.”
Jude had no choice but to agree, because she could see that she couldn’t interrupt what was underway, and besides, she wanted to watch this. No one seemed to object, or even particularly notice that she was there. Nurses moved efficiently between the beds, going about the business of administering meds, adjusting fluid pumps, and drawing blood. XRay techs threaded there way through the residents and staff who were blocking the aisles, sliding rectangular film plates under the patients, then shouting clear with complete disregard for what was happening nearby. At the sound of the technician’s warning, everyone shuffled behind the nearest person wearing a lead apron to shield themselves as much as possible from the radiation, waited for the tech to shoot the XRay, and then moved back to their places with barely an interruption in their rhythm.
A deep commanding voice caught her attention.
“How high is his intracranial pressure?” Sax asked the fair-haired young man standing just in front of Jude.
“Up 10 in the last two hours?” the trauma chief queried, a faint edge to her voice.
“And what does that indicate to you, Dr. Kinney?”
Jude craned her neck to see Sinclair, whose blue eyes were fixed, laser like, on the young man’s face. He was a first year surgery resident according to the ID badge clipped to his pocket. His voice was taut with strain as he replied.
“It means that something is causing the pressure to rise inside his skull.”
“Such as?” The edge had progressed to razor sharp now.
Jude thought she could hear him swallow.
“Uh…cerebral edema, subdural hematoma, uh…epidural bleed.”
Sinclair set her foot down from the chair she had been leaning on and straightened, her fierce gaze still on the younger physician. She seemed taller than Jude remembered, but she knew that they were very nearly the same height. It had grown very quiet, although activity still teemed around them.
“Are any of those conditions surgical emergencies?”
The resident blanched. “The subdural and the epidural bleeding.”
“Then why don’t I see the neurosurgeons here looking at him?”
“We called...they said they’d be by,” he offered tentatively. He glanced right and left as if looking for assistance, but his fellow residents studiously avoided his gaze. He was on his own.
“And if he herniates his brainstem while we’re waiting? Who will be responsible for that, Dr. Kinney?” Sinclair turned her head a fraction and met Deborah Stein’s eyes. “Call neurosurg. Tell them I want them here now. Contact radiology and let them know we need an emergency head CT on this guy. Check the chart and find out who signs the consents for his procedures, but don’t call the family until we know for certain he’s going to the OR.”
“Right,” Deb answered briskly and moved off toward the nurse’s station on the far side of the room.
“Okay, who’s next?” Sinclair asked, already stepping to the next bed. Someone pushed the wheeled chair over to her. She absently propped one leg up on it and leaned forward to study the patient in bed two while a different resident began to give report.
Personal Project Log – Castle
My first morning of rounds just ended. I’m exhausted and no one even asked me any questions. All I had to do was move from bed to bed and watch the process. I didn’t understand everything that was said, especially when they began reeling off blood gas values and talking about Glasgow coma scores [Note: get Deb to explain this rating scale for head injury on film, preferably with a patient in the background. Get Sinclair’s okay to film in TICU. Get DP to check lighting in there with film compatibility]. What I did understand loud and clear is that trauma rounds is where the real business of the day gets done. It’s the only time during the day that the whole team is together, and it’s the time when Sinclair fine-tunes the treatment plan for every patient in the Trauma ICU. Each patient’s status is summarized for her by the resident covering that person, and whatever needs to be done – consults, studies, medication adjustments etc – is discussed and ordered. Sinclair signs off on all decisions. Now the doctors assigned to the less sick critical patients on the regular patient floors will go see to them, and those doctors responsible for incoming trauma emergencies – Sinclair and Stein today – will go down to the Trauma Admitting area. And I…
Jude jumped, startled, and clicked off her recorder. She smiled at Sinclair, who was leaning with one shoulder against the wall just outside the TICU, watching her. “Sorry. I didn’t know you were there. Do you need me for something?”
“I want to show you the admitting area. I’m on my way down there now.”
“Great,” Jude replied, slipping the small device into her trouser pocket as they walked. “Thanks for letting me tag along on rounds this morning.”
“Were you recording then, too?”
“No,” Jude said evenly. “I usually record notes to myself—impressions, reactions, reminders. Things I might use for voiceovers later in the film. If I want to tape you or anyone else, I’ll ask.”
Sinclair didn’t say anything for a moment, then asked, “How did you come to pick Deb Stein to focus your project on?”
They passed the Emergency Room waiting area, already crowded with walk-ins, mostly mothers with children and middle-aged people with minor injuries. Those individuals with potentially serious medical conditions usually arrived by ambulance and were delivered directly to treatment rooms. Jude looked ahead down the hallway and saw yet another set of windowless doors with a keypad preventing entry except via a combination. “We met three years ago at the Olympics. I was doing a piece on female athletes, and we started talking about her plans after the games were over. When I began working on this, I thought of her.”
“And she agreed?” Sax asked, pushing in the code on the door lock. “It’s the same as the phone extension – two four two zero.”
“Yes,” Jude replied, following her in. “She did. Why?”
Sax shrugged. “That’s what I’m wondering–why?”
“You’ll have to ask her. I’d like to talk to you, though–on tape–about your own training. Background information, personal experiences, that kind of thing.”
Sax stopped walking and faced her. “Everything you need is on my CV. My secretary can get that for you. You should have her number.”
There was a note of finality in her voice that left no room for discussion. Jude kept her surprise, and her curiosity, to herself. She’d pushed enough for the first day. “All right, thanks.”
“This,” Sax said, leading her through a small alcove containing scrub sinks and cupboards with surgical hats and gowns into another unadorned room that appeared to be a hybrid operating theatre and treatment area, “is the trauma admitting area. Every trauma patient is brought in here, stabilized, and triaged.”
There were three operating tables lined up in the center of the space, each of which could be enclosed by curtains for privacy if necessary. Above each narrow, stainless steel table hung large, circular silver lights containing brilliant halogen bulbs capable of lighting the area adequately for surgery. Jude stared at the silver domes and flushed with a sudden wave of heat and dizziness. Her vision narrowed and spots danced across the darkening landscape. Reflexively she reached out a hand to steady herself and was dimly aware of an arm encircling her waist.
“Ms. Castle,” a quiet calm voice asked, “are you all right?”
Jude forced herself to take a deep breath, reminding herself that this would pass quickly if she just kept breathing. Her legs were unsteady and she held on hard to the warm solid body next to hers. “Yes,” she whispered faintly. “Just…I’m sorry…just a minute.”
Sax stood perfectly still, letting the other woman lean on her, holding her so close it might have been an embrace. A fine sheen of perspiration filmed Jude’s forehead, and she was very pale. “Let’s get you lying down,” Sax said softly. She could feel her tremble.
“No,” Jude responded quickly, pressing one hand to Sax’s shoulder, straightening up with effort. “I’ll be fine. I’m okay, really.”
Sax studied her, still not releasing her hold on her as she rested two fingers on the pulse in Jude’s wrist. Fast but strong. “I agree. You will be, but you still need to sit down.”
“I’m sorry,” Jude said, laughing self-consciously as she allowed Sax to walk her to a chair in front of a long counter that edged the rear wall. Her vision had cleared and she was acutely aware of the fact that Saxon Sinclair still had an arm around her waist. She was also aware of the hard length of Sinclair’s body against her side and the soft swell of the surgeon’s breast against her own. Her legs trembled again and it wasn’t from dizziness. She stepped away quickly and settled into the chair. “Thanks.”
One of the nurses asked Sax if she needed anything, but she shook her head no. She pulled another chair over close to Jude’s and asked, “What happened?”
Embarrassed, Jude blushed. “Nothing. I got a little light-headed. Guess I should have had breakfast.”
“That happens,” Sax acknowledged with a nod, but she didn’t really think that it was hypoglycemia. That usually gave some warning – a racing pulse, tremors, the gradual onset of faintness. Jude Castle had been perfectly fine until she walked into trauma admitting. “Has this occurred before?”
“No,” Jude said, uncomfortable under the scrutiny of those penetrating eyes. At least not for so long I thought it was over.
“We should get an EKG. One of the nurses can do one right down here.”
“I feel fine now.” To prove it, Jude stood and walked a few feet away, needing to escape the other woman’s searching gaze. She needed to walk off the anxiety that clung to her like a bad dream and she needed to forget the swift surge of desire she had experienced in Sinclair’s innocent embrace. This is not a good start.
Jude cleared her throat and asked, “How many patients do you see through here every year?”
“Fifteen hundred, approximately,” Sax replied, watching Jude pace around the forty-foot square space. The abrupt change in subject hadn’t escaped her notice, but she understood the need for privacy. She understood secrets. “When we have a trauma alert, there’s not much room in here. There will be EMTs, nurses, radiology techs, respiratory therapists, anesthesiologists, at least three surgeons, and assorted consultants.”
Sax shook her head. “Not in here. There’s a waiting room just down the hall where they can stay. They usually can’t see the patient until after they’re transferred to the ICU or finished in the OR, depending on the severity of their injuries. This is a modern day MASH unit–we evaluate and ship as fast as possible.”
“But sometimes you operate down here?” Jude asked, forgetting her own discomfort as they talked. She’d drifted back to where Sax still sat, and sat down opposite her again.
“Only in case of a life-threatening emergency.”
“Which would be what?” Jude questioned. “Can I record this, by the way?”
Sax realized that she had been deftly maneuvered into giving an interview, and she nodded her assent with a grudging grin of defeat. “A number of things. Anything that impairs breathing – a fractured larynx, for example—could require a tracheostomy. Sometimes in the face of major blood loss from the pelvis or ruptured internal organs we cross-clamp the aorta to send what blood there is to the brain.”
As she listened, Jude continued to study the physical layout of the room as well as its contents. This was her set; this room would be the backdrop for most of the action she filmed. She would be spending a great deal of time in this room in the next year.
“What do you do between trauma alerts?”
“I’m usually in my office, taking care of administrative things, or at committee meetings, or making rounds in the unit. On a busy day when things are jumping down here, I work in my on call room down the hall.”
“Or,” a male voice interjected from behind Jude, “she tries to sucker someone into playing chess with her.”
Jude swung around on her chair and stared at the man in the pale blue scrubs, a color she was sure he had chosen to match his eyes if his two-hundred-dollar haircut and startling good looks were any indication of the care he took with his appearance. He might have been a male model posing for a uniform catalog.
“Jude Castle, meet Aaron Townsend, the head trauma nurse,” Sax said.
Aaron gave Jude a friendly smile and a frankly appraising look as he took her hand. “Nice to meet you. I’ve heard rumors that we are going to be immortalized on film.”
“I certainly hope so,” Jude replied with a laugh. She was careful not to let her gaze linger too long on his face. She did not want to give him any ideas if he didn’t have them already.
“Excellent,” the handsome blond said enthusiastically. “And I was serious about the chess thing. When the good doctor gets bored she likes to humiliate people at games.”
Jude shrugged, hoping that she appeared more nonchalant than she felt. “Don’t worry, chess is not my game.”
Sax regarded the redhead silently, wondering why for the second time in less than an hour, Jude Castle was lying.
“You’ll need to work with the bare minimum of people in here,” Sax said after Aaron Townsend left to give lunch relief in the TICU, which was short a nurse on the day shift. “Space is at a premium.”
“I’ll want at least two camera people, a sound tech and an assistant besides myself,” Jude responded immediately. She was still thinking about the nurse’s comments about Sinclair being a chess player. Great--one more complication.
“Not a chance.”
Jude glared at her from a foot away, irritated by the uncompromising tone in her voice. Under other circumstances she might have handled things a little more diplomatically, but she was still shaken by her near fainting spell and off her stride. She spoke without thinking. “I don’t need you permission, you know. I’m just trying to be polite here.”
“You don’t need to be polite, Ms. Castle,” Sax said as she stood up, never raising her voice, but her blue eyes were glacially cold. “What you have to do is be careful not to interfere with the work that needs to be done down here or I’ll have you thrown out on your ass.”
Of all the arrogant, dictatorial … Jude fumed as she watched Sinclair stride swiftly from the room. She rubbed her temples and tried not to curse out loud. Lovely, just lovely.
July 1, 4:42 p.m.
“Why did you decide to do your fellowship with Saxon Sinclair?” Jude asked, placing the small recorder between them on the table in the conference room.
“Because she’s the best,” Deb Stein answered with a look that said Jude should know the answer to that silly question.
“Define best,” Jude probed, wanting to get a feel for her ‘star’ and to lay the foundation for what was to come in the weeks ahead. “What makes her different than any number of other trauma surgeons?”
“On the record?” Deb asked, nodding toward the recorder. “Because her unit has the best survival statistics in the state, and I’ve seen her in the operating room. I rotated here as a junior general surgery resident, and she’s amazing. She’s got hands like lightning. Awesome.”
Jude had a feeling that there was something else, because Deb had a little grin on her face. She reached to push the off button on her dictaphone. “What about off the record? Come on, Deb. I can tell you’re holding back on me.”
“Well,” Deb conceded, her eyes twinkling, “she’s so god awful hot. Every dyke resident I know wanted to work with her.”
“Ah ha,” Jude replied, hoping that she wasn’t blushing. “Okay – we’ll keep that off the record.” What in hell is the matter with me? It’s not as if I didn’t think practically the same thing the minute I saw her. So what if she’s hot. She’s a royal pain in the…
Deb Stein jumped up as the pager at her waist beeped, and without another word, she charged from the room. Overhead the intercom blared, Trauma alert STAT, trauma admitting. Trauma alert STAT…
Jude grabbed her dictaphone and ran.
Sax stood gowned and gloved as the double doors to the trauma admitting area slid open and a stretcher bearing a mound of equipment, blood-soaked clothing and an EMT straddling a human body rolled in. The female EMT kneeling astride the man was counting aloud as she rhythmically compressed his chest. One, two, three, four, five … one, two, three, four, five… slowing at the end of each sequence so her partner could deliver a breath through the inflatable Ambu bag attached to the endotracheal tube protruding from the man’s mouth.
“GSW to the left chest,” her partner called to no one in particular, his voice shrill with the adrenaline rush as he ran beside the stretcher, squeezing air into the unresponsive patient’s lungs. “Intubated in the field. He’s had five liters of ringer’s solution. Initial BP eighty palpable. We lost the pulse and pressure about three minutes ago.”
“Exit wound?” Sax called as she and several nurses slid the large man from the gurney onto the treatment table. She quickly assessed his pupils. Unresponsive to light. If he wasn’t brain dead already he would be in two minutes if they didn’t get some oxygen to his brain.
“None that we saw, Doc.”
Swiftly, she moved her stethoscope from one side of his chest to the other, listening for air movement as she watched the paramedic ventilate the patient. Deb Stein, followed closely by Jude Castle, ran in as Sax straightened up. “No air flow on either side. Stein, put a chest tube in on the right. Nancy, open the thoracotomy tray.”
Nurses worked efficiently, nearly silently, repeating a drill they had performed hundreds of times. One cut off the remnants of the patient’s clothing; another slipped a sterile catheter into his penis and attached it to a urine collection bag; still another drew half a dozen vials of blood for laboratory analysis. A surgical intern pulled a tall metal stand up to the bedside and began folding open the layers of sterile linen covering a vast array of surgical instruments. A radiology technician arrived pushing a huge portable xRay machine and stood waiting, calmly labeling individual film plates with the date and the letters ‘UWM’, which is what the patient would remain until someone had time to identify him. Unidentified White Male.
All the while, Aaron Townsend continued chest compressions, having relieved the exhausted EMT. It was fatiguing work pushing the chest hard enough so that the force was transmitted to the heart, and harder still to get the heart to squeeze out blood with enough pressure to travel to the brain and other vital organs when it was almost empty. And this man’s heart had to be almost empty. Most of his blood volume had poured out the two-inch hole in his chest.
Jude pressed along the wall and maneuvered as close to the action as she could get. No one paid her the slightest attention. She glanced at the clock. Forty-five seconds had elapsed since the stretcher was wheeled in. Peering around the anesthesiologist at the head of the table she watched Sinclair. The surgeon’s gaze as she studied the patient was hard and unwavering, her eyes nearly purple with intensity. Everything about her was penetratingly, ferociously focused. Had Jude been aware of her own body, she would have realized she was holding her breath, but she was too absorbed by the trauma chief to notice.
“Hang that blood and squeeze it in by hand,” Sax said sharply. She glanced quickly across the man’s body at Deb. “Have you got that tube in, Stein?”
“Almost,” Deb grunted, forcing an oversized clamp between the fifth and sixth ribs with one hand while holding a clear plastic tube a half inch in diameter in the other, ready to guide it through the tunnel she was creating into the chest cavity.
“Push it in–you’re not going to hurt him,” Sax said while pouring Betadiene directly from a bottle onto the man’s torso. “As soon as you’ve got it in, get over here and give me a hand cracking his chest.”
Even as she spoke, she was slashing a ten-inch curve between the same ribs on the left side. “Rib spreader,” she said tersely as a flood of dark congealed blood cascaded out onto her. She held out her right hand and a nurse passed her a ratcheted double bladed retractor. Sax forced it between the ribs and cranked it open, exposing a deflated lung and a flaccid heart. Deb stepped up next to her, breathing hard, but her hands were steady.
“Open the pericardium and massage the heart manually,” Sax instructed. She leaned away slightly so Deb could move closer, bending a bit to watch as her fellow made a slit in the protective covering enclosing the heart. “Not too deep now–stay away from the coronaries. That’s it …nice. Get your hand around it now.”
Without raising her head, Sax announced, “The heart’s still empty. Come on, people, pump the blood.” Quietly, she encouraged, “That’s it, Stein. Hold it in the palm of your hand and keep the pressure even.”
“We’re getting something on the EKG,” Aaron announced.
“Rate?” Sax asked without looking away from the gaping hole in the man’s body.
“Still only 40.”
“Push some atropine,” Sax instructed. She and Deb Stein were so close their bodies were practically fused. “Keep going, Deb. You’ve got it.”
Jude tore her gaze from Sax’s face and looked at the clock. Two minutes and ten seconds.
“I’ve got a blood pressure,” one of the nurses called.
“The heart’s beating,” Deb murmured, almost as if she didn’t believe it.”
“Stop the compression and see if he flies,” Sax ordered.
For a minute no one breathed. The EKG beeped steadily, the arterial line read a blood pressure of one hundred, and the blood flow from the chest wound slowed to a trickle.
“Tell the OR we’re coming up,” Sax said, a victorious note in her voice. She glanced up then, her gaze meeting Jude’s. A grin flickered at the corner of her expressive mouth.
Jude saw the triumph dance in Sinclair’s blue eyes. It was one of the sexiest things she’d ever seen.
July 1, 7:35 p.m.
Sax raised an eyebrow in surprise as she walked through the surgeons’ lounge toward the door leading into the women’s locker room. The common space between the locker rooms and the operating room proper was empty save for Jude Castle, who sat writing in a notebook at the long wooden table that held remnants of a pizza and a white layer cake.
“You’re here late,” Sax remarked, stopping opposite the filmmaker, who glanced up and smiled.
“I was waiting for you.” Jude pushed her work away and studied the surgeon, noting the dark patch on her thigh that could only be blood and the sweat dampening the shirt between her breasts. She looks tired, Jude thought, and the thought surprised her. She realized that she hadn’t imagined the formidable trauma chief being vulnerable to something so common, and then wondered where that idea had come from.
“Really,” Sax remarked, her tone curious. “Why?”
“Because I owe you an apology.”
Sax rubbed her face briefly, blew out a breath, and pulled out a chair opposite the redhead. She recalled their last heated exchange now, although it seemed longer than just a few hours ago. She remembered being angry, but certainly couldn’t remember anything that required an apology. And somehow the idea of this woman apologizing to her seemed wrong. They’d both been rather hot. “Look, Ms. Castle—“
“No, let me finish,” Jude interjected, amused to see a quick flash of annoyance in the other woman’s eyes. Not used to being interrupted, is she? “You were right about limiting my crew in the admitting area. It’s a zoo in there during a trauma alert. I should have waited to assess things myself before I told you what I needed. I’ll work something out.”
“Okay, I appreciate you making the adjustments. Thanks,” Sax said. Then she added, “I notice you’re not apologizing for threatening to pull rank on me.”
“No, I’m not.”
Sax stood. “Fair enough. Deb Stein is on call tomorrow night. You’d better get some rest if you’re going to start keeping surgeon’s hours.”
“Are you done for the day?” Jude called as Sax walked away.
“Soon,” Sax said as she pushed open the door to the locker room. She knew that she’d probably spend the night on the narrow bed in her on call quarters, because it was somehow less impersonal there than the space she called home, but that wasn’t something she wanted to share.
Jude sighed and tried to stop thinking about Saxon Sinclair. She couldn’t decide if the woman annoyed or fascinated her more. She has to be one of the most infuriating people I’ve ever met. She’s rigid and inflexible and arrogant, and if that weren’t bad enough—she’s—she’s accomplished and talented and driven. And—oh, hell—so damned attractive.
“Aren’t you hungry?” Lori Brewster asked with concern.
“What?” Jude replied, startled. She glanced at her plate and the half-eaten entrée and realized that she had forgotten about it. “Oh, no. I mean…I was, but I’m not now.” Seeing the look of concern on her companion’s face, she hurriedly added, “I’m just distracted. It probably wasn’t very smart of me to make a date for the first day of this new project.”
The attractive dark-haired attorney frowned, reaching across the immaculate linen tablecloth to take Jude’s hand. “We didn’t need to go out. I haven’t seen you in two weeks.” She brushed her thumb over Jude’s palm. “We could have just gotten take-out and spent the evening in bed.”
“I’m sorry,” Jude replied, squeezing Lori’s hand. “I’m lousy company tonight.” She hoped the fact that she had sidestepped the overture to sex wasn’t as obvious to her dinner companion as it felt to her. She wasn’t even sure herself why she wasn’t that interested. They’d been dating for more than six months, casually, which was how they’d both agreed they wanted it. Lori was busy establishing herself in a competitive law firm where she intended to make partner before anyone else her age, and she worked ninety-hour weeks to prove it. Jude traveled frequently for shoots and promotional meetings and didn’t feel she could give a serious relationship the attention it required. So far their arrangement had been mutually satisfying. Jude smiled at Lori, appreciating the appraising look in her eyes and remembering how much she liked her trim, athletic body. We’ve got similar interests, we want the same things professionally, and we’re good together in bed. What more could I want?
She shook off the odd sense of disquiet she’d had ever since leaving St. Michael’s and tried not to think any more about Sinclair or why she even cared if the irritating trauma surgeon liked her or not. Jude smiled at the waiting woman, then said quietly, “Let’s skip dessert.”
The glass door on the shower slid open and Jude felt a soft, smooth body press close against her back. Arms slipped around her waist, lips trailed across her shoulder. A voice, husky and intimate, whispered in her ear.
“Hey, I missed you. The bed is cold without you.”
“I tried not to wake you,” Jude responded, leaning back into the embrace, turning her head to brush her mouth over a damp cheek. “Sorry.”
“You okay?” Lori asked.
“Yes.” But she didn’t feel quite okay, and she wasn’t sure why. Nothing had changed. They had shared themselves with each other as they had in the past, enjoyably and with an easy familiarity that came from mutual caring. It was nice to feel the heat of another body, and to touch flesh other than one’s own. It was nice to be physically satisfied. It had been every bit as nice as it had the first time they’d slept together. Nothing had changed.
“Do you need to go?”
“Mmm, yeah. I’ve got an early meeting with my photography director in the morning. And early by surgeon’s standards means six-thirty,” Jude explained, turning in the mist and water to face her companion.
“Jesus, that’s inhuman.”
“I need to get some sleep and prepare a few things,” Jude said with a grin.
“Well then,” Lori murmured, bending her face to Jude’s neck and licking the trail of water from her skin, “you should probably leave. I can’t promise how much sleep you’ll get if you stay.”
Jude kissed her once, quickly, and stepped from the shower, reaching for a towel. “My very thoughts.”
They parted with the usual promise to call when their schedules allowed, and by the time Jude reached home in the taxi, her mind was already on her plans for the next day.
July 2nd, 6:50 AM
Sax passed Aaron Townsend in the hall as he was leaving after a night on duty.
"Everything quiet?" she asked, although she knew that it must be. She’d returned to the hospital in the middle of the night, even though she wasn’t on call, and she knew that someone would have notified her if anything big had come in. She was second call, on back-up if more than one major trauma arrived at once. Technically she could have taken call from home, but she was just as happy to sleep in familiar surroundings.
"Depends on what you mean," he said with a grin. “The only admission we had was some guy who lost a battle with his fan belt at two a.m. Don’t ask me why he was working on his engine in the middle of the night, but he’s in the OR now getting his fingers reattached.” His sly expression suggested there was something else however—a secret that he found amusing.
Sax stopped walking and fixed him with a piercing glance. "Would you like to tell me what else is going on?"
"There are four people in the trauma bay hanging cameras and microphones from the ceiling right now."
"Really," Sax remarked dryly, thinking that Jude Castle hadn't wasted any time getting to work. She had to admit she liked that about the filmmaker. As irritating as this entire project was likely to be, she admired Castle's persistence and perseverance. The woman was a professional, and that kind of determination was something Sax understood. "Guess I'll wander back and see what's happening."
“Uh huh.” The head nurse watched her walk away and wished he didn't have a breakfast date. He would have loved to watch the confrontation. The undercurrent of competition between the two women hadn't escaped his notice the previous day. And they said that alpha males were dangerous when you put them together. He'd worked with Saxon Sinclair for four and a half years, and he knew just how tough an alpha female could be. It's going to be a very interesting few months around here, he thought as he pushed through the ER doors into the bright morning sun and waved to the brunette in the convertible waiting at the curb for him.
Sax leaned against the doorway at the entrance to the trauma bay, her trauma bay, and stared at the strangers fast at work. A woman in jeans and workshirt stood on the top of a stepladder adjusting a ceiling mounted camera that was directly over the patient treatment tables. Her blond hair was half concealed by a baseball cap turned around backwards with the word Sundance stenciled in bright orange letters. Her figure, at least from the back view, was neat and tidy. Two young men appeared to be stringing cable from the camera to a bank of monitors and recording equipment stacked on rolling tables pushed up against the wall near the nurses’ station. Jude Castle stood observing them, intermittently referring to her notebook and then looking up to follow the progress of the equipment installation. Looking fresh and energized, she was wearing khaki pants and a tight black T-shirt, leaving her nicely muscled arms bare. For a second, enjoying the view, Sax forgot how annoyed she was at the invasion of her domain.
"The primary shots are going to have to be with the handheld," Jude remarked to the blond on the ladder.
"The best quality is going to come from this one up here," the woman countered.
"There's too much action to follow with a stationary. I'll want to focus on the surgeons, especially Deb Stein, and they're moving all the time."
The blond climbed down and pivoted to survey the area she would need to cover with her cameras. She halted suddenly when she saw Sax watching, and a small smile flickered across her face. "Good morning," she called in Sax's direction, a faint hint of flirtatiousness in her voice.
Sax pushed away from the wall and came forward. "Morning," she responded neutrally, her glance moving quickly from the attractive blond who was appraising her to Jude. "Ms. Castle," Sax murmured by way of greeting.
"Dr. Sinclair," Jude said smoothly, "this is my DP, Melissa Cooper."
"DP?" Sax queried as she turned to extend her hand.
"Director of photography, at your service," Melissa furnished with a grin as they shook one another's hand.
"Ah, I see." Sax look back at Jude and continued, "Could I speak with you for a moment, please?"
"Of course. Mel, would you make sure they run a sound check once they get their lines connected?"
"Sure," the photographer replied. She watched the two women walk out into the hall, checking out Sinclair’s denim clad ass. Now there is one hot item. This is going to be a very enjoyable shoot. Oh, yeah.
“You’re up early,” Sax said as they walked through the still quiet corridors. “Let’s grab some coffee. I’ll buy this time.”
“I thought it would be a good idea if we took care of some of the construction details before things got busy in there,” Jude said carefully. She knew the surgeon had something on her mind, and she half expected another skirmish.
“Traumas don’t tend to follow a schedule, unless it’s lunar. There’s something in that tale. Every full moon we’re swamped.” They reached the coffee kiosk and Sax ordered two red-eyes.
“I just took a chance that we could get most of it done this morning,” Jude agreed. “Still, the hour right around the changeover from the night shift to the day shift is always quiet.”
“Usually,” Sax allowed, looking at her carefully. “You’ve had some experience in hospitals, then.”
“Some.” Jude stared straight ahead and didn’t elucidate further. Those six weeks were nothing she cared to discuss. She’d forgotten it, buried it, left it behind. She shivered.
“Cold?” Sax asked quietly, handing her a coffee.
“No,” Jude said, taking the paper cup. “I’m fine.”
Sax nodded. “Okay. Let’s talk about this project of yours. Since I can’t get rid of you, I’d better find out what I’m in for.”
“Okay—“ Jude began.
“Wait,” Sax interjected. “Come with me.”
The view from the helipad was incredible. Like most New Yorkers, Jude was used to the kind of vistas one saw from restaurants on top of skyscrapers and out the windows of offices on the 70th floor, but the sight of the water and the white dots of sails flickering over the surface and the majestic rise of the Statue of Liberty were still eye-catchingly gorgeous. Saxon Sinclair in profile, the wind whipping her black hair around her starkly handsome face, was pretty captivating, too. Jude wished she had a camera.
“Nice up here,” Jude observed.
“One of the few places in the hospital where there’s any privacy,” Sax commented. She wasn’t certain why she’d brought the filmmaker up here. It was one of the places she came to be alone, when the chaos in the world downstairs became too much or the long hours between midnight and dawn stretched too long. It was amazingly peaceful here at night, surrounded by nothing but the wind and the dark and the lights from surrounding buildings that substituted for stars in the urban landscape. Far below, the streets teemed with life and people living it, some in desperate abandon and some in unconscious ignorance. Up here, she felt both a part of it and apart from it, the watcher who on occasion ventured forth to take part in the game. She turned her back to the view, watching Jude study the rooftop with that same intent expression she’d noticed several times the day before. “Looking for a shot?”
Jude stared at her in surprise, amazed that she could tell. She blushed faintly, because at that moment she had been thinking how much she would like to photograph the trauma surgeon. “Something like that. Am I imagining it, or is that actually a basketball hoop on the side of the parking ramp over there?”
“That’s what it is, all right,” Sax confirmed, taking the lid off her coffee cup and tossing it into a nearby trashcan.
“Is that for Deb’s benefit?”
Sax grinned. “Nope. It’s mine.”
“Ah, that’s right. Aaron said you liked games.”
“Some of them,” Sax replied casually.
For no good reason, Jude’s heart skipped a beat. Forget it. That is not what she meant. You have got to get your hormones under control around her. But she couldn’t prevent a brief image of the other woman in her motorcycle jacket from flickering into her mind. And that image did nothing to still the surge of blood into places she really didn’t want it to be going. Not at seven o’clock in the morning at the beginning of a very long day.
“So, are you actually planning on taking call with Deb?” Sax asked as they leaned against the cement wall that encircled the rooftop.
“Yes. I want to be there when something happens, and you said yourself how unpredictable it can be,” Jude responded, grateful for a conversation to take her mind off her body.
“For twenty-four hour stretches?”
“Whenever she’s here, yes.” As she spoke, Jude took in the huge white X stenciled on the rooftop, and the windsock snapping in the breeze nearby, and almost salivated at the thought of filming the helicopter’s descent while a crowd of gowned medical personnel waited, bent low to avoid the swirling rotors. It brought to mind all those old clips from the sixties of choppers twisting wildly over the scorched earth of a far-away land, olive-garbed men racing madly forward with their wounded on makeshift litters. God, what a shot.
“What about your crew–the photographers and sound people. Them, too?”
“What?” Jude asked, still focused on the faint images in her mind. Battlefields and blood and Sinclair in black leather. “Oh–Mel is the main camera operator, and she’ll work nights when Deb’s on call. I figure that’s when we’re most likely to get a hit. Since I’ll be here around the clock, I’ll handle the cameras if she’s not available. I’m not as good as she is, but I can manage.”
“For how long?”
“Indefinitely,” Jude said with a shrug. “Until I get what I need.”
“That’s a significant commitment,” Sax observed neutrally, wondering if the filmmaker had any idea how disruptive that kind of schedule was going to be. “In time and energy. Every third night, sometimes all night, can wear you down pretty fast.”
“You do it,” Jude pointed out.
“It’s my job.”
Sax studied her, then grinned. “Point taken. Forgive my professional chauvinism.”
“It’s hard to be angry at someone who so readily admits it when they’re being a jerk.”
For a moment, Sax simply stared at her. Green eyes, sparkling with challenge, met hers, and she wondered what it was about the redhead that was so damn appealing. She decided it might be the fact that she had yet to back down over anything. “Aren’t you afraid that you’ll offend me and I’ll be uncooperative?”
Jude laughed. “I missed the part where you’ve been cooperating so far.”
“I’ll try to be more obvious then,” Sax replied dryly, but her tone was playful.
“Tell me something, Doctor Sinclair,” Jude asked, still thinking about the battlefield images. “Tell me about the enemy."
"Yes—what is the enemy you face when a patient is delivered into your trauma bay?”
“Time,” Sax answered immediately, not even stopping to consider where the question had come from. “A true trauma emergency is a race against time—blood seeps away, organs die, damage becomes irreversible.”
“How much time do you have? To make decisions, to make a difference?” Jude asked softly, watching something in Sinclair’s face change. The surgeon was looking past her, her gaze slightly distant, as if she were reliving something in her mind. Jude did not want to distract her; she did not want to let her know how much her expression revealed.
“Seconds. Sometimes not even that—you act unconsciously, instinctively.”
“And if you’re wrong?” Softer still.
Sax’s blue eyes snapped into sharp focus and met Jude’s. “We have a saying in surgery, Ms. Castle. Better wrong than uncertain. Hesitation, for a surgeon, can be deadly. If you can’t live with your decisions, you need to find another line of work.” She turned to leave, saying, “I have trauma rounds in thirty minutes.”
“What about Deb Stein?” Jude called after her, not wanting to let the moment pass. She needed to understand what went on beneath the surface so she could hunt it out and capture it with her lens. “How will you know if she can make those kinds of decisions?”
Sax stopped and faced her. “You’re interviewing me again.”
“Is this year some kind of test for her?” Jude persisted, ignoring the comment.
Mildly exasperated at the other woman’s tenacity, Sax shook her head. “No. Deb has proven herself already. She’s completed six years of general surgery training—six years of a system designed to wear down and wear out anyone not physically and psychologically fit for the specialty. The attrition rate is high in the first two years of a surgery residency for a reason.”
“Sounds abusive,” Jude observed, still probing.
“Some people would call it that,” Sax agreed. “But better to find out before someone is set loose with a knife in their hand whether they can take it or not.”
“So what is the purpose of this year, if Deb is already a competent surgeon?”
“I need to teach her to trust her judgment, to think on her feet, to act without all the information, to make the right decisions. If anyone is tested this year, it will be me.”
Sax stopped abruptly. Where in hell did that come from? Why is it every time I talk to this woman I end up saying things I don’t mean to? She’s downright dangerous.
“I’m sorry. I’ll be late,” Sax said curtly, and walked briskly away.
Jude watched her go, feeling slightly breathless. She tried to tell herself it wasn’t because of the passion she had glimpsed in the depths of Saxon Sinclair’s eyes, or how very attractive she found it.
Personal Project Log – Castle
July 2, 7:40 a.m.
I’m starting to get the picture now. Surgery is the medical equivalent of the Special Forces or the Green Berets or something. At least that's the way Sinclair sees it. She's the commanding officer, the residents are her troops, and the war is against death. Jesus. I never thought about that before. It takes some kind of ego to take that on. She's got it, that's for sure, but I wonder how that happens. Where does that confidence, that absolute certainty, come from? [Note: need more background on Sinclair. She and Deb are the brackets of this frame, the beginning and the end.] That's the point of this year, I guess—to take Deb, the green recruit, and turn her into a leader, a warrior. [Note: Entitle second episode ‘Boot Camp’]. This is the angle—the hook. This is the analogy that will get people excited, that will keep them coming back week after week. That and the human-interest aspect of following Deb through the process. She's perfect for it because she's so girl-next-door. They loved her during the Olympics, and the up close and personal interviews with her were a big hit. [Note: call Sinclair's secretary for her C. V. Arrange an on-camera interview with Sinclair regarding the necessary personality traits of a trauma surgeon. How did she choose Deb?]
July 2- 8:15 PM
"If I have to eat cafeteria food every third night for the next six months, I want hazard pay," Melissa Cooper groused. "It's bad enough that my social life is going to go to hell, but at this rate so will the rest of me."
"I told you to take a few hours off for dinner…or we could have ordered take out," Jude pointed out, leafing through a surgical journal she had found under a stack of file folders on the counter. The article titles were mostly indecipherable to her, but the pictures were fascinating. She was sitting in the trauma bay in one of the ubiquitous swivel chairs, her feet propped up on the wastepaper basket. Nearby, Mel fiddled with her equipment. "Problems?"
"No, I ran a video-sound synch check earlier, and it was fine. I just wanted to make sure we had the microphone settings optimized to capture everything we could. It would be better if we had off-camera mikes, too."
"I agree, but I don't think it's technically possible in the space that we have here. Besides, it will add to the immediacy and the atmosphere if our sound is a little rough. We want this to come across like a front line, in-the-trenches kind of documentary."
Melissa straightened and stretched. "That's what you're going to get if I have to rely on only two cameras, and wear one of them on top of it." She pulled a chair out from under the long counter and regarded Jude contemplatively. "How are things with Lori?"
Surprised, Jude responded automatically. "Fine. Why?"
"Just wondering," Melissa said with a shrug. "You've been seeing her, what? Four or five months?"
Melissa whistled. "Sounds serious."
"No," Jude said slowly, realizing that she rarely gave her relationship with Lori much thought. It just was...what it was. "Not really."
"Is she seeing anyone else?"
"Not that I know of, but she might be. We never made any exclusivity agreements."
Jude eyed her friend and colleague suspiciously. "No. I barely have time to keep up the one relationship I have as it is. So why the twenty questions, Mel? Are you planning on asking her out?"
"God, no," Melissa said laughing. "She's hot, but she's way too establishment for me. Just curious as to what's going on with you. If I were going to ask anyone out, it would be Sinclair. She's got a look about her that says she could be interesting."
"Interesting?" Jude asked carefully, trying to ignore the sudden twist of jealousy she felt at Melissa's announcement. You've got absolutely nothing to be jealous about. What's it to you if Melissa goes after Sinclair or anyone else for that matter? You already have a girlfriend and even seeing her every few weeks is work. Besides, Sinclair is definitely not your type. She's secretive and edgy and just plain difficult.
Oblivious to her friend’s reaction, Melissa continued blithely, "In case you haven't noticed, she's got a thing about control. I bet she's the same way in bed."
Jude definitely did not want to spend any time at all considering what Sinclair would be like in bed. She had to work around her for days at a time for the foreseeable future, and she needed to concentrate on work while they were together, nothing else. "Well, good luck finding out."
“Is she available, do you know?”
“No idea.” Come to think of it, she didn’t know much about her at all. I really need to get her in an interview.
"Should I give you a detailed report?" Melissa teased.
"No thanks," Jude responded more sharply then she intended. She hoped the photographer didn't notice.
Before Melissa could comment on Jude's reply, Deb and Aaron walked in together. "Hey," they both said in way of greeting.
"Evening," Jude answered, disappointed to see that Sinclair was not with them. "What's happening?"
Deb joined them as Aaron began restocking the crash cart with drugs after unlocking the multi-drawered rolling cart with his key. "Nothing at the moment," the trauma fellow replied. "Sinclair told me to tell you she's arranging an on-call room for you. Maintenance is putting a couple of beds and a desk in a small office down the hall where you can sleep and set up some of your equipment if you need to." She handed Jude several keys. "You might as well try to get some sleep while you're hanging around with us if nothing’s happening at night."
"I don't want to miss anything," Jude said uncertainly.
"I'll bang on your door if anything comes in," Deb assured her. "We always have some warning when a trauma is on the way, because either the EMTs radio us or the chopper calls ahead."
"Sounds fine then," the filmmaker agreed. "If it gets to be late and it's still quiet, I'll definitely take you up on it."
"I'll second that," Melissa added. She considered briefly that it might be handy in the coming months to have a room nearby with a bed available. She'd learned from experience that a little romantic diversion on an extended shoot could help pass the time quite nicely, and from what she'd seen so far, there was more than one possibility she wouldn't mind exploring.
It felt like Jude had barely closed her eyes when a sharp rap on the door brought her upright in the narrow bed. Across the tiny space from her, Mel turned over with a mumble and buried her head under the pillow. Heart pounding, it took Jude a few moments to realize where she was and that someone was at the door. Crossing quickly to open it, she inquired, "Yes?"
Sinclair stood in the empty hallway looking wide-awake. "Five minutes, Ms. Castle. We have three coming by ambulance from a pileup on the bridge. There could be more--I don't know yet."
Sax was already moving off down the hall towards the trauma admitting area as Jude called over her shoulder, "Let's go, Mel. We're on."
The next five minutes passed in what felt like seconds. By the time Jude and Melissa reached the trauma bay, Aaron and two other nurses she didn't recognize were already waiting, garbed in protective gowns and gloves and pulling out instrument packs from tall steel cabinets. Sinclair and Deb were in scrubs, also pulling on latex gloves. On the long counter lay the remnants of someone's late dinner, scattered sections of the daily newspaper, and a chessboard, clearly abandoned in mid-game. Jude averted her eyes, but not before she had instantaneously absorbed the position of the pieces. White was about to be checkmated.
From across the room where she leaned against the edge of one of the treatment tables, Sax watched the filmmaker and her photographer prepare. In their own way, they were very much like her own team, working together with practiced efficiency, almost wordlessly. Castle was speaking rapidly into her dictaphone, apparently noting the date, time, and specific circumstances of the upcoming shoot. Melissa Cooper was shrugging into a body harness that was clearly meant to support the heavy handheld video camera. As she helped to secure the DVCam, Jude affixed the microphone to it for simultaneous sound and video synchronization. Once that was accomplished, Melissa took up a position where she could record the entrance and the arrival of the patients and checked the angle of view on the built in monitor. Jude stood just behind her, where, Sax presumed, she could direct her photographer to concentrate on whatever aspects of the upcoming resuscitation interested her. Smooth. Impressive.
Jude glanced over at Sinclair. "Are we okay here?"
"I think so. Go for what you want—if you get in the way, I'll let you know."
"Sounds good," Jude said with a grin. She didn't doubt for second that even in the midst of fury, Sinclair would have no problem making her wishes known. Her last act before the doors slid open and the first of three stretchers careened into the room was to wonder if the surgeon ever relinquished control to anyone – ever.
It started out as a fairly routine trauma situation, or so Jude surmised. EMTs and paramedics from two separate divisions had responded to a multi-vehicle crash, and the first victims to arrive were a family of three.
"Try to get something on all of them, but concentrate on Deb and the little girl," Jude directed Melissa as medical personnel converged on the gurneys.
Efficiently, team members moved each patient to a treatment table with the effortless choreography of long practice. As far as Jude could tell, all three family members were conscious, although both the mother and father were strapped to backboards with restraining cervical collars around their necks. A blond child who appeared to be about five lay on the third stretcher, looking small and vulnerable surrounded by the monitors clustered around her. A large laceration extended from her scalp onto her forehead, and from where she was standing, Jude could make out the stark gleaming surface of white bone. Miraculously, the child appeared comfortable and not particularly frightened--she didn’t even seem to be crying, although there were tear tracks smudged on her smooth flawless cheeks.
From beside her, Jude heard Sinclair directing the activity even as the surgeon began assessing the male member of the trio.
"Fisher, check the mother. Stein, get the girl." She bent over the man, automatically performing the standard initial evaluation to confirm that he was breathing properly and that his pulse and blood pressure were adequate. "What was the status in the field? Extrication times? Any hemodynamic instability or loss of consciousness?" she asked of the paramedics who had lingered to watch the resuscitation.
It sounded to Jude like the handful of emergency personnel answered at once, and she couldn't fathom how the trauma chief could possibly sort out the plethora of facts and numbers bombarding her.
Sax never took her eyes off the patient, her face intent as her hands rapidly moved over his body. "Were they restrained?"
"Yep. Seatbelts and car seat," one of the paramedics standing by the door finishing his paperwork called out.
Sax straightened and glanced to her right where Keith Fisher, an upper-level surgery resident, was performing the exact same maneuvers she had just completed on the mother. "Dr. Fisher,” she said, not loudly, but with a degree of authority that got his attention immediately. His hands stopped moving as he looked at her expectantly. “This patient is complaining of abdominal pain and he’s got guarding in the lower abdomen. What do you recommend we do?"
The young man, clearly charged with excitement by the tense atmosphere, answered with a note of hope in his voice, "Open peritoneal lavage?"
Jude watched Saxon Sinclair. She couldn't seem not to. Of all the figures in the room, the dark-haired surgeon seemed to be the epicenter, the focal point. Despite the air of controlled pandemonium permeating the room, Sinclair’s expression was calm and her attitude collected. Her movements were precise and economical, and in just the few moments that Jude had been observing her, she had clearly appraised the condition of each patient and given directives to orchestrate their care. As Jude listened to the young surgeon-in-training suggest what she presumed was some sort of operation, for a fleeting second, she thought she saw Sinclair grin. She made a note in the log she was quietly dictating to ask her why.
"I'd agree with you," Sax said as she moved to the woman Fisher was examining, "if he were hemodynamically unstable and I suspected a major intra-abdominal bleed. But his pulse and blood pressure are normal so we have time to get a non-invasive test before we resort to a surgical procedure.” Glancing over her shoulder, she ordered, “Aaron, get him down for a CT of the chest and abdomen. Tell them he's a possible seatbelt injury and to check his spleen and retroperitoneum carefully."
Surprisingly, Sax stopped at the foot of the stretcher where the female patient lay and turned to Jude. As if she had all the time in the world, she said conversationally, "It's not uncommon to sustain an internal injury in high-speed decelerations when a person is restrained by a seatbelt. Internal organs, particularly those that are very vascular or fragile, can rupture and bleed. We could make a small incision in his abdomen right now and look, but I think a CT scan is a better choice for him."
"Thanks," Jude said quietly but Sinclair had already turned her back and was leaning over the wife. She heard the surgeon introduce herself and ask the woman if she were having any pain. She couldn't hear the woman's faint reply, but she could hear the anxiety in her tone.
"We haven't finished examining the three of you yet," Sax said calmly, "but everyone seems stable. Your husband will need some tests and I’ll let you know about your little girl in a few seconds. Now, I want to take care of you."
There was something familiar in the surgeon’s compassionate tone that struck a chord in Jude, and as she struggled with the half-memory, her pulse accelerated and her ears buzzed faintly. God, not now! She forced her attention back to the scene before her and, thankfully, her head cleared.
"Pull back a little bit to catch both the mother and daughter," Jude instructed Melissa hoarsely. She just needed to focus on the work and she’d be fine.
The photographer, who had been moving back and forth between the three stretchers trying to record the various stages of treatment, grunted her assent. Just as Jude spoke, the little girl called for her mother and mother and child each reached out a hand, joining their fingers across the narrow space between the two beds.
"Are you getting this?" Jude whispered excitedly, practically climbing onto Mel’s shoulder to check her angle of view.
"Yeah, yeah, I've got it. Don't worry," Melissa said distractedly while trying to keep one eye on the scene at large so as not to miss some developing event, and at the same time concentrating on the intimate details that made the proceedings so very human. “You could give me an inch or two to move, Jude,” she muttered as she followed behind Deb, working to keep the heavy camera steady against her chest. Even with the body rig to help support the weight, her arms would be shaking before too much longer.
Next to them, Sax gave one of the nurses detailed instructions about lab tests and x-rays for the mother and finally joined Deb beside the little girl. Both Jude and Melissa moved in close behind her, but she seemed not to notice them.
"Anything?" Sax asked, studying the small patient.
"Neurologic exam is intact. No evidence of airway or hemodynamic instability. She has the obvious laceration but I can't palpate a skull fracture. No bruising on the chest or abdomen to suggest blunt trauma, and she's moving all four extremities to command. She'll need a head CT to rule out a fracture or any associated intracranial injury, and then she's going to need that laceration repaired."
As Deb reported, Sax bent close and murmured something that Jude couldn’t quite make out, but she hoped the mic on the camera would pick it up. Then, Sax began her own assessment--listening to the little girl’s heart and lungs, probing her abdomen, running her hands over each extremity. She checked the child's pupils and ears, nodded agreement with Deb’s evaluation, and murmured, “Nothing to suggest evidence of bleeding or increased intracranial pressure. Looks like her only significant injury is that fairly straightforward soft tissue injury on the scalp. Do you want to repair it yourself after the CT or call plastics?"
"It looks pretty routine," Deb remarked. "As long as nothing else is going on, I might as well do it."
Sax appeared about to answer when a heavyset policeman, flushed and breathing heavily, barged into the trauma admitting area. He skidded to a halt and stared at Sax, struggling to get his words out.
"There's an ambulance pulling in right now with a guy who crashed his motorcycle in the pile up. He was underneath one of the cars and we just found him." He held out a large black trash bag, which he had secured under one arm. "This...this is...his."
Jude wasn't certain what she was watching but she tapped Mel on the shoulder and said urgently, "Get this."
"Put it down on this," Sax said, rolling a steel cart forward. As the policeman deposited his package, she looked at Jude and Melissa pointedly. "This may be... difficult."
"It's okay," Jude said, trying to ignore the escalating roaring in her head. The shape of the package gave her a pretty good idea of what was inside, but she was certain she must be wrong. Her heart was hammering as she continued, "Go ahead."
Sax peeled back the edges of the black plastic.
"Oh fuck," Melissa Cooper murmured, struggling to hold the camera steady, and it wasn’t because her arms were tired.
Jude put her hand on Mel's shoulder and fought a dizzying wave of nausea.
"Stein," Sax said curtly as she surveyed the perfectly preserved leg lying in the bag surrounded by ice. It had been severed at the hip and a portion of the pelvic bone was visible, still attached to the cut end. The rest of it looked perfectly normal, including the lower leg and foot. "Call the OR and tell them we have a level one coming up. Notify vascular surgery and orthopedics that we have a possible limb replantation."
Even as she was speaking, the doors slid open yet again and four paramedics came crashing through with the owner of the severed limb. For the next few moments it seemed to Jude that Sinclair was everywhere at once. Nurses and residents descended upon the motorcyclist, cutting off clothes, inserting tubes into his nose and into his arms and down his throat. Sax and Stein removed a large pressure bandage that covered his lower body, at which point Jude commanded hoarsely, "Stop the camera, Mel."
Melissa was about to protest, and then she got a clear look at the gaping wound and realized that it was far too personal and private a thing to reveal to anyone. "Yeah."
"Do you want to look at the dailies now?” Melissa Cooper asked, trying valiantly to hide her weariness. She hadn't thought anything could bother her anymore. She'd filmed children starving in African nations so impoverished it was impossible to believe such conditions existed in the modern world, and she'd documented the last moments of young men and women dying of AIDS in the most technologically advanced society ever known. She'd witnessed the gamut of human emotions from grief and horror to joyous celebration, and with the filter of her camera between her and the event, she'd been able to maintain her psychological equilibrium. Tonight, she'd almost lost it.
"Let's do it tomorrow," Jude said dully, glancing at the round, institutional-appearing clock, amazed at how much time she had lost. Four hours had passed in a blur of noise and motion and blood. She glanced around at the littered floor, the aftermath of battle strewn everywhere—wads of gauze soaked with blood and other fluids, discarded surgical gloves, clear plastic wrappers that had encased sterile tubing and intravenous catheters—a portion of a pair of denim pants. "God."
"We're not going to be able to show much of that," Melissa commented hoarsely. Her throat was so dry it almost hurt to speak. She methodically stowed her equipment without looking at Jude, needing to restore order and sanity by repeating familiar tasks. "Are we?"
Jude twisted in the swivel chair in front of the counter and stared at the chessboard. Miraculously, it had remained undisrupted throughout what felt to her now like a tornado of barely contained chaos. Absently, she replayed Black's last six moves. Nicely done.
"We can't show him," she said at last. "The network censors would never let it pass. Besides, I don't want this to be about satisfying morbid curiosity. We've got great shots of Deb and Sinclair, though. There’s still a lot there."
She pressed her fingers to her aching temples. “Go home, Mel.”
She didn't need to review the videotape to know what she wanted to use from what they had just witnessed. Her heart was still racing with the aftermath of tension, but what left her nerve endings so raw that her skin felt hot were her memories of Saxon Sinclair.
Sax walked into the trauma admitting area and stared in surprise at Jude Castle. "What are you still doing here? I saw your photographer leaving just before I started making rounds a couple of hours ago."
"I sent her home," Jude replied quietly. "I think she earned her salary last night."
"So did you," Sax observed, pulling out a chair and sitting down opposite the filmmaker. She had expected Jude to want to get away for a while after the previous night's events. An injury like that was tough on all of them, even the most seasoned trauma veteran, but it must be nearly incomprehensible for a civilian to assimilate. She had to work at not thinking too much about it herself. It hadn't escaped her notice that the redhead had looked like she was about to faint when the severed leg had been uncovered, not that she could blame her. She had a feeling, though, that it wasn't because Jude was squeamish. Jude's reaction had looked very much like the one she’d had when she’d first walked into the trauma admitting area—a purely involuntary, autonomic response to a stressful event. Or the memory of one. The director still looked pale and shaky. "Are you okay? It was a long night."
Jude flushed, embarrassed, wishing that the surgeon wasn’t quite so astute. "Yes, thanks.” She knew where the unwelcome physical reactions were coming from, and she knew that she actually was fine, but it was troubling nonetheless. It was uncomfortable and disconcerting and damned inconvenient to be suddenly awash with terror – no, the memory of terror, when she least expected it. She shook her head, because thinking about it only made it more of an issue. “How is…the boy. God, I don't even know his name. I don't even remember what his face looks like. I don’t think I ever looked at him."
Jude leaned back and closed her eyes, wondering at the rapidity with which she had distanced herself from the horrors of human frailty. If it happened to her in barely two days, how could anyone seeing it day after day possibly feel anything and still remain sane?
"His name is Stephen Jones, and he's twenty years old. He has a lovely girlfriend and a very devoted family. At the moment, he is still alive—against all odds—and he's going to need them if he’s going to make it in the long run."
"You met with the family?" Jude asked. How did you find the time? How did you find the strength?
"Briefly," Sax replied. "Deb is with them now explaining what they can expect over the next few days. A big part of her training is learning to coordinate the various specialties that are involved in a trauma patient's care. Just as important as orchestrating the medical care is keeping the family informed and putting them in touch with support staff who can help them with finances, insurance, and things like that."
Jude sighed. "Damn. I should have gotten that." She smiled wanly. "To tell you the truth, I needed a break."
"Understandable," Sax said in a tone that said she meant it. She studied the other woman, concerned by the faint tremor she noted in Jude's hands. She leaned forward, and asked again, "Are you sure you're all right?"
"I'm not as fragile as you might think, Dr. Sinclair," Jude said more harshly than she intended. It bothered her for the seemingly undauntable surgeon to think that she couldn't handle the intensity of the trauma unit.
"Would you like to tell me now what's causing the flashbacks?" Sax asked mildly. "Or would you rather out I find out when you finally faint and end up with a laceration on your forehead that I have to close?"
Jude stood up suddenly, not the least bit dizzy any longer. She was too angry at the other woman's presumption to have even a faint memory of how ill she had felt just moments before. "You needn't worry that I'll be requiring your services in any fashion, Dr. Sinclair. I assure you, I'll have no problem doing my job."
No, I'm sure you won't, Sax thought to herself as she watched Jude angrily leave the room. But is there any reason that you have to suffer so much while you're doing it?
It disturbed her to think of Jude struggling in silence, and it disturbed her even more to realize that she was breaking one of her own rules by caring.
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?”
“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?
"I thought you'd overslept," Melissa said teasingly around a mouthful of muffin as Jude sat down beside her in the cafeteria. Jude was never late. When her friend failed to reply, Melissa looked up from her breakfast and regarded her seriously. "You look beat," she said matter-of-factly. "Rough night?"
“Not exactly," Jude replied, considering whether she even wanted the yogurt she had picked up more out of a sense of responsibility than from hunger. After Lori had fallen quickly asleep beside her the night before, she'd barely slept, lying awake to stare at the ceiling and wonder what was happening to her. Finally she'd slipped into a fitful slumber just before dawn, only to be awakened in what felt like minutes by the alarm. She’d rolled over and closed her eyes, trying to decide if she should awaken Lori and talk to her then about what she was feeling. But what was she feeling? What was she going to say? I’ve been unfaithful to you with a fantasy vision? She wasn’t even certain that Lori would consider it unfaithful if she’d actually started seeing another woman, let alone been guilty of nothing more than some severely erotic fantasies about one. They’d never placed any limits on each other regarding monogamy; for her it had just worked out that way. Seeing Lori was all she had time for, and apparently the same was true for Lori as well. They were monogamous by default.
In the end she’d pulled herself from bed, more exhausted than she was after being up all night working. She had merely leaned over and dropped a light kiss on Lori’s cheek as she left, whispering goodbye and remaining silent about her own troubling thoughts. They both had to work, and she could barely make sense of her own emotions, let alone articulate them to a woman with whom she’d been intimate for months, but who in many ways she hardly knew. Lori deserved more than a rushed explanation at some ungodly hour of the morning that was going to make very little sense to either of them.
"Are you okay?” Melissa asked, completely seriously now.
"Yes...no…I don't know," she said, surprising herself at the admission. She smiled ruefully across the table, aware and appreciative of the concern in Mel's eyes. "It's nothing serious. Relationship stuff."
"What's happening? Does Lori want to move in with you?" Melissa asked, imaging that the attorney had finally pushed for the relationship to become more serious. Jude hadn’t seemed likely to.
"No, thank God," Jude said with true relief. "In fact she's never pressured me about that kind of thing. She seems to be pretty happy just the way things are--casual and sort of unstructured."
"So...?" It was clear to Melissa that something was bothering Jude, and she couldn’t understand why Jude was being so vague. She was one of the most direct people Melissa knew. "Do you want to get more serious then?"
Jude shook her head emphatically. "Not at all. Everything is fine just the way it is."
"Uh-huh. That's obvious."
"I'm just tired," Jude reiterated, forcing herself to make some effort at breakfast. Lori hasn't asked for anything more, and I don't want anything more. So what's the problem? But she knew what the problem was. She couldn't continue to make love to one woman while thinking of another, and she didn't know how to stop thinking about Saxon Sinclair.
Pam pulled the convertible to the curb in front of St. Michael's and turned in the seat to study her passenger. "I'd like to see you, Saxon. You know that. Dinner, the theater, a few hours in bed...anything you like. Will you call me when you're ready? If you're ready?"
Sax sighed and met Pam's gaze. She wasn’t at all sure why she was resisting. Pam Arnold was alluring and talented and sexy as hell. Losing herself in Pam’s arms was likely to give her at least two things she needed—a few hours of rest and a reason not to dream about Jude Castle. Still, she hesitated. "I'm not exactly relationship material, Pam. And I meant what I said last night about avoiding involvement with anyone at work."
"I'm not looking for a relationship, Saxon,” Pam insisted as her eyes traveled the length of Sax’s body. “I'm looking for a little diversion and a little pleasure and I have a feeling that you’re exactly what I require." As Sax laughed good-naturedly and stepped from the car, Pam added deliberately, "Call me."
Standing on the sidewalk watching Pam pull away, Sax wondered if Jude had arrived at the hospital yet, mentally reviewing the morning’s schedule. She might not see the filmmaker all day if the admissions were slow and they had no reason to film. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe then the insistent hum of arousal that only got worse whenever Jude was near would dissipate. Maybe.
Personal Project Log -- Castle
August 3 -- 10:35 PM
DRM -- 15,530-17,200
It’s only been a month, but already I can see the changes in Deb. She’s always confident, and of course she should be, because she’s already finished an entire general surgery residency before coming to St. Michael’s. Still, a month ago she was a brand new trauma fellow, and now she seems like a seasoned veteran. [Note: Episode title-Squad Commander] Today was one of those days when there was a steady stream of injured…most of them blunt traumas…motor vehicle accidents usually. We’d just get one settled and another would arrive. I noticed that when new patients rolled into the trauma admitting area, Sax didn't get involved in the assessment as quickly. Sometimes not at all. She still watched everything, and supervised everyone in the same totally efficient, totally confident, totally commanding manner…but she let Deb lead the team and make all the calls. Still, I could feel Sax there in the background, watching. There’s something comforting about knowing that she's there and that if anything goes wrong, you're not alone.
Jude turned off her recorder and leaned out over the top of the stone wall edging the rooftop, letting the night wind cool her skin and thinking about what she had just said. If anything goes wrong, you’re not alone. She wondered why that mattered to her. As a child, she had struggled for independence, especially during the years when much of her life had revolved around competition and she had chaffed at the restrictions that had placed upon her. She had finally found something of her own in filmmaking, and had pursued it both because it satisfied her intellectually and because it was her banner of freedom. She enjoyed her friends and her more intimate relationships, but she had always hesitated to establish any serious ties for fear that she would no longer be able to control her own life. Being alone had never bothered her.
She shrugged impatiently, annoyed at her introspection. She should be pleased. It had been a busy but not overwhelmingly hectic day. They had gotten high-quality footage, and it was a good day's work. Things are going even better than you expected. Don't complicate the situation now.
"I can leave if you'd rather be alone," a quiet voice said from behind her.
Jude turned to search the darkness, a rush of heat rising unbidden when she recognized the familiar figure. "I'm in your space up here. I’ll leave."
“No,” Sax said as she approached. She stopped by Jude’s side and leaned her elbows on the wall. "Stay. Please."
For a few moments they said nothing, merely standing side by side in companionable silence, watching the city teem with life far below.
"Why did you decide to do this...surgery, I mean?" Jude asked quietly, not expecting Sax to answer. She wasn't even sure why she had asked, except that she wanted to know.
Perhaps it was the fact that she sensed only honest interest that Sax answered. "Surgery is one of the few areas in medicine where you know you've made a difference almost immediately. You don't have to wait for a drug to work or for a test to be completed. You make a difference with your hands and your mind. And if it doesn't work, it's on you. You know where you stand in surgery. There are no gray zones."
“That’s sounds…comforting,” Jude observed.
“Yes,” Sax replied, a note of surprise in her voice. She hadn’t really expected Jude to understand.
"And why trauma surgery?" Jude probed again softly. She heard Sax sigh and saw her shrug from the corner of her eye. This is where she turns around and leaves. She made it pretty clear yesterday morning that she wasn't going to talk to you about herself. Why can't you just let it be? But she couldn't. She’d never hungered to know anyone the way she wanted to know Saxon Sinclair. She couldn't explain it, not even to herself. It was more than respect and more than attraction and more than curiosity. When she looked at her, she saw so many things -- dedication, responsibility, anger, stubbornness, passion. Most of all passion... for what she did and for what she believed. She was too intriguing to walk away from. When Sax made no comment, she repeated, "Why trauma?"
"Ego is a big part of it," Sax admitted. "It's a personal challenge when a life is on the line and you're the only one there that can change the tide."
"And when you fail?"
"You try to make sure that doesn't happen."
"Everyone tells me that trauma burns you out quickly," Jude commented. "After only a month I can understand why. It’s so intense, and there's so little time to make a decision. So much depends on what you do. You personally. Doesn't that take its toll--wear you down?"
"It does for some people," Sax replied, turning to meet Jude's gaze. "But it's that pressure--that thrill--that makes it all worth it, too."
Even in near darkness, Jude could see Sax's eyes sparkle. There was a pent-up energy and excitement about her that was nearly palpable. "I bet if you weren't a surgeon you'd be a firefighter or an astronaut or some other high stress, adrenaline-producing job."
"Maybe," Sax agreed, chuckling. "There's nothing quite like winning."
For a moment as she watched Sax laugh with her head tilted back and moonlight angling off her profile, Jude forgot what they were discussing. All she could think of was how beautiful her companion was. It was more than just physical; there was a magnetism and vitality about her that made Jude want to grab on to her and soar wherever that crazy energy would take her. It was a heady, addictive feeling that made her want to stop thinking and just feel.
"How about you?" Sax asked unexpectedly. "What is it about filmmaking that satisfies you?"
"A million things," Jude acknowledged, her heart still pounding. "In a lot of ways it's like what you do. It's technically challenging, it's exciting, and there are rewards beyond my own personal satisfaction. Film is a communication medium, and communication is one of the greatest tools for shaping society." She laughed a little self-consciously, pushing her hair back with one hand in a gesture that Sax was coming to recognize. "Not that I think I'm changing the world, but if what I do causes a few people to think about something differently—to think at all—then I've succeeded."
"I understand," Sax said quietly. It was surprising how easy it was to talk to Jude. The moments they’d spent together were some of the most relaxing she could remember. She had spent her life surrounded by intense people, but Jude's quiet intensity was both comforting and compelling. From the very first moment she had met her, she had sensed Jude’s underlying honesty and commitment, and perhaps more than anything else, that was what she valued about her. Maybe it was because they were alone in one of the few places where she had ever been able to relax, but she felt oddly peaceful. She didn't really stop to think about what she said next. "I owe you an apology for yesterday morning. I know you were just doing your job..."
"No, you don't need to apologize. When I'm interviewing I tend to be relentless, because I've learned that often times the only way to get the story that you want is to push. You told me upfront what the rules were and I ignored them."
"I'm sorry, nevertheless," Sax repeated.
"Accepted then," Jude replied softly.
They were standing very close together, completely alone on the rooftop of the hospital. The night lay heavy and warm around them, cocooning them and making it seem as if they were even more isolated than they actually were. Halogen lights at the far corners of the helipad lit the landing area in a harsh artificial glare, but they stood outside the illumination in shadows.
Neither of them wanted to end the moment; neither of them moved into the light.
As it turned out, neither of them had a chance to suggest they go back inside. Sax’s beeper went off, making the decision for them.
Trauma alert STAT... trauma admitting... Trauma alert STAT... trauma admitting... Trauma alert STAT... trauma admitting...
Sax shrugged an apology as she turned and sprinted away, Jude close on her heels. Not bothering with the elevators, they clambered down the concrete steps of the stairwell to the first floor. By the time they reached trauma admitting, the first of multiple gunshot victims were being wheeled in from a series of emergency vehicles pulled up behind the trauma admitting bay. Deb was already there, receiving the first patients and starting her evaluation; Aaron Townsend was triaging and informing other nurses and residents as to which individuals needed immediate attention; Mel was on scene with her camera rolling.
"When have we got?" Sax asked as she came through the double doors on the run.
"Gang fight," Deb replied without looking up from the young male she was intubating. "Multiple penetrating injuries -- gunshot and stab wounds."
"How many are we getting?" Sax inquired further as she moved to the next patient in line, pulling on gloves as she went.
"I don't know," Deb said distractedly. "The EMTs said there were at least a dozen injured. This guy's got a hole in his belly and needs to go to the OR right now."
"Aaron," Sax called as she lifted the blood-soaked gauze bandage on the second youth's chest, "call in Tyler and the rest of the backup team. We're going to be busy down here for a while." Studying the two-inch laceration between the second and third ribs, she asked the patient, "What's your name?"
"Fuck you," the teenager grunted, twisting to look at the boy on the bed beside him. "You better hope you die, motherfucker, because if you don't I'm going to kill you."
"You've got a punctured lung. You're going to need surgery," Sax informed him impassively.
"I want to go...to…another hospital. I don't... want to be anywhere near where these...pricks are."
As he spoke, bright red blood frothed from between his lips, and Sax had to force him back to a lying position. Great, rival gang members still looking for someone to fight. Perfect. "Save it for some other day. You've got a stab wound in your chest. At the moment you're not going to be fighting with anyone."
"Just…keep them…away from me," he wheezed weakly just before his eyes rolled upward and he lost consciousness.
For the next few minutes, Sax was busy inserting a chest tube and starting multiple large intravenous lines so that the nurses could hang blood and intravenous fluids. Deb was silently and efficiently doing the same thing as three more critically injured boys were delivered in rapid succession. Several nurses and two more surgical residents were recruited from the intensive care unit to assist in the initial stabilizations.
Jude and Melissa stayed out of the way of arriving stretchers and bustling medical personnel while managing to find a good vantage point from which to film the action. After more than two hundred hours of on-call experience, they had worked out a system that was nearly as seamless as the choreographed resuscitations occurring around them. By now she knew from the footage they’d been getting that she and Mel were working on the same wavelength. That was what happened when a director and photographer were of one mind. She didn’t worry about Mel missing something important, which was a good thing, because she often found herself watching Sax—just to see her work. Trying to observe both Deb and Sax now, she was so caught up in the excitement that for a second she didn't register the sound of a scuffle just outside in the hallway. It was the sound of Aaron's voice, raised in anger and tinged with fear, that finally made her look around.
"Hey!" Aaron exclaimed. "You can't come in..."
A sharp crack like snapping wood and the startled sound of Aaron's stunned cry caught her full attention. She spun in tandem with Mel toward the entrance of the trauma admitting area. Three young men shouldered their way inside, all of them blood spattered and wild looking. The teenager in the lead had a pistol in his hand, swinging it erratically back and forth as he stared at the people in the room. Aaron was lying on the floor just a few feet away, his eyes closed and a spreading patch of maroon on his scrub shirt.
"You killed my brother, you fuck," the boy screamed, focusing on the wounded, semicomatose boy that Deb Stein was struggling to save. He raised his gun in a trembling hand, and to Jude's amazement, Deb leaned over her patient in an attempt to shield him.
"No!" Jude shouted and the gunman hesitated, jerking involuntarily in her direction. She didn’t have time to register the fear because the next thing she knew, she was flying through the air. Her shoulder struck a counter and her head bounced resoundingly off the floor as she landed. Dimly, she heard several more loud popping sounds, and then there was silence.
Jude opened her eyes and looked up into Mel's frantic ones. "Stop shaking me, goddamn it. I'm awake."
"Let me examine her, please, Mel," Sax said firmly, kneeling down beside the prone woman. Gently, she placed her hand on Jude’s shoulder, preventing her from rising. "Jude, just lie still for a minute."
For the second time in her life after awakening confused and disoriented, Jude stared up into Sax's comforting deep blue gaze--but this time there was something in addition to reassurance and confidence in Sax’s eyes. This time there was fear. "I'm fine," she said quickly.
"Let me be the judge of that," Sax said softly as she quickly flicked a pen light into each eye, watching the brisk, even, pupillary constriction and feeling the tightness in her own chest lessen slightly. No intracranial injury. "Do you know where you are?" She was having trouble keeping her voice steady. Jesus, that’s never happened to me before.
"I know exactly where I am. I don't think I was actually unconscious. I just had the wind knocked out of me. What the hell happened?"
"Just a minute," Sax murmured, getting her voice under control as she pressed her stethoscope to Jude's chest. Once again she was relieved to hear the sure, steady rhythm. Satisfied that there wasn't any major organ dysfunction, she pressed her fingers slightly to the carotid artery in Jude's neck, finally drawing her first full breath since she had seen the gun pointed in Jude's direction. The pulse tripped rapidly under her fingers, but it was full and strong. Looking directly into those questioning green eyes, she murmured regretfully, "I have to go. Deb is on her way to the operating room with Aaron. He's been shot. I'm going to let one of the residents finish examining you, just to be sure, but I think everything is fine."
Jude grasped Sax's wrist. "There’s blood on your neck. Are you all right?"
Yes," Sax said. Now that I know that you are.
"Go. I'll see you later."
Personal project log - Castle
August 4 - 9:45 AM
DRM 20,172 - 22,350
Sax and Deb are still in the operating room working on Aaron. One of the surgery residents came out about an hour ago to give us an update. Apparently it was a small caliber bullet from a Saturday night special, which is why Aaron is still alive. It still did a lot of local damage in his abdomen and he lost a lot of blood. They've been working now for five hours. I keep thinking how tired they must be and wondering if they even notice. I keep seeing Deb reflexively shielding her patient, someone she doesn't even know, someone who may have been responsible for killing someone else just moments before... I'm not sure I could have done that. I haven't wanted to screen the videotape because I didn't want to see it again so soon. The waiting is getting to me now... I can't stand waiting and not knowing. At least if I'm working, I won't have to think about what's happening in there.
"Let's go back to the on-call room and run the tape."
"Sure," Melissa agreed flatly. Anything not to have to watch the slow crawl of the minute hand on the large plain-faced clock visible in the operating room control center across the hall.
A few moments later they were ensconced in their familiar location, settling into the routine, replaying Mel's footage of the previous night. Judy had her recorder out and was dictating notations as the counter on the tape measured out the moments to the critical scene. Her heart rate climbed as they approached the section where the gang members burst into the admitting area. She wasn't sure how much Mel had been able to get before everything erupted into chaos, but she steeled herself for what she knew was coming. She didn't have much memory for those few moments because everything had happened so quickly. And for a good part of the time, she had apparently been lying on the floor.
"Here we go," Melissa murmured, her voice tense with emotion.
Jude watched as the nightmare rolled. The three young men suddenly appeared almost simultaneously with the sound of the gunshot, and Aaron stumbled back as if he had been kicked. Miraculously, Mel had reacted immediately to the sounds of shouting in the hallway and had caught the entire sequence perfectly. There was a dizzying blur of movement as the camera apparently swung around to follow along the shooter's sightline and Deb came into view. Jude watched that amazing moment again as the young surgeon threw herself between the weapon and her patient.
"God, Mel, you are so good," Jude said aloud reverently. "You have just captured the one scene that's going to mean more for this project than anything else."
“Maybe," Melissa said quietly, wondering if she had gotten the rest of it.
"Oh, believe me, I'm right, Jude said emphatically. "This is going..."
Her voice trailed off as the camera moved again, and this time Melissa had pulled the camera back enough to get almost the entire room in her lens. The shooter swung his arm and Jude saw him point the gun at her chest, and then she saw Saxon Sinclair step directly into the line of fire, grab her by the shoulders, and push her violently out of the way. It happened so fast that she hadn't even been aware of it then. Stunned, she watched herself thrown out of the bullet’s path as her body caromed off the back counter. Almost simultaneously, four armed security guards entered behind the gang members and rapidly subdued them.
Wordlessly, she pushed rewind, but this time she watched Sax’s face. For the briefest instant, Sax’s stark features had been a study of ferocity and fury.
"I heard gunfire. I remember gunfire," Jude stated numbly. "Did someone shoot?"
"That kid did. About a millisecond after Sinclair knocked you ass over teakettle."
Jude swung her seat away from the tape and stared at her friend. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"I wasn't sure we had it on tape, and..." Melissa shrugged. I was scared to death that you’d been shot, and I didn’t even want to think about it.
"How did he miss her?" Jude managed, her throat tight. She wasn't even thinking about the danger to herself. The potential danger was meaningless to her now, because she was fine, and, besides, she had no memory of it. But she had a visceral image of Saxon Sinclair saving her life at certain peril of her own. What if he had shot her instead? The thought was terrifying.
Melissa shrugged. "Just lucky. He fired, but I think the bullet went high. Then the hospital police arrived and right behind them the city cops, and within minutes it was over. All I could think about then was you."
"Hey," Jude said softly, aware of the tremor in Mel's voice. She rested her hand gently on the photographer’s forearm and squeezed lightly. "Thanks. You’re wonderful, Mel."
Melissa nodded wordlessly. She'd seen the way Jude and Sinclair had looked at one another as they both frantically tried to determine if the other was all right. She’d never seen Jude look at anyone that way. "Yeah, that's me. Wonderful."
August 4 – 5:45 p.m.
Jude turned over on the narrow bed and sat up. A soft knock came again at the door. "Just a minute," she called, searching at the foot of the bed for her T-shirt. She pulled it on and tugged her jeans closed as she walked towards the door. Sax stood outside in the hall in sweat-stained scrubs, looking rumpled and weary.
"I'm sorry I didn't come sooner,” Sax said quietly. “I wanted to, but I needed to stay with Aaron..."
Jude was so relieved to see her that she reached out impulsively and grasped the surgeon’s hand, pulling her into the room. She closed the door behind them and said, "Sit down. You must be exhausted."
To Jude’s surprise, Sax complied, sinking down on Mel's unoccupied bed and leaning back against the wall. Jude asked, "How is he?"
"He's stable," Sax said dully, struggling with fatigue and the aftermath of controlling her emotions for hours. The entire time she had worked to repair the multiple holes blasted through fragile tissues, she had fought not to think about who lay on the table before her. She could not associate the torn and bleeding organs with the man she considered a friend and colleague. She had needed to separate her feelings for Aaron while she battled with death, but it had cost her. She was tired. "If any of a dozen things don't go wrong over the next few days, he should be fine."
"Thank God," Jude said was relief. She noticed a reddened area on Sax’s neck and leaned over her, turning her face toward the small bedside lamp. “You’ve got a cut here.”
Sax lifted her fingers and laid them gently on Jude’s. “It’s nothing. One of the instrument trays fell over when you and I ended in a heap on the floor.”
“Thank you for that,” Jude said softly, her hand still lightly cupping Sax’s jaw. She drew back when she sensed Sax stiffen at her touch.
Sax pushed herself to her feet and started toward the door, knowing that she should go, because she’d been up for over thirty-six hours, her emotions were stretched to breaking, and still the light touch of Jude’s fingers drove her crazy. She couldn’t stay here, alone with her like this, but god, she didn’t want to say goodbye—not yet. Maybe it was just because she was too damned tired to think clearly, but she turned at the last moment and regarded Jude steadily. “Do you know who Madelaine Lane is?”
“Of course,” Jude replied, perplexed. “She was a film icon before she stopped making movies and pretty much disappeared from public view. Why?”
“She wants to meet you.”
“What?” Jude exclaimed, thoroughly confused. One of them apparently did have a concussion, and she didn’t think it was her. “How do you know?”
“She told me.”
“I’m not following. When?”
“Tonight. Come on.” Sax held out her hand.
Jude stared at her, and then she did the only reasonable thing.
She took it.
"Just give me a minute to change," Sax said as she unlocked the door to her on-call room and motioned Jude to follow.
"Look," Jude said, standing awkwardly just inside the threshold, determinedly looking elsewhere as Sax began shedding her scrub shirt and pants. "I should probably just go home. I didn't even mean to fall asleep this afternoon, and the few hours I had didn't help much. I still feel like I've been dragged through a keyhole. Plus..." she grinned sheepishly, indicating her own rumpled appearance, "I don't have a change of clothes."
Sax rummaged in a drawer built in under her bed and tossed a T-shirt in Jude's direction. Pulling on her own tight black T, she said, "Now you do. I can't help you with the jeans though, because I don't have a spare pair. You can shower when we get to the house and do laundry if you need to."
"We're really going to do this, aren't we?" Jude asked, feeling as if she had just left her familiar rational life behind and was about to step through the looking glass. Probably it was fatigue, or maybe it was the result of the emotional assault that had started with the gunmen in the trauma admitting area and had culminated with the agonizing wait to find out if Aaron were going to survive. Whatever it was, she didn't feel like herself and, yet, in a way, she had never felt more alive, nearly exhilarated. Seeing yourself almost shot in slow motion a few times did that to you apparently. She was too shell-shocked to decide exactly what that meant, but watching the muscles flex in Sax's arms, she didn't care.
"Well, I'm going because right now I need to ride off some of the last twenty-four hours," Sax said, tucking in her shirt and pulling on her boots. Pointedly, she added, "I'd like you to come."
“All right,” Jude agreed. She supposed she should ask herself why, but she didn't. It didn't really matter. She wanted to go. For some reason it wasn't important that it didn't make sense. Nothing much had made sense since the moment a bunch of teenagers with lethal weapons had threatened the lives of innocent people who were merely trying to do their jobs. Come to think of it, not much of anything made sense if you really stopped to think about it. One morning five years ago, she'd almost died riding the subway to work. Almost every day in the trauma bay she saw individuals whose lives were altered forever by bad luck or whimsy or the ill winds of fate. Probably after a good night's sleep, or maybe half a dozen, she'd feel like her sensible, balanced, grounded self again. But right now, the idea of riding on the back of Saxon Sinclair's motorcycle seemed like the most reasonable thing she could think of.
"I'll be ready in a second," she said, turning away and stripping off her T-shirt. When she pulled on the borrowed one, she had a quick thought of how intimate it was to wear someone else's clothes. That musing was a bad idea, because instantly her skin began to tingle and she knew what was coming next. Maybe if she didn't think about anything, her body would behave. Thankfully, Sinclair opened the door and stepped out into the hall. Keeping up with her took Jude's mind off the steady pulse of arousal that had started with the first touch of soft cotton over her breasts. It didn't help a bit that she wasn't wearing a bra.
"Have you ever been on one of these before?" Sax asked, leading Jude through the small doctors’ parking lot to the far corner where she had left her bike. She unlocked the helmets from the back and handed one to Jude.
"Not one this big," Jude replied. "Only dirt bikes that we used to fool around on when we were kids at the shore."
"All you have to do is hold on to me and let the rhythm carry you." As she spoke, Sax swung one leg over the leather seat and motioned for Jude to do the same. The seat was gently curved so that Jude would easily be able to sit behind her and reach around her waist. Sax grew very still as Jude settled against her hips and brought both hands around to gently clasp her stomach. With her arm halted in mid-motion, hand outstretched with the keys dangling from clenched fingers, Sax was suddenly, acutely, almost painfully aware of the firmly muscled thighs pressed against the outside of hers and the soft swell of breasts nestled provocatively against her back. She had to swallow before speaking, because her throat was tight. "Ready?"
"Yes, I'm fine," Jude said, her chin nearly resting on Sax's shoulder. She hoped the surgeon couldn't feel her heart thudding against the inside of her rib cage, but she couldn't imagine that the two thin layers of cotton that separated their skin was enough of a barrier to hide it.
They were well out of the city and steadily heading north when the harbingers of a summer thunderstorm amassed out of nowhere. Dusk was at least an hour away, but the heavy clouds that gathered overhead obscured the setting sun, plunging them into premature darkness. Even at the speed they were going, the air practically crackled with static electricity that raised the hair on Jude's arms.
Sax flicked on her turn signal and brought the bike to a stop on the shoulder of the highway, reaching up to pull off her helmet as she put a leg down on either side of the machine. Half turning on the seat to look at her passenger, her bare arm inadvertently pressed against Jude’s breasts and all at once, she felt the firm curve of flesh and the hard peak of nipple and she nearly shuddered. Stomach clenching, she said huskily, "I don't think this is going to blow over. Ordinarily, I wouldn't mind, but with you on the bike...I don't want to chance it. We can wait it out here, but the roads will be treacherous right after it rains. We’d probably do better to get inside."
What she didn’t add was that she wasn’t sure she was up to the challenge of a dark, wet highway in her present state. On the one hand, she was drained—emotionally perhaps more than physically—while at the same time all she could think about was Jude. The heat of Jude’s body was like a furnace against her back and the unconscious way Jude lightly ran her hands up and down her abdomen was making her so hard she couldn’t concentrate. She could have handled the huge bike if her only problem were fatigue, but not when her mind was clouded with lust, too.
"How do you feel about that Motel 6 up ahead?" Jude asked, hoping that the slight tremor in her voice wasn’t audible. She’d been pressed up against Sax’s back for what felt like forever—a most pleasant eternity during which the vibration of the machine began to echo the building hum of excitement between her legs. If she wanted to delude herself, she could blame it on the powerful engine throbbing just under her, but she knew that wasn’t it. It had taken every ounce of her will power not to slip her hands under Sax’s T-shirt and caress her skin. If she lifted her palms a mere fraction of an inch, she could cradle her breasts in her palms. Mouth suddenly dry, she added, "We were probably insane to even try this."
“Probably,” Sax agreed, and she wasn't thinking about the storm or the danger. Nevertheless, when she glanced up the road to the large and brightly lit motel sign, she couldn't for the life of her think of anything she would rather do more than spend a few hours sheltered from the night's fury with Jude Castle.
While Sax got them a room, Jude waited in the shelter of the short overhang that ran above the narrow cement walkway fronting the dozen motel units. She tried to remember the last time she had done anything as unplanned and out of character as this, and couldn't. But watching the wind slant the rain in heavy sheets against the asphalt parking lot while goose bumps grew large on her arms, she couldn’t help but feel that some part of her had been waiting for this moment. Whatever strange constellation of forces was at work to bring her to this particular spot on this particular night, she wasn't going to question it. She was alive, and she might very well not have been. In fact, she had never felt so alive.
Turning at the sound of approaching footsteps, she watched Sax draw near, enjoying the sight of her lean muscular body and the way her rain soaked T-shirt clung to her breasts and stomach. Sax pushed her wild dark hair out of her eyes with the casual flick of her hand, and Jude was reminded of the skillful, certain competence in those fingers. Another rush of liquid heat streamed from the base of her belly down her legs, and she had to pull her bottom lip between her teeth to hide the quivering.
"I expect these accommodations will be less than four star," Sax joked as she fitted the key to the lock with hands that trembled slightly. She was intensely aware of Jude standing just behind her, as if she could sense her through her skin. Every sensation seemed heightened--her skin prickled with excitement; her blood ran hot through her veins; every atom in her body seemed to vibrate. She was stoked red-hot, on the verge of exploding, and she wondered if it showed.
"If there's heat and hot water," Jude rejoined lightly, grateful to step into the generic motel room out of the lashing storm, "I'll be more than satisfied." It took only the briefest glance to confirm that it was indeed the standard, unadorned, functional fare of any roadside lodge. A double bed, a dresser with a plastic ice bucket, cellophane wrapped cups, and a cable TV edged the room.
"I think at least one of your requirements will be met," Sax remarked as she walked to the opposite side of the room and twisted a dial on the forced air heater, holding her hand above the unit. Turning to face Jude across fifteen feet of space that suddenly felt much smaller, she remarked softly, "You're drenched and shaking. I think you should shower first. If you drape your clothes over a chair by this blower, they'll dry faster."
"All right," Jude replied, because the plan made sense. She wondered if she should point out that neither of them had a change of clothes, and then thought she would probably sound foolish. There was no reason two adults couldn't be in the same room together in a state of near undress without losing control of themselves. No reason at all. She took three steps towards the bathroom and stopped, staring at Sax who had lifted one foot to the single straight-backed chair to pull off her boots. It reminded Jude of the way she had looked that first morning making rounds in the TICU, so damned arrogant and commanding. Her eyes followed the long, taut line of Sax's leg and in the next instant, she flashed on the memory of Sax in the murky light of the bar, back arched as she was about to come. Jude's head swam with the vision and something tightened deep inside her. "This isn't going to work," she said breathlessly, her voice nearly unrecognizable to her own ears.
"Oh, yes it is," Sax responded, her own tone low and dangerous as she straightened and, moving quickly, reached Jude in the space of a heart beat. She tugged the borrowed T-shirt from Jude's jeans at the same instant as her mouth came down on the redhead’s, a low groan that turned to a ravenous growl escaping her as their lips met. She hadn't a single coherent thought in her mind, only a collage of images, all of them Jude--pensive and quiet as they talked on the rooftop, intense and focused as she worked, helpless and vulnerable in the sites of a gun. She hands danced over Jude's skin, tracing along the arch of her ribs, the tips of her fingers gently following the faint spaces between the fragile bones. She slid upward until her hands closed around Jude's breasts, her thumbs coming to rest on the hardened prominence of her nipples. Jude moaned and pressed her lower body against Sax's, her hands frantically tugging to free Sax's wet T-shirt from her jeans.
They didn't stop kissing, their tongues gliding over and around each other’s as Jude backed Sax in the direction of the bed with the force of her body cleaving urgently along Sax's length. Sax's legs hit the edge of the mattress and she fell backwards, Jude on top of her, their legs intertwined. Her hands were still on Jude's breasts, their mouths still seeking, and then Jude reared back, gasping.
Wordlessly, Jude stared into Sax's eyes as she stripped the T-shirt off her torso and threw it onto the floor behind her. Blindly, unable to tear her gaze away from Sax's face, inflamed by the desire echoed in those blue eyes, she reached for Sax's shirt, insistently pulling at it until the woman beneath her arched her back from the bed and ripped it off. Then, hair streaming with rainwater and breasts damp with sweat and storm, Jude fell upon her again. Bare upper bodies fused, jean-clad hips thrust, and their tongues met in a clash of hunger and need.
Sax wrapped her arms around Jude's back and tilted her pelvis to the side, rolling Jude over and following in one continuous motion, ending on top of her. She moved away despite Jude's protesting moan and, with shaking hands, groped for the buttons on Jude's jeans. Frantically following her lead, Jude pulled at Sax's fly and slipped one hand inside. Sax's vision dimmed as Jude's fingers worked lower, and the roaring in her ears escalated to deafening levels. She was desperately afraid she might come the instant Jude found her clitoris, and almost as afraid she would beg if Jude didn't touch her soon. She wanted to come with a ferocity that was driving her insane. Finally, beyond thought, she stood and pushed her jeans down, kicking them away. Jude's eyes were on her, inviting her, urging her to return, as she just as vehemently bared her own flesh. Sax stretched out upon her again and wedged her thigh between Jude's, crying out as Jude's skin slid slickly between her legs.
"I'm coming," she groaned helplessly, shivering as a barrage of sensations gathered between her legs and pummeled toward her spine. "Oh God, I'm coming."
Jude could do nothing but hold her. As she felt the tremors ripple through Sax's body, for a timeless moment her own heart stilled in her chest. She had never known such sweet, sweet wonder and had she been able to form thoughts, she would have realized she had never even dared dream it.
Still shivering lightly, Sax lay where she had collapsed, her cheek cradled against Jude’s chest, listening to the erratic pounding of their two hearts. Jude's hands were in her hair, stroking softly down the back of her neck and over her shoulders. The razor edge of her desperate need had been softened by her violent release, but desire smoldered fiercely in her still. Turning her face a fraction, she pressed her lips to the hot, slick skin and pulled a tensely swollen nipple between her teeth, smiling faintly as Jude's hips rose involuntarily under her own.
Wordlessly, she drew her fingertips along the curve of Jude’s breast, cupping her hand around her, drawing her deeper into her mouth. Jude moaned faintly, her hands trembling now where they lay on Sax's back. As she sucked, biting lightly with no particular rhythm, Sax shifted enough so that she could explore Jude’s body. She’d been too frantic earlier, too blinded by the ferocious hunger, but now she wanted to revel in her. Lightly, she ran her fingers up and down Jude's stomach, over the arch of hip—pressing her thumb into the tender hollow just inside her hipbone—then drawing it along the line of her upper thigh to the outer edges of the soft damp curls at the base of Jude’s belly. With each stroke, Jude’s legs shook.
"You feel so good," Jude whispered faintly against Sax's ear, her voice thick with urgency. Her body hummed with arousal, honed to laser-sharpness by their lovemaking.
Sax lifted her mouth and murmured, "I'm just getting started."
"I'm so…god, I’m so…" Jude shuddered, the ache in her depths so intense she could barely think. "Do something--please."
"All right," Sax whispered, moving her lips swiftly to the opposite breast and catching the erect nipple sharply between her teeth. She bit down and Jude cried out, arching off the bed.
"No…yes…yes…" Jude choked out, her clitoris twitching sharply. “You’ll make…me…come,” she warned, wanting to hold on but so close she knew she couldn’t.
Sax relented, keeping Jude’s nipple in her mouth but merely brushing the tip with her tongue. Curled against Jude’s side, with Jude’s pulse tripping frantically beneath her cheek, Sax struggled to ignore the demands of her own rising excitement. She eased her thigh over Jude’s, rubbing her wetness over the soft skin--a torturous pleasure but some small bit of relief from the escalating pressure nevertheless. Slowly and deliberately, she slid a finger along either side of Jude’s stiff, swollen clitoris, squeezing firmly as she rocked her hand lightly back and forth.
Jude whimpered helplessly.
It took all Sax’s restraint not to enter her immediately, not to claim her completely, not to give her what she so clearly needed—that swift, blinding relief. Biting her lip, she ran her thumb feather-light over the sensitive tip, scarcely breathing.
“Please…please…please…” Jude intoned, her head rocking frantically. She forced her eyes open, but she was too crazed to focus. “I can’t…I can’t…I can’t…” She found Sax’s wrist and tried to force her hand inside, protesting incoherently when Sax resisted.
Sitting up quickly, Sax straddled Jude’s thigh, thrusting hard along the tense muscle, aware of the warning spasms between her own legs but pushing the cry of her flesh from her consciousness. Jude. It was Jude she wanted. Watching Jude’s face as she touched her, she drew her fingers teasingly along the edges of the hot, full folds, almost frightened by the magnitude of her own desire. God, she wanted to be inside her; she wanted to fill her and drive her hard to the edge and over. She wanted to know her--only her--for those few precious seconds.
“Jude,” she whispered softly. “Jude.”
Already sensing the first welcome swell of orgasm, Jude heard the call from far away, a strong, gentle voice demanding she follow. Blinking, she gasped as another ripple of excitement rolled through her, but she managed to find the blue eyes, so dark they were almost purple, intense and penetrating, gazing down at her. Helpless, she had no choice but to deliver herself into those confident unwavering eyes.
Deep inside, the pressure crested as Sax filled her, one excruciating fraction of an inch at a time. She opened to accept the pleasure, closed to contain the passion, over and over and over. One sharp cry escaped her as she spasmed hard and fast, but she kept her focus on that commanding face. Then her eyes widened with surprise and her body clenched almost painfully as Sax pushed deeper, forcing an even greater burst of release.
“Sax!” Jude screamed, her eyes finally closing as she reared off the bed, her stomach muscles contracting with the explosion.
“Jude,” Sax whispered again, stunned by her beauty. “Jude.”
Jude moved her fingers and felt Sax’s clitoris twitch.
Sax moaned faintly.
“Have I missed something?” Jude murmured. They were lying wrapped around one another in the still, dark room, the sheets twisted around their lower legs. She had no memory of falling asleep, or how her hand had come to be where it was.
“Depends on what’s the last thing you remember,” Sax replied as she stretched, placing her palm over Jude’s hand and trapping it against her. “God, that’s nice.”
Jude stroked her lightly, still feeling a little out of body. “Uh…the last thing I remember. Let’s see…that would be a mind-shattering orgasm—mine, not yours.”
“Well then,” Sax said laughing, “you missed a minute or two.”
“Damn,” Jude muttered, increasing the pressure and speed a little, pleased when Sax gasped. “Can I have a replay?”
“I’m taken care of for the moment,” Sax admitted apologetically, placing a kiss against Jude’s neck.
“That,” Jude pronounced, squeezing her, “does not feel taken care of. Or is that your usual state?”
Around you it seems to be. Sax shifted until they were face to face, and kissed her again, this time on the mouth. After a moment, she answered. “I think I need a bit more recovery time. Otherwise I may need medical care.”
“Oh, god—not that!” Jude laughed, stopping her motion but keeping her hand cupped loosely over her. She lifted her head and peered at the small bedside clock. Groaning, she announced, “It’s three a.m. But I have no idea what day it is any longer.”
“Does it matter?”
“No,” Jude replied softly, surprising herself, “it doesn’t.”
It didn’t matter, and that fact was almost as astonishing as finding herself in bed with Saxon Sinclair. There was no point in mentioning that she didn’t usually fall into bed with women just because the very sight of them turned her bones to jelly, because no one had ever had that effect on her before—so how was she to know? They were there, it had happened, and god, it was good. For the rest of this crazy night all she wanted was to fill her hands with Sinclair’s flesh, to taste her heat, to drown in her.
Without intending it, she’d moved her fingers lower, and it wasn’t until she heard Sax groan close to her ear that she realized she had slipped inside her. “I’m sorry,” she whispered quickly, beginning to pull out.
“No, stay,” Sax murmured, shuddering faintly, “just…stay. I can’t again, not yet.”
Jude pressed closer until their bodies touched, joined inside and out. She enjoyed the quiet connection almost as much as the wild release they had just shared. “This’ll do,” she replied sleepily, “for the moment.”
Sax chuckled softly as she closed her eyes and welcomed sleep.
Turning carefully so as not to awaken the slumbering woman in her arms, Sax squinted at the clock. She was astonished to see that it was a little after eight. Five hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep was almost unheard of for her, and she had never slept with anyone that long in her life. Cautiously, she started to untangle her limbs from Jude’s.
“Mmmph,” Jude protested, tightening her hold. “Where are you going?”
“Why? Are we leaving?” Jude asked, opening her eyes to the hazy light that was mercifully dulled by the heavy drapes pulled tightly across the single large window.
“Breakfast at Maddy’s should not be missed,” Sax remarked, leaning back enough to gaze the length of Jude’s body. In the clear light of day she was even more beautiful than the night before, and that had been almost more than Sax could bear.
“I see,” Jude said softly, aware that the other woman was studying her. She supposed she should feel self-conscious, or at the very least--embarrassed, by her complete and total loss of control the night before, but she was neither. Since she had the opportunity, she stared back, confirming with her eyes what she had sensed with her hands and her lips hours before. Sinclair was all taut muscle and smooth flesh and looking at her, Jude’s mouth was abruptly dry and other parts of her suddenly were not. Then her eyes narrowed and she gently turned Sax’s face away with a finger on her jaw. “Oh dear. This could be a problem.”
“Hmm? What?” Sax asked absently, as she pushed the sheets lower.
“There’s a…mark…on your neck. I am so sorry,” Jude confessed, finally nonplussed. She had absolutely no memory of doing that. I never do that. Oh, hell—what am I saying? I never do this!
“It’s okay. If Maddy notices she won’t mention it. And she already knows I’m all grown up,” Sax replied, clearly distracted now. “When did this happen?” she continued as she traced the incision on Jude’s leg. The scars were still thick, raised and red. There was a slight hollow in the middle of her calf where the muscle had clearly been torn away.
Jude stiffened slightly; she couldn’t help it. “Five years ago.”
“Car accident?” Sax inquired gently, meeting Jude’s gaze.
“No,” Jude replied quietly, her throat tight. It wasn’t that she couldn’t talk about it; it was just that when she did, some small part of the terror returned like an unwelcome visitor. Much, much better now than it had been, but she still had to struggle not to let the involuntary reaction frighten her. “Subway crash.”
Sax frowned, doing the math. “The one here in Manhattan?”
“That was bad,” Sax said sympathetically. And this looks like it was bad, too. She hated thinking about Jude injured and in pain. Even now the knowledge of what Jude must have suffered made her stomach clench, and she stroked the damaged skin softly, wishing she could undo the hurt.
“I was lucky,” Jude stated. Lucky to be alive; lucky you were there. She sat up in bed, pulling the sheet up to her waist. “I remember you—at Bellevue. You were the first person I saw when I opened my eyes.”
Sax stared at her. “I don’t remember you,” she said regretfully after a minute. “I’m sorry.”
Jude smiled. “I imagine you were a bit busy that day—I wouldn’t expect you to remember one patient. Then after the surgery I was on the orthopedic floor, so you wouldn’t have had any reason to know me.”
“I still should remember,” Sax insisted, running the backs of her fingers softly down Jude’s cheek. “I can’t imagine forgetting you.” I never will now.
Jude shivered at the caress, her body tightening. They were very close, their lips mere inches away, leaning toward one another in the heavy silence.
“Do we have time?” Jude breathed as she watched Sax’s eyes shade to purple.
“Yes,” Sax said hoarsely, intent on the way Jude’s lips parted as her color rose. “Yes.”
They moved about gathering their clothes after a perfunctory, purely functional shower--the scarcity of hot water had precluded anything else. Separated for the first time in twelve hours, Jude watched silently as Sax toweled off and reached for her jeans. The physical distance between them brought both a disorienting sense of loss and an abrupt re-emergence of reality. The night was gone; the connection they had shared nearly as fleeting as that distant moment at Bellevue when Jude had surrendered to Saxon Sinclair the first time.
“I don’t know what to say,” Jude admitted softly as she pulled on her T-shirt. What does this mean? What happens next?
Sax paused with her fly half-buttoned. “Is there something you need to say?”
Jude thought about it. There should be, shouldn’t there? You don’t just make love with someone for hours and then simply carry on, do you? She looked at Sax who was regarding her steadily. Waiting.
“Yes, there is,” Jude said. She walked the few feet to Sax and put both hands on her face, cradling her jaw, fingers resting on her cheeks. Then she kissed her—tenderly at first, then more deeply, until Sax’s hands came gently to her waist and pulled her near. They stood holding one another for a long moment after their lips parted, breathing each other in.
Then, as if by agreement, they walked to the door and stepped out into the morning.
If it hadn’t been for the lingering desire that the night had stirred but barely sated, Jude might have been lulled to sleep by the sun and the steady drone of the engine. But, with her arms around Sax’s waist and the scent of her so sharp where her cheek lay nearly against Sax’s neck, Jude couldn’t do anything but think of her. Thinking of her always seemed to bring a thousand images cascading into her consciousness, probably because before the previous night she had observed Sax so many times on tape--often unaware, when she was most exposed. When she was most intriguing. Those glimpses of the surgeon were fixed in her mind and powerful enough all by themselves to make her stomach clench, but now she carried the imprint of the woman on her skin, and inside her body. The visceral memory of Sax naked beside her, above her, stole Jude’s breath and threatened to demolish her composure. She needed to get a grip or she was going to embarrass both of them.
Sax felt Jude clutch her convulsively and shouted into the wind, “Are you all right?”
“Yes,” Jude shouted back. Not really, but I will be as soon as I find where I left my sanity.
“We’ll be there soon.” Thinking her passenger was probably just exhausted, Sax rested one gloved hand reassuringly over Jude’s where it lay against her stomach. It surprised her to discover that she liked Jude’s warm, solid presence behind her on the bike. Often she rode to escape the residue of her work—to leave behind the frustrations of bureaucracy or to block out a particularly devastating trauma—but sometimes, most times really, she rode because she just couldn’t rest. Eventually the rhythm of the highway passing underneath her and the demands of handling the big machine would relax her. Oddly, Jude’s nearness accomplished the same thing, although feeling the redhead curved around her almost as they had been in bed a few hours before did a bit more than just relax her. Thankfully, her mind was clearer than it had been the previous night, because the pressure of Jude’s breasts against her back brought a smile to her lips and a very lovely picture to mind, but at least she wasn’t in danger of driving off the road and killing them both. A little low-level arousal she could handle. She hoped. Where Jude was concerned it seemed that she had no warning when some totally unexpected surge of—desire seemed too civilized a word for what Jude made her feel—hunger, perhaps--would flare and burn wildly through her, taking most of her control with it. Perhaps now that they’d had that one night, the fury would pass. She didn’t have time to wonder if she were deluding herself as she slowed in the lane in front of Maddy’s and coasted the big bike to a stop.
“We’re here, ” she announced, pulling off her helmet and clipping it to the side of the machine.
“Does she know we’re coming?” Jude thought to ask a little belatedly, wondering about their reception. She was beginning to think this might all be a joke, or a hallucination. How had she come to be out in the middle of nowhere with a woman who made her skin melt--when she wasn’t making her too angry to see straight, of course?
“She’ll have heard us,” Sax laughed, easing her leg over the body of the bike and waiting while Jude climbed off. Glancing at the house she gestured with a nod, “See?”
Sure enough, as Jude followed her gaze she spied the unmistakable visage of Madelaine Lane. “Wow. She’s still beautiful.”
Maddy walked quickly down the flagstone path and through the gate. Standing on tiptoe she kissed Sax’s cheek. Turning to Jude, she said warmly, “Hello. I’m Maddy.”
“Hello,” Jude said, stretching out her hand. “I’m Jude Castle.” She tried not to stare, but it wasn’t often she got to meet a film legend. Plus, the woman’s eyes were the precise shade of deep blue as Sax’s, and just as sharp.
“I suppose my granddaughter has had you up all night on some adventure or another,” Maddy stated, squeezing Jude’s hand softly. “She always shows up here worn out and starving.”
“Maddy,” Sax sighed as Jude blushed.
“Never mind,” Maddy said firmly, shepherding them toward the house. “Come inside and have something to eat. You can tell me all about it later.”
Taking her grandmother’s arm, Sax continued, “Jude is the filmmaker I told you about.”
“Ah,” Maddy exclaimed, her eyes sparkling. “Wonderful. I am so curious to know what things are like in the business these days.” She stopped on the porch and said, “Saxon, take your guest upstairs and show her where she can freshen up. Breakfast will be ready when you come down.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sax said with a laugh as her grandmother left them.
“Madelaine Lane is your grandmother?” Jude asked sotto voce as they climbed the stairs.
“The one and only.”
“Oh my god, what stories she must have to tell.”
“I’m sure you’ll get to hear them before long,” Sax grinned, opening a door on one side of the central hallway. “There’s a bathroom adjoining this bedroom. I can bring you some clean clothes, if you don’t mind wearing mine.”
“God, yes. I feel like I’ve been in these forever,” Jude replied gratefully.
“I’ll be back in a little while, then.”
“All right,” Jude said as she watched her walk down the hall and open another door. She had a sudden urge to follow her and turned resolutely into the guest room instead.
“Come in,” Jude called in response to the soft knock on the door.
“Feeling better?” Sax asked, entering with an armful of clothes. Her hair was wet from the shower and she wore fresh jeans and a clean T-shirt.
“Much,” Jude replied, pulling the top of the towel tighter over the tops of her breasts, acutely aware of just how little of her the material covered. She’d hoped that when she saw Sax again, some of the unsettling effect the surgeon had on her would have worn off. It hadn’t. She was still gorgeous.
Sax’s eyes flickered down the length of Jude’s body and when she brought them back to Jude’s face, she saw that the redhead was blushing. “Sorry,” Sax said softly. “I have you at a disadvantage.” She held out the garments from a respectable distance of a few feet away. “The chinos might be a little long, but—“
“If they haven’t been slept in, they’ll be perfect,” Jude pronounced, taking them gratefully and holding them to her chest. She stared at Sax and couldn’t think of a thing to say. She could think of plenty of things she wanted to do, and none of them were possible for more reasons than she even wanted to consider. Not before breakfast, and not with Sax standing right there with a look in her eyes that made her heart rate triple.
“I’ll see you downstairs then,” Sax said, her voice oddly strained. If I can’t be in the same room with her without wanting to take her clothes off, we’re going to have real problems at the hospital. God, I hope this passes quickly.
“Yes, fine. I’ll be right there.”
Jude listened to her footsteps recede outside the door and wanted nothing in the world but to call her back.
“And of course, you can’t reshoot it can you?” Maddy asked, passing Jude the pitcher of orange juice. “Finish this—it will fix most things.”
“Thanks,” Jude said, smiling as she emptied the last of the juice into her glass. “Well,” she continued, thoroughly enjoying her discussion with Maddy about documentary film making, although wondering with one part of her mind where Sax had gone off to right after breakfast, “that’s part of the reason it’s a long-term project, and also why we’re filming every chance we can. There’s always the possibility that we won’t get what we think we’re getting, or that there’ll be a technical glitch, or that something else will go wrong and we’ll miss the shot.”
“Your photographer. Is she stubborn and pig-headed?”
“Aren’t they all?”
“All the good ones,” Maddy agreed with a sharp nod.
“Actually, Mel is terrific. She’s independent but she’s willing to try to understand what I’m thinking, what I’m looking for. I’m spoiled now. I want her on all my projects.”
“Ah, yes—all the great directors form that kind of relationship with their cinematographers—Scorsese and Ballhaus, Kubrick and Alcott. Hitchcock and Burks,” she added with a smile, “but of course, they were well before your time.”
Jude blushed. “I’m afraid I am nowhere near the league of those people.”
Maddy smiled. “Well, they also have actors who are willing to give them thirty takes until they get exactly what they want. I don’t imagine Saxon is quite that cooperative.”
“Ah…” Jude said, coloring and thinking fast, “she’s got a lot to worry about in the middle of a trauma. How the scene comes out isn’t one of her top priorities.”
“Oh, well put and very diplomatic,” Maddy remarked, laughing. “You needn’t defend her to me, and I wasn’t being critical. I know my granddaughter. She doesn’t let much of anything get in her way.”
Jude smiled. “No.” She glanced at the clock, amazed to find they had been talking for nearly two hours. It was mid-afternoon already. With a start, she realized that in less than eighteen hours, they were due to be back in the hospital for another day and night of call. “Would you mind if I went to find Sax? I just want to find out when she plans to leave.”
“Of course not. It was wonderful to hear all about your work. You must come back and show me some of the dailies one of these days.”
“I’d love to,” Jude replied, thoroughly charmed.
“If you just follow the sound of the hammer, I’m sure you’ll come across Saxon,” Maddy called after her as Jude went out through the back screen door. Watching her go, Maddy thought what a strange coincidence it was that the first person Saxon ever brought home with her was a filmmaker. But she imagined it had less to do with that and more with the fact that Jude Castle was intelligent and energetic and quite beautiful.
Jude found her inside a barn, a part of which had been converted into a garage. At least Jude assumed that the denim-clad butt that was all that was visible of the person leaning under the hood of a classic car belonged to Sax, because she hadn’t seen anyone else about the place.
Sax straightened and reached for a nearby grease rag, carefully wiping her hands. She turned to lean against the fender of a vintage Rolls, grinning at Jude. “Maddy tire you out?”
“No, I fell in love with her in about two seconds.”
“Most people do,” Sax agreed.
“She’s wonderful, and she was a wonderful actress,” Jude enthused, still so excited that she missed the change in Sax’s expression. “She retired much too early--at the peak of her career, really. It was a shame…a great…”
She stopped, finally aware that Sax had grown pale. Jude had never seen her even the least bit distressed about anything. Angry, yes. But this wasn’t anger—this was pain. “Sax? I’m sorry…what is it?”
“Nothing,” Sax replied, her voice carefully neutral. “I called the hospital earlier while you were in the shower. Dennis Kline, my senior staff surgeon, says Aaron is holding his own.”
“I’m glad,” Jude said softly, meaning it, but also quite aware that Sax had changed the subject. She couldn’t press her; she hadn’t been invited to share that kind of intimacy. She almost laughed at the irony of that fact—they’d done everything but climb inside each other’s skin, but she couldn’t ask her what was hurting her. That bothered her more than she would have thought possible.
“Am I crazy, or are we on call again in the morning?” Jude finally asked.
“We are,” Sax replied, relieved to be back on safe ground. “We can go back tonight or early in the morning.”
Jude regarded her carefully but she could read nothing in her expression. She couldn’t tell for certain if there was an invitation in Sax’s words, and even if there were, she realized that she couldn’t accept it. She couldn’t spend the night here with even the slight possibility that there would be a repeat of the night before. Because she wouldn’t be able to say no, and she wasn’t at all sure it was wise to say yes. She needed to get some perspective, and she needed to decide what she was going to say to Lori, and she needed to figure out what the hell she was feeling for Saxon Sinclair--and she couldn’t do any of that if she was anywhere near her.
“Let’s go tonight.”
“Fine,” Sax responded. “Let me finish here and I’ll get cleaned up. If you want to nap for a bit, you can use the room upstairs.”
“Aren’t you tired?” Jude asked, aware that she hadn’t been invited to stay in the garage while Sax worked.
“I don’t sleep much,” Sax answered noncommittally.
“I’ll probably be upstairs,” Jude informed her quietly.
“I’ll find you,” Sax said as she turned back the engine. She did not watch as Jude walked away, but she was aware of every step she took and she was also aware that she already missed her.
“Sorry I didn’t return your calls,” Jude said as she joined Mel in the cafeteria at a little before seven a.m. “I got in pretty late.” And I didn’t want to talk to anyone.
They left Maddy’s in the evening, and the ride back to Manhattan was uneventful. If polite distance could be considered uneventful, especially after having been wrapped around each other for over an hour on a motorcycle. Their goodnights were equally civil and proper.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Sax said, straddling her bike by the curb, the engine purring beneath her.
“Yes. Thank you for taking me to Maddy’s,” she said, standing on the sidewalk, her hands in the pockets of the borrowed chinos, her own clothes rolled up under her arm. “I loved talking to her.”
“I know she enjoyed it, too,” Sax replied as she turned her helmet around and around in her hands. “Well,” she said, pulling her helmet on. “Good night then.”
As Jude watched her pull away, gunning the engine as she roared off down the street, she berated herself for feeling so let down.
What the hell is wrong with me? What did I expect Sax to say? We slept together. Okay, fine. People do it all the time. It’s natural and normal and doesn’t have to mean anything beyond the moment.
When she turned and walked inside, she was still mentally chastising herself for expecting something more.
“Hmm?” Jude asked distractedly, her mind still on the image of Sax disappearing into the night, and the loneliness that had followed. A feeling foreign to her. Focusing on Mel, she said, “I’m sorry if you were worried.”
“No, it’s okay,” Melissa assured her quickly. “When I didn’t hear from you, I figured you wanted a break from all of this for a while.”
“Not from you,” Jude corrected firmly, studying her friend over the top of her coffee cup. Mel looked about as worn out as she felt, although she’d had six hours of sleep after she’d finally gotten to bed. Somehow sleep hadn’t made her feel any better. That was probably because her dreams, populated by dark faceless figures racing through rainswept, foreboding landscapes, had been permeated with a sense of danger. Jesus, talk about classic anxiety dreams. How original. Annoyed with herself, she mentally shook off the lingering unease and concentrated on Mel. “You said in your message that you wanted to talk about something. Is there a problem with the project?”
“No,” Melissa answered with a shake of her head. Of course that would be Jude’s first thought. For all their affection, they rarely talked about anything really personal. Jude never seemed to have the need to, and her perfectly neat, orderly life always made Melissa feel like she was a fuck-up whenever she had a problem. Not that Jude ever said that, or even suggested it. It was just that somehow, whenever Melissa compared her own life to Jude’s, she felt inadequate. “It’s…uh…not work.”
“Is everything all right?”
“Yeah,” Melissa replied in a tone that suggested otherwise, poking at the toast on her plate. “I guess so.”
“Mel,” Jude countered, “I can tell that’s bullshit. Spit it out.”
“Well, it’s just that—what happened with Aaron. It kind of shook me up.”
“Of course,” Jude said softly. “It was horrible. And terrifying.”
“I mean,” Melissa continued as if she hadn’t heard Jude’s reply, her gaze slightly unfocused, as if she were reliving the moment. “We’ve been in tight spots once or twice. Remember that time we thought the tanks were going to start shelling right where we had our cameras set up?”
“But it didn’t feel personal then, you know? It almost didn’t feel real. It was—like—uh oh, we’re in the wrong place. Better run like hell now. It was exciting in a crazy kind of way.”
“Maybe after the fact it was,” Jude acknowledged with a grimace. “For a few seconds there I thought I was going to scream or throw up.”
Melissa smiled wanly. “Yeah, me, too. But ten minutes later, when they just lumbered past and left us with nothing to film, we laughed.”
“Well,” Melissa said softly, “I haven’t laughed yet. Seeing someone I know almost die like that freaked me out.”
“Do you need some time off? I can handle the camera…”
“No, it’s just that—I might have screwed up.”
Mel looked so miserable Jude couldn’t imagine what she was talking about. “Mel,” she said gently, “what happened?”
“After you went to the on call room to wait for word about Aaron…” If Melissa had been standing she would have been shuffling her feet, but as it was, she just rearranged her silverware repetitively.
“Yes?” Jude prompted, really starting to worry. “Mel, hey, come on. It’s me.”
In a rush, Melissa blurted, “I was on my way out of the hospital and I realized I was starving so I detoured by here to get a late lunch and I ran into Deb and we started talking and then we went out for a drink and then we went to her place and then we…ended up in bed.”
Jude stared at her, her mouth opening and closing but no sound coming out.
“Oh man--I knew you’d be upset. I’ve never fooled around before when we were working,” Melissa protested hurriedly. “Well, almost never. That one time with the soccer player--but that was after we’d already finished the shoot. Well, I mean we were almost done.”
“I’m not upset.”
“And that one time in Brussels, with the airline attendant, that didn’t…” Melissa stared at her. “You’re not?”
“But I know how uptig—how strongly you feel about separating work and personal—stuff.”
“Am I?” Jude asked quietly, thinking about that for a minute as if it were a new concept. Actually it was more the case that for her there wasn’t any difference. Work was personal—more than that, it was her passion--and she didn’t want any extraneous diversions like relationships to interfere with it. She guessed she hadn’t wanted anyone else’s lives to either. “Well, sometimes things just—happen, don’t they?”
“They do?” Melissa asked, a note of incredulity in her voice. “Right! They do, absolutely, they do.”
Jude slowly and carefully spread cream cheese on her bagel, wondering if it had all been some kind of group psychosis—an emotional time warp, a bizarre twist in the fabric of reality—like a David Lynch movie. That would explain it. But then if that were the case, it should be over. And every time she thought about waking up beside Saxon Sinclair, her skin grew hot and her stomach did flips. It didn’t seem to be over.
“Jude?” Melissa queried in a puzzled tone. “Is that it?”
“I’m really not hungry,” Jude announced, pushing her bagel away. She glanced at her friend, who was regarding her with a mixture of curiosity and concern. Sighing, she asked, “Are you okay with what happened?”
For the first time Melissa looked like herself. Shrugging, a rakish grin on her face, she said, “Well, yeah.”
“Seems to be.”
“Are the two of you going to have any trouble working together?”
“Don’t see why we should,” Melissa replied seriously.
“Then I don’t see a problem,” Jude responded wearily as she stood to leave. “Just try to save the personal stuff for your own time, okay?”
“Right,” Melissa said hurriedly, gathering the remains of her breakfast and standing, too. “It was just—you know—one night. Just one of those crazy things. It’s not serious or anything.”
“Yes, I know. Just one night. Nothing serious.”
“So,” Melissa said, following her to the tray disposal area. “Are you okay? With what happened?”
Jude looked at her sharply. “What do you mean?”
“With Aaron,” Melissa replied. Why do I feel like we’re speaking two different languages?
“I’m fine. Come on, let’s book a conference room. I want to schedule an on-tape interview with Deb as a follow up to the shooting.” She really just needed to get back to work, back on track. Everything would make sense then, and if it didn’t—it wouldn’t matter. Because she wouldn’t have to think about it.
“Good idea,” Melissa agreed, delighted to be leaving the topic of her indiscretion behind. She’d leave her questions about what the hell was wrong with Jude for another time.
Sax stopped when someone called her name, smiling when she turned to see Pam approaching. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Pam said warmly. “I just ran into the plastics resident and he says they’re available this afternoon to harvest rib grafts for me. I’d like to take that boy in bed two to the OR if we can get him on the schedule. I’ve got office hours until noon, but after that I want to debride that clot from the frontal sinuses so that plastics can plug the holes with bone.”
“He’s running a fever, Pam,” Sax said, propping one shoulder against the wall outside the double doors of the TICU. “And Kline says his blood pressure’s been all over the place since last night. He’s not in great shape for surgery.”
Pam shrugged and replied with a hint of irritation in her voice. “No guts--no glory, Saxon. He’s not going to get a lot better with us just standing around waving our hands in the air. If that intradural hematoma turns into an abscess, we won’t have to worry about his blood pressure because he’ll never wake up at all.”
“Go ahead, put him on the schedule,” Sax relented, rubbing her eyes briefly. She was tired and that was odd, because she was almost never aware of fatigue no matter how long she went without sleep. Of course, she’d never gotten to bed at all after dropping Jude off at her apartment. She hadn’t been able to stop replaying the events of the night before, and remembering the way it felt to be with Jude, her whole system had kicked into hyperdrive. She’d been ready to climb the walls. Forcing herself to focus on Pam, she added, “I’ll clear him if he’s stable for the next few hours. If his pressure bottoms out, though, you’ll have to wait.”
“Thanks,” Pam said, satisfied. Her attention shifted abruptly as she noticed the people coming down the hall toward them. “Your fan club has arrived.”
“What?” Sax asked, recognizing that predatory glint in Pam’s eye. Looking back over her shoulder, her eyes met Jude’s, who was just a few feet away with Mel beside her. Sax smiled, suddenly feeling energized. “Good morning.”
“Hi,” Jude said softly, slowing as she drew near. She was pleased that she managed not to blush, because Sax’s gaze was unexpectedly intense. “Is Deb…”
“Inside,” Sax said, gesturing toward the unit with a nod.
Sax followed the two women with her eyes as they walked past and disappeared inside.
“So, how’s it going with her?”
“What?” Sax asked sharply.
“Whoa! Just asking,” Pam exclaimed, studying Sax through narrowed eyes. “They’re filming downstairs, right? Must be a royal pain in the balls having them under foot all the time. Although,” she added with a suggestive laugh, “the scenery is nice.”
Sax tried to hide her annoyance, although she wasn’t sure what bothered her more--Pam’s curiosity or the way the neurosurgeon had surveyed Jude as she walked by. Pam had a way of looking at women like they were an exotic food group. “It’s not that big a problem. Jude’s been accommodating about working with a small crew and she doesn’t interfere with Deb’s training.”
“Jude. That’s that very attractive redhead, right?” Pam asked.
“Nice. Is she gay?”
“Jesus, Pam,” Sax said angrily. “Don’t you ever quit?”
“Why, Saxon, your temper is showing,” Pam chided with a laugh. “And every one says how cool and unflappable you are, too. I’ll take that as a yes.”
“Why don’t you ask her?” Sax retorted.
“I might,” Pam responded thoughtfully, “since I can’t seem to tempt you.”
“I’ve got to get back to work,” Sax said, ignoring the comment.
“If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume that case is on,” Pam said, all business again.
Pam Arnold watched Sax push through the double doors with an impatient shove, and wondered exactly what she’d said to make her so angry. Whatever was going on, it had something to do with that enchanting redhead. Perhaps the lovely filmmaker would be interested in dinner. She glanced at her watch and sighed. Well, that intriguing possibility would have to wait until later in the day, but it certainly was a most pleasant thought.
“Let’s do this somewhere less formal,” Mel suggested, surveying the conference room with distaste. “This place looks too much like a boardroom.”
“You’re right. Too impersonal,” Jude agreed, glancing at Deb. “Got any ideas?”
“How about the roof?”
“Yes,” Jude said with a nod. The roof—Sax’s favorite sanctuary. It was difficult preventing images of Sax—sweat drenched and exuberant with a basketball in her hands, pensive and still in the moonlight—from distracting her from her schedule, but she managed to chase the memories away with an impatient mental shrug. “We can get the skyline and the heliport in the background. Good idea, guys.”
Mel hefted her camera and the three of them trooped out.
Interview – Dr. Deborah Stein
August 6 – 2p.m.
“What were you thinking when those boys came into the trauma admitting area with their guns out?” Jude asked. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Mel give her the thumbs up sign. Good. Sound and visuals are okay.
“I didn’t think anything at first,” Deb admitted. “You learn not to pay attention to peripheral activity when you’re operating or in the midst of a crisis. People walk in and out of the operating room, the radio might be playing, the anesthesiologist is talking to a student a few inches away—it doesn’t matter—while the pressure’s on you don’t hear them or even see them.”
With her back to the cement wall at the roof’s edge and her blond hair blowing around in the wind, Deb, Jude thought, still looked like the young athlete the country fell in love with during the Olympics. But there were lines at the corners of her eyes now and something harder in her gaze that had been missing before. She’s getting battle scars. “How do you filter those things out?”
Deb shrugged. “You forget everything except the moment. No mortgage worries, no car problems, no relationship issues. Just you and the case.” She grinned, and this time her eyes smiled, too. “That’s where I was last night—in the zone. I was concentrating on the patient and nothing else registered.”
“So you didn’t realize for a second what was happening?” Jude asked, remembering vividly the commotion at the door and the shouting and Aaron…
“Not until I heard the shot. That got my attention. I used to shoot pistols in competition when I was a teenager. I know what a gun sounds like.”
“Even when it was so completely—out of context?”
Deb grimaced. “A hospital isn’t a church—there’s nothing sacred here—only life and death. I’ve taken care of plenty of felons apprehended during a crime. I’ve treated patients handcuffed to the bedrails with armed cops standing guard. As soon as I heard the shot, I knew we were in trouble.”
“And your reaction? What made you put yourself between the gunman and the boy you were treating? What made you risk your life?” What made Sax risk hers?
“Totally automatic,” Deb said quickly. “I didn’t even think about it.”
“Bu there must be something behind that response, that desire to shield your patient?”
“I wish I could say there was,” Deb said, looking uncomfortable for the first time, “but I wasn’t being heroic. It was just that—he was mine, you know? I was the first one to see him, he was my patient, it was my responsibility to see that he didn’t die.” Deb shook her head ruefully, her gaze traveling away from Jude for the first time to fix on some point in the distance. “Believe me, if I’d had time to think, I don’t know what I would have done.”
“It was still a very courageous thing to do, Deb,” Jude said gently, appreciating that talking about surgery was a lot easier for Deb, apparently, than exploring those highly emotional few moments.
“Maybe. But I can’t take too much credit for it. I told you—I wasn’t even thinking.”
“But it’s what we do when we don’t have time to rationalize, or even to reason, that really tells the truth about us, don’t you think?” Jude asked.
“Yeah, I do think that,” Deb replied softly. “Now what Sinclair did—that was brave. She knew that guy had just shot Aaron; she knew he wanted to shoot my patient; and she knew he was probably going to shoot somebody else, but that didn’t stop her from stepping in front of you.”
“No” Jude said softly, “it didn’t.”
“I can tell you this,” Deb said emphatically, “Sinclair knew exactly what she was doing. She always does. That’s brave.”
And you’ve got a bit of a case of hero worship, Jude thought fondly, but she couldn’t help wondering if Sax really had acted intentionally, and not out of some basic instinct. And if she did? What would that mean?
“You both deserve a lot of credit,” was all Jude said as she raised a hand to Melissa to signal her that the interview was a wrap.
“Cripes,” Deb said, shaking her shoulders as if to loosen them. “That’s nerve wracking. It’s a good thing it was you behind the camera, Cooper.”
“Oh yeah?” Melissa asked playfully. “And why’s that?”
“I trusted you to make me look good on the tape.”
“Well, it was a challenge, but I managed,” Melissa jibed, thinking that the one thing Deb Stein did not need was to look any better. She turned the heads of too many women to count as it was, and when the documentary started airing, she’d be inundated with calls for dates. Melissa considered that revelation for a second and decided it was a good thing she didn’t have any long-term plans with this one. Yep, good thing all right.
Personal Project Log – Castle
August 7 – 12:20 a.m.
Apparently, this is one of those aberrations that occur often enough that neither Deb nor Sax seems surprised by it. Specifically, nothing much has happened all night. Well, nothing compared to the way things have been all the other nights on call. Around eight last evening two people were transported by chopper following a fender bender, but both of them were evaluated, screened with x-rays, and admitted overnight for observation only. No surgery. Then again, at a little after eleven a young man was brought in with a broken jaw from a bar brawl. No other injuries. Plastic surgery was contacted and they scheduled him to have his jaws wired together in the morning. And that was it. Deb went off a few minutes ago to get some sleep, and I’m going to follow her example. Still, I have this uncomfortable feeling that I’m going to miss something. Deb said that she would much rather be working if she needed to be on call. It was better, she said, to be up all night in the operating room rather than trying to sleep while expecting that at any moment she might have to get up again. Work rather than sleep. It's astonishing how your entire life gets turned around in this place.
Jude clicked off her recorder and thought about what she had just said. Oh yes--life certainly does get turned around in this place. Sighing, she let herself into her on call room.
August 7 – 3:13a.m.
It was the middle of the night and she couldn't sleep. Melissa was breathing softly in the darkness across the room, clearly sleeping the sleep of the innocent at heart. Or certainly, the untroubled of mind. Jude had been trying to occupy herself with plans for the project—writing script in her head and editing sections of tape she had reviewed the day before—anything that might tire her mind and help her to relax. Her usual tricks didn't help. After forty fruitless minutes, she thought she would start cursing aloud. That was when she decided to go in search of company. One thing she had learned is that in the hospital, there was always someone up and about. The nurses on night shift were bright and energetic, because for them this was their normal workday. There were usually one or two surgery residents camped out in the OR lounge, either waiting for cases to start or unwinding after one had finished. If it'd been a week before, Aaron would have been in the trauma admitting area, reviewing billing forms or checking an order status or simply waiting for the inevitable moment when the phone would ring or the radio would chirp to announce incoming patients. But of course, Aaron wasn't there now.
Even though she knew he wasn't there, she automatically glanced into the trauma bay as she walked down the hall toward the elevators. The bright overhead lights were off, but a row of fluorescents under the cabinets on the wall above the long counter where the doctors and nurses did their paperwork was illumination enough for her to see the figure bent over the chessboard.
From the door, Jude asked quietly, "Planning the next campaign?"
Sax turned at the sound of Jude's voice, raising one eyebrow as she answered, "You can never have too much in the way of strategy, don't you agree?"
"Honestly?" Jude said with a tired shrug. "I don't know. I never seemed to have any—where chess was concerned." Or anything else, now that I think of it—except work.
"No, I imagine that you didn't need one."
Perhaps it was the hour, or the unnatural sense of limbo a night without trauma alerts produced, but Sax couldn't seem to call upon her normal sense of distance as she took in the dark shadows beneath Jude's eyes and the weary slump of her shoulders. Gently, she observed, "You look exhausted. Shouldn't you be getting some rest?"
"Can't. I already tried that." Jude leaned against the doorway, noting that Sax looked pretty much as she always did, unruffled and in control. It was infuriating—nothing ever seemed to faze her. "You know, I don't think I ever remember you going to bed at night."
"No?" Sax asked, her voice rising in quiet incredulity.
Jude blushed, remembering very clearly the two of them sleeping in each other's arms. "I meant when you were here working."
Jude was surprised that Sax would refer even obliquely to that night they had spent together. For some reason, she thought it would simply be forgotten, even though she couldn't forget it. Was she wrong in thinking that Sax had forgotten, or at least wanted to?
"Would you like a game?" Sax inquired, gesturing to the board. It wasn't the time or the place to explain, and she doubted it ever would be.
"Well, one good reason might be that my ego is fragile and I can only take losing so many times," Sax remarked dryly. "On the other hand, considering that you’re so exhausted you're about to fall down, I'm hopeful that I will have an advantage."
"I know that’s not it," Jude said softly as she approached, remembering the almost courtly way Sax had offered her the borrowed clothes that morning after her shower. It had been both touching and heartbreaking, because all she had wanted was for Sax to reach for her. She had only wanted an excuse to let the towel fall. Strange, how she was learning to regret not the actions she had taken, but the things she had left undone. "You're too chivalrous to take advantage."
As if reading Jude's mind, Sax recalled those precarious few moments at Maddy's when her desire warred with caution, and it was her turn to blush. The fact that she did surprised her more than anything she could remember. As Jude came near, she pictured the redhead fresh from the shower, her skin flushed a light rose from the heat and the energy between them, faint beads of water still clinging to the tips of her lashes. So desirable. She ached to touch her now as strongly as she had that day.
"Sometimes I regret that caution," she murmured, not even realizing she had spoken aloud.
"Do you?" Jude asked from very close by.
“Yes," Sax whispered, glancing up into Jude's green eyes.
The moment held, grew— shimmering in the air around them— incandescent with silent yearning. Jude smiled wistfully and Sax smiled back, a faint curve of mouth that spoke of uncertainty and regret.
“Shall we play?” Jude asked.
“Are you sure?”
Sax pushed back in her chair with a sigh, arched her back to work out the kinks she had acquired in the last two hours, and rubbed her face vigorously with both hands. “Well, that was pathetic.”
“Not really,” Jude said sincerely. Then, fixing Sax with a pointed stare, she added, “And you know it.”
“Well,” Sax amended with a grin, “it would have been less pathetic if I’d won a game.”
“You came clos…closer.”
“Uh huh,” the surgeon agreed with a grimace. “Closer being the operative word. You take no prisoners, Ms. Castle.”
“I didn’t expect you’d want me to.”
“I don’t. I want to be killed cleanly and with as little suffering before hand as possible.”
“I’ll remember that,” Jude replied with a faint smile. She glanced at the clock, already regretting that their private interlude would soon be interrupted by the morning routine. Any minute now, Sax would announce it was time for her to go to the TICU for rounds, and the quiet spell of peaceful communion would be broken. Odd, how relaxed Sax had seemed the last few hours. Of all the things Jude would call the formidable surgeon, relaxed was not one of them. It was nice—very nice, to be alone with her like this.
“Let’s get some air,” Sax suggested suddenly, reluctant to say goodbye. She didn’t need to look at a watch to know the time; in fact, she never wore one. She always knew. “The sun’s about to come up.”
Jude was too surprised at the invitation to answer with more than a quick nod as Sax jumped to her feet. Where does she get the energy? Jude thought, walking quickly to keep pace. Smiling fondly, she resisted the urge to reach out and hold her hand. Just to touch her.
A few minutes later they stood side by side, leaning on folded arms on the rooftop wall, watching the sky threaten to burst into color. It was serene in the way those last few moments of the night can be just before morning breaks and the demands of the day begin.
“What will you do today?” Jude asked, glancing at the surgeon. She probably shouldn’t ask, but she couldn’t help herself. She wanted to know where Sax went--what she did--when she changed into her jeans and walked out the door. What do you think? Who do you touch?
“After rounds?” Sax asked musingly, staring straight ahead, caught off-guard by the question. “Stop by the office, check in with Naomi. Make sure everything is under control there. If it’s not too hot later, maybe go for a run in the park.” She turned her head to study Jude. I’ll wish we were on the bike headed for—anywhere—as long as it’s just us. As long as you lean against my back and wrap your arms around me. “How about you?”
“Mel and I will review some footage. I’ll stop by the office, check with my secretary and the production crew. Make sure everything is under control there. If it’s not too hot later, maybe go to the gym.”
Sax grinned a little ruefully. “That’s scary, you know?”
“Yes,” Jude agreed solemnly. “It is.”
“Can I buy you lunch somewhere?” Sax asked impulsively. Before there was time for an answer, the sun crowned behind Jude’s shoulder, and the light suffusing the side of Jude’s face made her glow. Softly, without thinking, Sax murmured, “Jesus—you’re beautiful.”
“The air must be thinner up here on the roof,” Jude whispered, watching Sax’s gaze flicker over her face, down her body. “Because it seems to do something to your judgment. As in, it disappears.”
“Just mine?” Sax asked, the long supple fingers of one hand tracing the edge of Jude’s jaw, ending with a fingertip against the corner of her mouth. “Or does that include you, too?”
“It definitely includes me,” Jude said huskily, turning her head to catch Sax’s finger between her lips. Gently, she bit it.
“Then I…think,” Sax gasped, “we’ll be safe if…we…stick together.”
“You, Dr. Sinclair,” Jude stated ominously, stepping close to her and placing both hands on the back of her neck, “are absolutely anything…but…safe.”
Their lips were too close for anything but the kiss that began hungry and rapidly became more, their bodies fusing along every sinewy plane, their arms pulling flesh to flesh in a perfectly matched eruption of desire. Jude moaned, or it might have been Sax, as their hands lifted shirts to slide under--stroking skin--and their hips thrust slowly--stoking fire.
“You make me crazy,” Sax breathed into Jude’s ear. “Like nobody ever. Do you know that?”
“Am…I supposed to…apologize?” Jude murmured, running her tongue lightly over Sax’s neck. “Because I don’t…intend to.” She was having a bit of trouble keeping her balance because her thighs were trembling, and some part of her brain registered a dangerous rush of blood into a very concentrated spot between her legs, and her ears began buzzing as Sax’s hand slipped upward to cup her breast. With the last fragment of her reasoning mind, she choked out, “You can’t do that to me here.”
“Why not,” Sax growled against her mouth. “Just give me a minute.”
Jude rocked back, her eyes hazy. “Because it won’t take a minute.”
“Sax,” Jude warned, stilling Sax’s hand with her own, “if you keep it up, you’ll have to carry me down the stairs. I’ll never be able to walk.”
“I can’t now,” Sax murmured, watching Jude’s lips and imagining them on her flesh, easing her torment with knowing strokes. “I’m already too hot and too swollen and…”
Jude pressed her fingers to Sax’s lips. “Stop. Right. There.” She felt Sax’s smile curve under her fingertips. “Hold that thought…”
“The one that just made your eyes go purple,” Jude breathed.
“That would be the one where your mouth was on me and…”
“Enough,” Jude groaned. “I mean it. I’ll have a stroke.”
“That’s okay. I’m a doctor.”
“I want you,” Jude said very clearly, her gaze locked on Sax’s. “I want you so much I can’t think. But even if it’s quick, it won’t be enough. I won’t be able to stop if we start.”
“When?” Sax asked urgently. “This morning, this afternoon? Forget lunch--we’ll…”
“Sax,” Jude said softly, “I can’t today. Tonight…”
Sax’s eyes darkened with something that might have been disappointment, but before Jude could explain, the code beeper blared.
“Son of a bitch,” Sax cursed, already moving away, and Jude knew that when she caught up to her, there would be no time for explanations.
The day had dawned with a vengeance.
August 7 – 11:47 a.m.
Jude stood naked by the bed, toweling her wet hair as the door to the on call room opened.
“Oops, sorry,” Melissa said, quickly backing away, pulling the door closed.
“It’s okay, Mel,” Jude called. “I’m getting dressed right now.”
Slowly, Mel stepped back inside, grinning sheepishly. “I didn’t know, you know.”
“And if you had?” Jude snapped crossly. “Aren’t we a bit beyond adolescent peek and grope games for God’s sake?”
Melissa gaped, at a loss for words. There was fury in Jude’s eyes.
Jude threw the towel on the floor and reached for her clothes, pulling on her underwear before glancing over at Mel again. When she saw her friend’s stricken expression, she stopped, one leg in her jeans, the other still bare, and said softly, “I’m sorry, Mel. Damn, I really am.”
Melissa sat down on the end of the other bed and regarded Jude seriously. “You want to tell me what’s going on? You’ve been upset since you got here yesterday morning, but this—I’ve never seen you like this.”
“Are Sinclair and Deb still in the operating room with that gunshot wound?”
“Yes, and you’re changing the subject. Or avoiding the question. One of those.”
Jude smiled reluctantly. “Not really. I’m angry because I have a luncheon date with Lori and I wanted to see Sax before I left, and now I won’t be able to.”
“Do you want me to give her a message?”
“Yes—tell her I’m crazy about her and I’m going to lose my mind if I don’t get my hands on her soon.”
Melissa stared, astounded. Jude’s was statement so out of character she couldn’t even feel jealous. “Um—which one am I giving that message to?”
For a long moment Jude was silent, the words she had spoken echoing in her head. Then, knowing with irrefutable clarity that she had meant every one, she sighed with something very close to peace. “Sax.”
“Uh huh,” Jude agreed, moving over to sit next to Mel on the bed.
“How much have I missed?” Melissa asked. “Like when, where, and how in the hell did you pull this off?”
“Two days ago, a motel, and I have no idea.”
“Oh my god. You are my queen.”
Jude burst out laughing. “Trust me—you don’t want me in charge the way I’m feeling right now.”
“Totally unlike myself. Thoroughly irrational, insane—all my nerve endings are raw. I can’t think.”
Well, it’s about fucking time. Melissa chose her words carefully, because the one thing she cared about most was Jude’s feelings. “What does Sinclair say to all of this?”
“Nothing?” Melissa asked incredulously. “You two haven’t talked about it?”
“Not exactly, no,” Jude replied. “Well, exactly no, really. It happened out of the blue, and then we were both—I don’t know—afraid of it, maybe? I know I was thrown by how—strongly, I felt. How incredibly, unbelievably, ama—“
“I got the picture, Jude,” Melissa interrupted dryly.
“I’m sorry, Mel. I don’t know how to explain because I’ve never experienced anything quite so—so—disorienting and unexpected.”
Love, Jude. That’s love.
Melissa got up and began to pace, trying to separate her own underlying disappointment from her desire to be a friend. She’d always known deep inside that nothing would ever come of her unrequited passion for Jude, but seeing her now, hearing her talk about Sinclair, she felt the loss just the same. Trying to keep focused on Jude, she asked, “And you’re meeting Lori today?”
Jude glanced at her watch. “In exactly twenty-seven minutes. I’ve got to go.”
“What are you going to say?” Melissa queried as Jude began gathering her things to leave.
“The truth I hope, as soon as I figure out what that is.”
Lori put down her fork and signaled the waiter. “Check, please,” she said when he drew near. As she counted out bills, she said without looking up, “Let’s walk, and you can tell me what you want to tell me.”
“Lori,” Jude began, setting her silverware aside.
“You called and said you wanted to talk,” Lori pointed out reasonably as she put the check and the money on the table. “I can tell you’re not interested in lunch. It’s also the second meal in a row where you haven’t eaten, and I’m going to start taking it personally. Let’s get out of here.”
Jude could only agree, so she followed Lori outside into the midday sun. “We’d better at least find some shade in the park,” she suggested as they crossed the street in front of the Plaza Hotel and walked toward Central Park.
“Good idea. So,” Lori asked, “what is it?”
Jude intended to tell her as much as she knew herself, and she didn’t know any other way to do that except to say it directly. “I’ve met a woman. We’re not involved exactly, but we’ve slept together,” she began hesitantly, looking at Lori, not knowing what to expect.
“Go ahead,” Lori said softly, her expression serious.
“I—I want to see more of her,” Jude continued, her feelings becoming clearer as she spoke. She laughed deprecatingly. “I’m not good at juggling two relationships. Hell, I’m not good with one. I needed you to know about this.”
“Why don’t we sit down over here,” Lori said as Jude finished speaking, indicating a wooden bench under the shade of a maple. She stretched an arm along the back of the bench and regarded Jude contemplatively. “I have a feeling I’m not going to like where this is going.”
“I know it’s—sudden. If I’d had any warning—“
“That’s not what I meant,” Lori said quickly. “I’m glad you’re telling me. I’m just concerned about why.”
Jude stared, thoroughly confused.
“Is this the first time you’ve seen someone else since we’ve been dating?” Lori asked.
“Yes,” Jude replied. “Why?”
“We never said we’d be monogamous. I’ve seen other people on occasion the last few months. Not steadily, but now and then. When you’ve been away or just—busy. I assumed you were doing the same when I didn’t see you for a while.”
“I just didn’t,” Jude said with a shrug. “Honestly, I really was busy, and what we had was fine.”
“So—what’s changed? Why can’t we still see each other? I don’t care if you’re seeing someone else,” Lori began, then laughed briefly and amended, “well, I care some, but if I had expected monogamy, I would have talked to you about it. I love your company, and you know I love you in bed. We don’t need to change that.”
Jude smiled, because everything Lori said made sense and she understood it perfectly. And she knew—no, she felt—that what had been enough before wasn’t now. “This may sound completely ridiculous, because I enjoy seeing you, too, and it’s always been—good—between us physically, but I—I just can’t. I can’t seem to keep her out of my mind.”
“Ah,” Lori said softly, hearing the tremor in Jude’s voice and knowing what she had left unsaid. “This is serious.”
“I don’t know,” Jude confessed. “Maybe not for her, but it certainly is for me. I need to know what’s happening. I don’t think I’ll feel comfortable dating you until I do.”
“I can’t say I don’t care,” Lori admitted, resting her fingers on Jude’s shoulder. “I’ll miss you, Jude. If it turns out differently than you expect, if things—don’t go anywhere, will you call me? We have something that works. I’d like to keep it if we can.”
“I’m sorry,” Jude said quietly, “if I’ve hurt you.”
Lori shook her head, smiling a bit sadly. “I never asked you for more because I wanted to keep things uncomplicated between us. That was my choice.” She paused, thinking about what she had just said, wondering if she’d been totally honest with herself. “If you’ve found something that you can’t let go of, don’t. Don’t give it up.”
Jude leaned over and kissed her gently on the lips. “Thank you.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t give you that number.”
“Look,” Jude said, attempting valiantly to contain her temper while reminding herself that it was not Naomi Riley’s fault that she couldn’t find Sax. “It’s important that I talk to her. If you can’t give me her number, how about this—could you page her and ask her to return my call?”
“Yes, I can do that. But I have to warn you, it’s very possible she’s left the city and won’t respond.”
“What about letting me have her grandmother’s number then?” Jude tried.
“I’m afraid that would not be possible,” Sax’s secretary replied, her tone distinctly cooler now. “Ms. Castle, it’s already after five p.m. Doctor Sinclair left the hospital shortly after she finished surgery. She was on call last night, and I don’t expect her back in the hospital for at least twenty-four hours, if then. The best I can do for you is to page her.”
“All right, I understand. Here’s my number—212-555–1783. Please tell her it’s important if you reach her.”
Two hours later, Jude was still pacing the confines of her apartment and waiting for the phone to ring. The rational thing would simply be to wait until the next time she was scheduled to be on-call with the trauma team and try to find time to talk to Sax then. Forty-eight hours—less than that now. That wasn’t very long to wait. Except she knew that she couldn’t—all she could think about was the last few moments on the rooftop that morning—the way it had felt to hold Sax and be held by her. The hunger lingered still. And it wasn’t only the physical sensations she remembered and longed for that made her so anxious to see Sax. Those fleeting seconds when pain and disappointment had flickered through Sax’s normally guarded eyes tormented her. She couldn’t bear for the misunderstanding to continue a moment longer. It didn’t even matter that it didn’t make sense, because very little had since almost the first moment she’d seen her. Maybe from the first instant she had opened her eyes, alone and in pain, and found something solid to hold onto in Saxon Sinclair’s sure steady gaze. When it had started, where it had started, how it had started—none of that mattered anymore. All she knew was that she wanted her.
When she accepted that Sax was not going to call, Jude marched into her bedroom and threw a few articles of clothing into an overnight bag. On her way out the door, she grabbed her car keys off the hook along with a light jacket and hoped that her sense of direction did not fail her.
Jude tapped hesitantly at the door, holding her breath while trying furiously to think of a greeting or some kind of explanation that would make sense. Unfortunately, none came to her, and when Maddy opened the door, Jude simply said, “I know it’s late, but is she here?”
“Yes,” Maddy said as if it were the most natural thing in the world for her to receive late-night visitors, or for her granddaughter to arrive disheveled and haunted looking, only to disappear immediately into the barn. “She’s out back making a racket, and apparently she’s forgotten about supper. I’d be grateful if you could get her inside for a meal.”
“I’ll try,” Jude said, suddenly shy. She couldn’t imagine what Madelaine Lane thought of her showing up like this. But the smile and warmth in the other woman’s voice alleviated some of her anxiety. That, coupled with her relief at actually finding Sax at the end of this ill-planned search probably accounted for her next unexpected question. “Is she all right?”
“That’s a question I don’t how to answer,” Maddy said truthfully. “Something tells me she’ll be a lot better now. Why don’t you go find her and let her know you’re here? You can go through the house and out through the kitchen. I imagine the noise will direct you after that.”
“Yes, thank you,” Jude said gratefully.
The sounds of hammering led her through the dark and across the yard to the barn where a light shone through the cracks around the side door. Opening it carefully, Jude stepped in the dimly lit interior. Sax was across the room, her back to Jude, nailing a sheet of plywood to the wall.
“Sax?” Jude called.
Still turned away, Sax paused, hammer in hand, her left forearm braced against the wood, a long nail held between thumb and forefinger. Jude’s voice, so distinctively rich and smooth, reached out to her like a caress. “The window blew out in a storm. I’m just covering it until I can order a new one.”
“Do you need any help?”
“No,” Sax answered slowly, driving in the nail and then carefully placing her tools on a wooden bench to her right. She pivoted, her expression wary. “How did you find this place?”
“I have an aptitude for global positioning. I only have to go somewhere once and I can draw the route on a map.”
“That makes sense,” Sax mused, resting her hips against the counter behind her and slipping her hands into her pockets. “That probably explains why you’re so good at chess. You should be able to predict future moves after only one glimpse at the positions of the pieces.”
Shrugging, Jude nodded. “I can. I seem to have extremely strong visual pathways, which is probably why film is such a powerful draw for me.”
“You are a fascinating woman--in so many ways,” Sax responded softly, almost to herself. Then, she regarded Jude intently. “So, what prompted this?”
“We didn’t finish our conversation this morning,” Jude said evenly as she crossed the room, carefully avoiding the open tool chest and stack of lumber piled on the floor. She hoped that she sounded more confident than she felt, because she was anything but sure of her welcome, and Sax, as always, was very difficult to read.
“What conversation was that?” Sax asked, watching Jude approach and feeling the room grow warm. Or maybe it was her.
“The one where you wanted to meet me for lunch, but I wasn’t free. I never got to explain why.”
“You don’t need to explain to me,” Sax said, trying to keep her voice even as Jude stepped to within inches of her. It was hard to think entirely clearly with her this close. In fact, it was getting more difficult all the time to concentrate when Jude was anywhere nearby. “A simple no is all that’s required. If I made you feel uncomfortable, I’m sorry.”
“You know damn well what you made me feel,” Jude snapped, her patience at an end. “Even if we hadn’t already slept together once, and practically managed it again--fully clothed on top of a roof where anyone could have walked up on us, I might add--I’d still want you to know why I was declining your offer.”
“Jude,” Sax said wearily, “did you ever think I might not want to know? I keep thinking I’ll stop wanting to touch you every time I see you, but I haven’t yet. I keep thinking I’ll stop thinking about you even when we’re not together, but I can’t. I keep hoping I’ll stop dreaming about you at night, but I still do. So maybe I just didn’t want to hear about your girlfriend.”
For a second, Jude didn’t know what to say. Finally she asked, “Why didn’t you say something about this the night we slept together? I would have told you then that I was seeing someone but that it wasn’t—oh god, I don’t know—committed, I guess is the term.”
“Because I didn’t realize how much I wanted that night to happen until it happened,” Sax said sharply, pulling her hands from her pockets and then clenching them by her sides. “And then I was so scared by it, I wasn’t sure I wanted it to happen again.”
Jude’s stomach tightened when she realized that she might be alone in her feelings, but she needed to know, for her sanity. “Why? Why does it scare you?”
“Because you make me forget everything,” Sax whispered hoarsely, her eyes meeting Jude’s. “You make me forget where I am; you make me forget to be cautious. You make me forget about everything except how warm you feel, and how…”
Sax ran a trembling hand across her face and stared beyond Jude’s shoulder into the past. “You make me feel… so much.”
“That’s not bad, is it?” Jude asked gently. She found Sax’s hand and laced her fingers through Sax’s, closing the distance between them, moving nearer until their thighs lightly touched. “You make me feel things, too. When I’m with you, I feel like all of me is in one place at the same time—whether we’re in bed together or just together. I’m not watching myself go through the motions when I’m with you; I am myself when I’m with you. All of me. I like the way that feels.”
“I’m afraid of what I feel,” Sax said desperately. If she hadn’t had her back to the workbench she would have stepped away, because feeling Jude against her body made her blood race. And then she couldn’t think, and then she couldn’t hold onto her control.
“Why? What do you think will happen?”
“I’ve worked very hard to build a safe life,” Sax said, her tone forced as she struggled to ignore the way her palms tingled under Jude’s light touch. “Everything seems better if I don’t feel very much; everything is under control then. You make everything crazy--no, you make me crazy.”
Jude regarded Sax intently, beginning to suspect that Sax was talking about something more than what was happening between them. She was trembling, and Jude had never ever seen her do that, no matter how stressed, no matter how tired, no matter how pressured she was. “Tell me why you’re afraid,” she said very softly.
“God, you are the most persistent woman I have ever met,” Sax pronounced, laughing a little unsteadily. She didn’t have the strength to walk away, and she couldn’t lie to her. Then she took a deep breath, and because she really couldn’t think what else to do, she told her. “Do you know who Benjamin West is?”
“Uh…” Jude stuttered, taken off guard by the question. “As in West Enterprises? International trade consortium, Fortune Five Hundred?”
“I know who he is. I mean, who doesn’t.”
“He’s my father.”
Jude stared, confused. “I don’t understand.”
“My given name is Saxon Sinclair West. The Sinclair is my mother’s maiden name--Maddy’s last name, too.”
“Of course,” Jude murmured, struggling to make sense of the abrupt turn in the conversation. “Lane is Maddy’s stage name, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Sax replied, “but she’s used it for years, even privately. I’m sure most people have forgotten that she was ever Madelaine Sinclair.”
“Wait—so you go by your mother’s family name now. Why?”
“Because it was legally changed when Maddy became my guardian. I was fifteen years old at the time.” Sax swallowed. It was even harder than she had anticipated, but then she’d never said it all out loud before.
Jude tried frantically to recall what she could about the West family dynasty. As far as she knew, Benjamin West was still living, although she couldn’t remember if children were ever mentioned in the articles she had read. Fifteen. She said she was fifteen. Something struck her about the timing, and she did some mental arithmetic. “When Maddy became your guardian, she stopped acting, didn’t she?”
“Yes,” Sax said quietly.
“Because I was… in trouble.” She closed her eyes for an instant, and when she opened them, they were shimmering with tears.
“Sax,” Jude murmured, taking Sax’s other hand in hers, cradling them both lightly in her palms. “You don’t have to tell me this. Not unless you want to. It hurts you—I can see that.”
“No,” Sax objected, resting her forehead briefly against Jude’s, “it hurts me to keep it a secret.”
Jude lifted her head and pressed her lips to Sax’s before urging gently, “Then tell me.”
“I can’t explain it completely; no one has been able to. When I was a child, they thought I had a learning disability…”
“You?” Jude asked incredulously. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt—but why? I mean, I’ve seen your CV. I’ve seen you work. Hell, I’ve played chess with you.”
Sax shrugged, uneasy. “My attention span was limited. I was very active--hyperactive apparently--and I didn’t perform well on standardized tests. Finally, when I was nine the doctors decided I had an attention deficit disorder and began treating me with medications. The problem was, I didn’t have a neurologic disorder, at least not in the sense of pathological. I do seem to have a highly sensitive nervous system--I don’t sleep much, and when I do, the REM patterns are unusually accelerated. Specialized psychological assessments eventually demonstrated that I assimilate information faster than normal, so that when I was young what everyone interpreted as an attention deficit was just boredom.”
“How long did it take them to figure this out?” Jude asked. And just how high is your IQ?
“A long time,” Sax confessed, her tone anguished as the still vivid memories resurfaced.
“Sax,” Jude said, starting to feel apprehensive because Sax was sweating, and the room was cool. She looked pale, practically gray, and it was scaring the hell out of her. “Maybe we should go inside. You can tell me the rest a little later.”
“No, I want to finish.”
“All right. Of course,” Jude said quickly.
“Well,” Sax continued, swiping impatiently at the moisture running into her eyes, “the medications only made me worse. Drugs work well for some kids, the ones who have immature or altered neural pathways, but I didn’t—mine weren’t abnormal, just different. The older I got the more problems I got into, because the psychotropic drugs were altering my brain chemistry, making me—“ She stared at Jude, her misery nearly palpable. “It was a vicious cycle. The more they tried to control me with drugs, the worse I became. Part of it was a physical dependence; part of it was drug toxicity. Finally…I cracked.”
Jude put her arms around her and pulled her close, holding her tightly, her chest aching so badly she couldn’t speak. She couldn’t believe it, couldn’t even conceive of how frightened Sax must have been, how confused, how lonely. Finally, when she thought she could talk without her voice shaking, she leaned back so she could see Sax’s face, but kept her tightly in the circle of her arms. “And then?”
Sax shrugged, her voice a bit stronger. “The doctors thought I was having a psychotic break and my parents had me committed. Fortunately, the first thing you do in those circumstances is stop all the medication, and once they did that, I started to come around. As soon as I started to feel normal, I refused to take any drugs at all. There was a huge battle between Maddy and my parents about what to do with me, since I refused to go home. It’s not easy to keep something like this quiet when you’re a high-profile industry mogul, and my father was very paranoid about any suggestion of mental instability in the family. They agreed to let me go with Maddy.”
“Thank God,” Jude whispered vehemently.
“It took a long time for me to feel like they weren’t going to come and take me away, and it took me even longer to feel like I could trust myself--trust my life.”
“Does anyone know?”
“No,” Sax said. “I’m fine. But it could be difficult for me, I suppose, if someone wanted to make it difficult. I don’t really think about it very much anymore.”
“You didn’t have to tell me,” Jude said, smoothing one hand over Sax’s chest, wanting so desperately to comfort her. “I’m glad that you did. Are you?”
“Yes,” Sax said without hesitation. “I told you because… because you’re the first person I’ve ever wanted to spend more than a night with. Except…”
“Except?” Jude asked, fearing that the answer was going to hurt.
Sax laughed, and this time the laughter reached her eyes. “Except maybe now you understand why it worries me that you make me crazy.”
“Saxon,” Jude murmured as she leaned close to kiss her, drawing back after a second to whisper, “I might make you feel crazy…” and then kissing her again. After a long minute, she managed to add through a throat tight with desire, “I hope I do…good crazy, at least.” Sliding her hands over Sax’s back, she lifted her eyes to those blue ones and said firmly, “But you are the least crazy person I’ve ever met.”
And then she kissed her again.
Sax wasn't sure how long the kiss lasted, but when she finally became aware of her surroundings again, her legs were trembling and she had forgotten every single reason why being with Jude Castle was a bad idea.
"You're doing that ‘making me crazy’ thing again," Sax whispered, her lips brushing the outer rim of Jude's ear.
"Oh good," Jude murmured against her neck. "I was hoping that would happen."
"You got your wish."
"Is there any way at all that I can keep making you crazy?" Jude asked, leaning hard along Sax’s length, loving the solid strength of her. "Or should we go back to the house and be sociable? Maddy expects me to deliver you for dinner."
Sax slipped her hands under Jude's shirt and ran her fingertips lightly up and down Jude's sides, repeatedly drawing her hands over the underside of her breasts. Smiling as Jude pressed even closer against her, she replied quietly, "The only thing I have an appetite for right now is you."
"Deb says you have incredibly fast hands," Jude breathed, insinuating her hand between their bodies and cupping Sax through her jeans.
Sax swallowed audibly, her eyes going cloudy as Jude’s touch made her hard. Hoarsely, she asked, "Does she now?"
"Uh huh," Jude affirmed, catching the seam of Sax's jeans with her nails and tugging slightly. "That's what she says."
"Well, she’s pretty smart," Sax gasped, pushing insistently into Jude's hand, rocking against her palm. She'd be in trouble if she weren’t careful, but it felt too good to stop and she'd been wanting it since the moment they’d parted two nights before. “So if that’s what she says, she must be right.”
Jude squeezed and Sax groaned, closing her fingers around Jude's breasts, gratified to hear her groan, too. Glancing desperately around the barn, she couldn't see a single place clean enough or comfortable enough in which to make love to Jude. Then, through the archway, she caught sight of the answer. Reaching down between her legs, she grasped the hand that was rapidly working her to a fever pitch and pulled it away from her body. Lacing her fingers through Jude's, she said urgently, "Come on."
"What?" Jude asked in befuddled astonishment, her attention still focused on the way Sax's fingers felt squeezing her nipples. But she had no choice but to follow, because Sax was already pulling her across the room.
“Just wait,” Sax muttered as much to herself as Jude, moving on unsteady legs, ready to go up in flames at any second. She fished a key ring out of the front pocket of her jeans and pointed a remote at the elegant dark gray Rolls Royce sedan.
"You've got to be kidding," Jude exclaimed as the headlights flashed twice and the muted sound of door locks thudding open reached her ears. "I don't think I made out in the back seat of a car even when I was a teenager. I'm certainly too old for gymnastics now."
"You have no idea what these are like inside," Sax said as she hurriedly opened the boot of the car and pulled out a large flannel blanket. "For emergencies," she commented while opening the rear door and leaning in to spread the blanket on the seat. Turning, she extended a hand and said, "Would you join me, Ms. Castle?"
Laughing aloud, Jude took the offered hand and slid into the spacious back seat beside Sax. "This is crazy. You know that, right?"
"I told you that,” Sax replied, regarding her solemnly. Then, eyes dancing, she fell back against the plush leather seat and pulled Jude onto her lap.
Jude thread her arms around Sax's neck and curled into her body, meeting her lips with urgent intensity. Beneath her, Sax spread her legs and Jude rocked her hips into the tight vee between those long thighs. Sax lifted her hips to meet her thrusts as their tongues sent promises of pleasure to come. When the kisses became frantic and the air grew thick with hunger, Jude eased away for an instant, stripped off her shirt, and let it fall behind her. A second later, Sax's mouth was on her breast.
Jude moaned with the quicksilver flash of excitement that streaked from her nipple into the pit of her stomach. Working both hands into Sax's hair, she pulled the surgeon's head tightly to her breast. "Bite me," she whispered urgently, her breath catching in a soft groan as Sax complied. She closed her eyes, wanting only to surrender to the heat and the fury of needs too long unanswered. "You can't know... what... that does to me," she cried faintly, her cheek nestled against Sax's hair.
"Oh, yes, I can," Sax said, her voice deep and sure. "I know…” she bit lightly, “that I could make you..." She bit again. "come..." And again. "like this..." And once more, harder.
"Don't..." Jude whispered, her voice breaking as she tightened inside. "Not yet."
"No," Sax growled, gathering Jude into her arms and shifting quickly on the seat until they were reclining, Jude beneath her, their thighs intertwined. “Not just yet.”
She kissed Jude's neck, the angle of her jaw, the corner of her mouth, her lips--hard enough to bruise but backing off just short of pain. She wanted her--wanted to possess her, devour her, drive her beyond sanity--she wanted her so much it was nearly paralyzing. Her heart felt like it would explode. Trembling, aching, she moved her lips slowly down the center of Jude's body, her hands between them working the redhead's zipper open. Moving lower still between Jude’s legs, Sax whispered, "Lift your hips." Pulling the fabric down over her legs and finally off, she rested her palms on the insides of Jude's thighs. Pressing firmly with splayed fingers, Sax opened her, then lowered her mouth to enclose her clitoris. Pulling her gently between her lips, tasting her arousal, Sax moaned, and her mind dissolved.
Jude arched under Sax's mouth, every fiber contracting with the exquisite sensation of slick hot pleasure. "Go slowly," she murmured, "it's so good..."
Sax was already lost. She followed only the rhythm of Jude's heart beating, flowed only to the sound of her soft moans, knew nothing but the call of her flesh. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful... When Jude came in her mouth, Sax's mind blossomed with white heat, absorbing every fragment of the moment, treasuring each sound and scent and tremor. She whimpered, twitching inside her jeans, as Jude's passion swept along her nerves and ignited her own need. Her thighs tightened, her stomach clenched, and she came hard on the heels of Jude's release.
“You know,” Jude murmured, “if you keep coming without me even touching you, I’m going to start feeling superfluous.”
“Believe me you’re not,” Sax assured her, grinning as she shifted on the broad seat, settling Jude more comfortably against her. “Something happens to me when I touch you. I get…”
Jude bit her neck. “I know…crazy.”
“Yeah, that,” Sax agreed.
“Well, then, let’s see what happens when I touch you,” Jude mused, flicking the top button open on Sax’s fly. “Maybe you’ll have better control.”
“I…don’t…think…so,” Sax warned as Jude slid her hands inside her jeans. “Uh… everything about my nervous system is fast. I don’t have anything to say about it most of the time.”
“Jude,” Sax protested as fingers grasped her firmly and her head nearly blew off. “Jes...wait. Give me a minute.”
“Okay. Fifty-nine, fifty-eight…” Jude intoned, punctuating each count with a quick stroke over Sax’s length.
Sax grit her teeth and tried to remember her on call schedule for the next three weeks. When that didn’t help diminish the rapidly escalating pressure between her legs, she considered the quarterly budget. No luck. “Stop…for a…second.”
Jude relented. Sax’s heart was pounding so hard beneath her cheek it was almost scary. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah. Oh yeah,” Sax managed, backing away from the edge. Taking a deep breath, she added, “Just…sometimes quick reflexes are a problem, you know?”
“Ah—does this have anything to do with not sleeping and all that restless energy you have?” Jude questioned quietly, stilling her motion but keeping her hand on her.
“Probably. It gets away from me…and I don’t want it to, not with you.” She swallowed, pressed her lips to Jude’s temple, whispered, “I want to feel it all.”
“We can do that,” Jude murmured. This she could give her. Gently now, she began again. With her touch she soothed her even as passion stirred. Easing off when she felt Sax shudder, she led her steadily higher, timing her motion to the cadence of Sax’s heart. “Tell me when you’re close.”
Wordlessly, Sax nodded, feeling Jude beside her, inside her—standing between her and oblivion, guiding her surely home. “What you’re doing…I’ll come.”
“Are you ready?” Jude asked softly, but she knew the answer. Sax’s entire body trembled, every fiber poised to snap. She was already there.
Speech disappeared in an avalanche of sensation and Sax turned her face to Jude’s shoulder, crying out once, sharply, and then she was gone.
"Do you have any idea what time it is?"
"Eleven-forty," Sax replied.
Jude rolled over and raised her head, peering at the dashboard in the dim light filtering in from the barn adjacent to the attached garage. After a second, she settled back against Sax's chest. "Remarkable."
"A lot of people can do that," Sax murmured, adjusting her back so that the door handle didn't poke her in the shoulder blade.
"Are you always that accurate?" Jude queried, resting her hand against Sax's bare stomach.
"Does that have something to do with your... heightened nervous system?"
"Probably. We get all kinds of cues from our environment that we don't really think about that allow us to orient ourselves in time and space. For me, sensory input is processed and categorized very quickly, automatically, and I don't even pay any attention to it anymore."
"It's not dangerous, is it?" Jude asked quietly, unable to forget Sax’s story of being hospitalized. "I mean, you can't get... overloaded... or anything, can you?"
Sax pressed her lips to Jude's forehead and then nuzzled her ear gently. "No. Not as long as my system isn't altered in some way. I'm very sensitive to any kind of drug, but I know that, and I'm careful to avoid them."
"And... uh… sexually? Are you always primed?"
Sax sat up a little straighter on the seat so that she could look into Jude's face. "If you're asking me if my sexual response is indiscriminate, the answer is no. I’ll admit it's convenient to be able to relieve physical tension and stress with a quick and easy orgasm. That night you saw me in the bar..."
"That wasn't what I was talking about," Jude said quickly, although she had wondered if their physical intimacy meant the same thing to Sax as it did for her. She'd be lying if she said she didn't hope this was more than just a casual romp for the surgeon. Whereas once the memory of Sax being pleasured by an anonymous woman excited her, now the idea nearly made her insane. She wasn't at all sure that she could handle the thought of anyone else touching her. Still, she recognized that she had no right to make Sax feel uncomfortable. "I wasn't talking about your relationship with other women."
"Weren't you?" Sax responded mildly, running her fingertips along the edge of Jude's jaw. "Well, I'm going to talk about it. I've never attached very much importance to sex, because it was never emotional for me--it was just biology. That's what you saw. It was an orgasm; it was a momentary release; it was an instant of escape. By the time it was over, I had already forgotten it. That's not what this is, Jude.” She held Jude’s chin in her palm and held her gaze with fierce intensity. “When I'm with you, I feel so much it's hard for me to breathe. When you touch me, you reach all the way inside me. When my hands are on you, I feel like something inside of me is breaking, and it hurts so much I think I'm dying. And I've never been so happy."
Jude was silent a long moment, struggling with emotions so unexpected and so powerful they left her speechless. Never had she wanted anything as much as she wanted Sax's words to be true. The intensity of her longing was frightening, even more so because it made no sense at all. She had never imagined wanting anyone, needing anyone, so badly. She was terrified to believe a single word that Sax said, and even more terrified to think that her words might not be true. Finally, her voice shaking, she said, "I wouldn't mind if I were the only one taxing your nervous system from now on."
Sax laughed and pulled her close. "I have a feeling you'll be taxing a lot more than just my nervous system." Then, her tone completely serious, she added, "I can't imagine anyone making me feel what you do. I don’t want anyone else to. And I want you all the time—so damn much. You don't have to worry about where I'll be at night."
"I wouldn't ask you, Sax," Jude murmured softly, "if I weren't mad about you."
Sax grew very still. Jude's words echoed first in her mind, and then filled her heart, and finally touched her soul. "I wouldn't make the promise if I didn't feel the same."
A single light glowed in the kitchen and several covered dishes rested on the counter. The aroma of baked chicken and apples nearly brought tears to Jude's eyes. The clock said twelve-thirty.
"I am so hungry," she announced fervently.
"Do you want to eat down here or shall we take something upstairs to our room?" Sax asked, lifting a casserole lid and sniffing appreciatively.
Jude regarded her speculatively. "Our room?"
"You can't really think I'm going to let you sleep anywhere except with me tonight?" Sax queried, an amused expression on her face. “And the Rolls has served its purpose for the evening.”
"Uh...I hadn't really thought about us...you know, sleeping together. Here, I mean."
"I never would have figured you for shy," Sax laughed, enjoying the blush that stole to Jude's cheeks, and enjoying too the signs of their recent lovemaking. Jude’s hair was disheveled, her shirt untucked, and her lips just short of bruised. Remembering the way those lips had teased her, tormented her, and finally delivered her, Sax’s mouth went dry and her knees grew weak. Oh, man, I am so so lost. Suddenly she forgot all about dinner. She advanced on Jude, her eyes ravenous.
"It's just that if we get into bed together, I fully intend to spend most of the night making love,” Jude announced, recognizing the shift in Sax’s expression from playful to predatory. She figured they had maybe five minutes before they were naked again. If Sax touched her, less than that, because her skin was already burning. “Maddy's your grandmother. Your choice."
"Maddy's room is on the first floor," Sax rasped, backing Jude against the counter, her arms around her waist. She kissed her neck. "And all I want is my skin next to yours for the next twenty-four hours. At least."
"Well then," Jude replied huskily, slipping one hand into the back pocket of Sax's jeans and squeezing, "we're going to need nourishment. Immediately. Because I don’t plan on waiting long to have you."
The room, with its large four poster bed, fireplace, and oak dressers was very much like the one Jude had used only a few days before, but it had a lived-in feel that the guestroom had not. The large Oriental carpet was worn by the side of the bed from years of footsteps and a stack of books rested on the nightstand beneath a reading lamp. The large walk-in closet door was open and she could see shirts and jeans and more formal suits arranged within.
"This is really where you live, isn't it?"
“Yes,” Sax replied, her tone distracted as she hastily unbuttoned her shirt. They’d eaten quickly; she couldn’t remember now how it had tasted. She was wound tight inside, desire coiled so tautly she was in danger of incinerating.
“When,” Jude asked, mesmerized by the pulse thudding in Sax’s neck. She wanted to put her teeth on that spot--leave a mark. Her mark. She barely recognized herself.
"Maddy and I lived in her apartment in Manhattan the first year that I was with her, but then she bought this place. This has been my room, my home, ever since.” She tossed her shirt on a nearby chair and was about to start on her jeans when it finally registered that Jude wasn’t moving. Concerned, she asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I’m just enjoying the view,” Jude replied a bit breathlessly. And the minute we lie down together the only thing I’m going to be able to think about is the way you feel. And this matters. “What happened after you moved in with Maddy?” she asked, valiantly trying to ignore the buzzing in her head.
“I finished high school with home study soon after I was released from the hospital,” Sax answered, moving to the foot of the bed, naked from the waist up, a faint sheen of desire misting her skin. Jude stood a foot away, leaning against one of the bedposts, still fully clothed. Sax rested her fingers on Jude’s bare forearms. “Nine months later I left for college."
“You were young.” A steady pounding between her legs kept time with the beat in Sax’s neck. Her vision blurred.
“Yes.” Sax lifted a finger, ran it slowly down the center of Jude’s throat. “Is this a test?”
Jude swallowed, her voice strained. “How long did it take you? College and medical school?"
"Four and a half years," Sax replied, watching Jude’s pupils dilate. She lifted the shirt slowly over Jude’s head. Her hands shook. “Why?”
“Because I want to know who you are,” Jude whispered, desperate to bury her face in the soft curve of her shoulder. Wait, Jude, can’t you? Just wait. What is wrong with me?
“You do,” Sax murmured, unbuttoning her jeans. “You know what I need right now, don’t you?”
"There's a lot you aren't telling me, isn't there?" Jude said quietly.
"Not so much. Nothing that really matters," Sax said gently. Closing the distance between them, she took Jude’s hands and placed them inside the waistband of her jeans. Then she looked into her eyes. "You know more about me than anyone else in the world except Maddy. And there are some things you know that no one else will ever know."
"I like that," Jude whispered, pushing down on the denim, exposing her.
“Yes,” Sax said huskily. "So do I."
Sometime late that night, Jude sensed Sax leaving the bed.
"What's wrong?" Jude mumbled, sitting up, naked in the moonlight.
"Nothing," Sax murmured. Shirt in hand she leaned down to kiss her gently. "I never finished that work in the barn. I got distracted earlier."
"I remember," Jude said softly. “Have you slept?”
"Lie here with me for five minutes,” Jude requested, grasping Sax's hand and pulling her back down beside her. “Then you can go."
"That's a tough order," Sax whispered, stretching out beside her. "But I'll do my best."
The last thing Sax remembered was Jude stroking her face, the comforting warmth of her body, and the sweet tender touch of her mouth. The next thing she knew, she was awakening to sunlight on her skin. Opening her eyes, she found Jude watching her.
“What time is it?”
“Don’t you know?” Jude asked, smiling.
“Actually, no,” Sax admitted, stretching contentedly. “God, I feel great.”
“It’s nine o’clock.”
"How long have you been awake?" Sax asked.
"About fifteen minutes."
"You have a very pleased smile on your face,” Sax observed, slipping her hand into the mass of rich red curls at the base of Jude’s neck. She pulled her close and kissed her. After a moment, she asked, “What were you thinking?"
"That I liked it that you slept all night with me," Jude replied quietly, her thigh across Sax’s leg. "And that you're so beautiful it makes my heart hurt."
"Jude," Sax murmured, watching Jude's eyes grow hazy. "I don't know how I managed before you."
"I know," Jude answered, feeling walls tumbling and doors opening down the hallways of her soul.
They reached for one another at the same time, arms and legs entwining as they joined. They promised constancy with each kiss, pledged devotion with each caress. With their hands, they found one another's need and eased it. With their lips, they sought one another's desire and reveled in it. With their hearts, they heard one another's dreams and answered them. They climbed together, soared together, came together, calling one another's name as passion burned brightly.
"I'm sorry we missed breakfast," Jude said as she gratefully poured her first cup of coffee from the pot that Maddy had thoughtfully brewed and left on the counter. Sax, finally giving in to restlessness, had preceded her downstairs by about five minutes and was nowhere in sight. However, she didn't feel the least bit self-conscious, probably because she was just too damn happy to feel shy.
"Don't give it another thought," Maddy said, smiling up from the kitchen table where she sat reading the morning paper. "There isn't any timetable when you're here. And like it says at the old-fashioned diners, I serve breakfast twenty-four hours a day."
"I'd like to help," Jude said.
"There's not much to do, really. And besides, I enjoy it."
"If you're sure..." Jude acquiesced. "Did Sax get her coffee?"
"She took a cup with her out to the barn. She said to tell you she'd be right back. Apparently there was something she wanted to finish."
Jude laughed. "Well at least she managed to wait until daylight."
"That's rare for her," Maddy remarked, regarding Jude astutely. She didn’t need a script to read this scene. She knew where the two of them had slept. Much more importantly, she knew that her granddaughter had slept, and when she had appeared, smiling and clear-eyed, Maddy could have wept.
"So I understand," Jude replied carefully. She didn’t want to infringe on Sax’s privacy or betray her confidences, but she could see how much Maddy loved her. “She never stops going.”
"She's never been able to tell when she's exhausted. She doesn't feel it. She’ll run on empty til she drops."
“That’s fine, then,” Maddy announced with a nod, briskly rising to begin breakfast. "So... tell me how the film project’s going."
"I can do better than that," Jude announced with a pleased smile. "I have a tape in my bag and I can show you what we're doing."
Maddy turned to look at her, her face alive with delight. "Oh, Saxon has done well finding you."
"Thank you," Sax said smugly from the door, grinning.
Jude blushed and sent Sax a look that promised she would make her pay for that remark later.
"Do be careful, you two."
"Absolutely," Sax responded as Jude climbed onto the bike behind her, then reached around with both arms to encircle her waist. It still gave her a pleasant jolt every time Jude did that. Covering one of Jude's hands with her own where it rested possessively in the bend of her thigh, she grinned at Maddy. "We'll be fine."
"Yes, I can see that," Maddy replied. To her knowledge, her granddaughter had never had a relationship of consequence, but knowing Saxon’s volatile nature, she very much doubted that she was inexperienced. She suspected, however, that what was happening with Jude was something different altogether. She'd observed the way the two of them had looked at each other all day, and it was clear to her they were both seriously smitten. Even though they didn’t seem entirely aware of it yet, it was still a lovely thing to see. "And I’ll expect you both to visit again soon."
“We’ll be back the day after tomorrow to pick up Jude’s car,” Sax reminded her. Jude had wanted to ride back with Sax on the motorcycle, which was fine with her. She hadn’t wanted to say goodbye quite so soon.
“I wasn’t talking about a pit stop, Saxon. I had something more civilized in mind.”
"Don’t worry, Maddy," Jude said, smiling at the woman for whom she was quickly acquiring real affection. The afternoon had passed in easy conversation with Maddy while Sax busied herself with a number of odd jobs around the grounds. When it had gotten too hot for her to work, Sax had joined them, and the three of them had talked of current films and other news. Finally, after dinner, Jude and Sax had reluctantly prepared to leave. “I'll make sure of it.”
"Good, because Saxon tends to lose track of such simple things as time, and two months between visits is too long." Although this time, knowing that Jude would be nearby, she would worry less about Saxon’s well-being while she was gone.
"Maddy," Sax said ruefully. "You're going to give her a bad impression."
"Nothing she doesn't already know, I'm sure," Maddy said sharply as she leaned forward to kiss Sax on the cheek. Absently, she stroked her arm as she straightened and stepped away, thinking how much she loved the happiness glinting in her granddaughter’s normally guarded eyes. "I love you."
"I love you, too," Sax replied firmly, disengaging the kickstand with the heel of her boot. "We'll see you soon."
Maddy waved once as she watched Sax wheel the large motorcycle around in the center of the lane. As the engine roared and the powerful machine leapt into motion, she saw Jude tighten her hold on Sax, leaning against her, at once protected and sheltering. She had often wondered if ever a person would come who would be able to match Saxon for drive and strength and tenderness. Jude did all that, and more. Oh, what a marvelous pair they make.
Sax pulled to the side of the road as they entered Manhattan. It was a little after nine p.m.
"Where to?" she asked, turning on the seat to look at Jude. She knew what she wanted, but she was a little reluctant to make assumptions. The last thirty-six hours had been like a dream. After Jude had declined her offer for lunch the day before, she had driven to Maddy's in a fury of temper and pain, certain Jude’s refusal had been because she was seriously involved with another woman. Sax had wanted her so much, but it wasn't just the physical frustration that had made her wild with rejection and aching with loneliness. When they were together, she was happy. More than happy, she was soothed in some primal part of herself that never truly rested. Once that longing had been unleashed, it tormented her, her heart crying out for the peace that only Jude seemed able to bring. Then, miraculously, Jude had come to her and claimed her--every inch of her--body and soul. Now, as she contemplated leaving her, the night loomed longer and lonelier than any she could recall. More barren even than those desolate nights when she had lain awake in the still, hushed dark of the hospital praying for Maddy to come for her. Maddy had ended her isolation then, but as the years had passed her needs had changed, and Maddy could no longer banish her demons. But Jude had. Jude had. She waited, wondering how she would make it through the night alone.
Jude sensed Sax waiting for an answer, but she had already taken enough risks. She’d followed her to Maddy’s and practically—hell, not practically—wantonly seduced her. She’d made clear her desires. Deliberately, she asked, "What do you want to do?"
Sax glanced down once at Jude’s hand still resting on her thigh, contemplating whether she could afford to let these feelings loose. She wasn’t certain she could contain them; wasn’t certain she could ever stop the wanting if she set it free. Then, knowing she had been headed for this moment since the first day they had met, she looked into Jude’s eyes and said clearly, "At six-thirty tomorrow morning I have to go to work. Then, for thirty hours or so, my life won’t be my own. Until then, I want to be with you."
"You know the way to my place."
Ten minutes later they pulled up in front. Once inside the door, Sax dropped her bag on the floor and waited while Jude walked around turning on lights in an apartment that was a perfect reflection of its occupant.
“What?” Jude asked hesitantly, watching Sax look around with a faint smile on her face.
“It’s you,” Sax observed, glancing at the array of recording and other electronic equipment fitted into the niches of an antique apothecary bench along the far wall. Beneath the warmth of color manifest in the paintings on the walls, the textured fabrics of rugs and throws, and the lush greenery of living foliage, there was a sense of order and utility. Sensuality and reason, creativity and intent, form and function--the artist revealed.
“It’s passionate and purposeful,” Sax continued, moving deeper into the room, indicating the space with a sweep of her arm. “You work here, and you live here, and they’re the same thing for you, aren’t they?”
Jude stared at the woman in the tight black T-shirt and faded black jeans, a handsome, dangerous stranger who knew things she shouldn’t and touched her in ways no one ever had. “You scare me.”
Sax cocked her head, stood still, studied Jude’s eyes. Green--they were deep, deep green verging on black. They looked like that when she was aroused or angry, and now, Sax knew, when she was frightened. “I think it’s too late for safety.”
“So do I,” Jude murmured, walking to within inches of her. “What do you want?” she asked again. How long will it be before I can stand this close to you and not want my hands on your skin?
“I want to do to you what you do to me,” Sax said fervently, searching desperately for some way to explain to her how she had changed everything.
“What?” Jude asked, her voice low and husky. “What is it that you want?”
“I want to abide in your secret places and catch your tears before they fall.”
“I should make you leave,” Jude breathed. You can’t know what you’re asking. You can’t.
“You could hurt me.”
“You can’t know that.”
“Yes. I can.”
“What if I don’t want you in those places?”
“Then you should make me leave.”
Jude ran her fingers lightly over Sax’s face, tracing her eyebrows, the steep slope of her cheekbones, the rich curve of her lips. “It’s too late.”
“Yes. For me, too.”
For a moment, they didn’t speak, they didn’t move. Then, Jude took her hand and led her across the room through a doorway on the opposite side. Once inside her bedroom, they undressed wordlessly, unhurriedly--eyes locked on one another--slowly revealing themselves in slow, mesmerizing glimpses of denim and cotton falling from candle-lit flesh. When they were naked, Jude turned down the covers and slid between the sheets, beckoning to Sax with an extended arm. Sax stretched out on her side facing her, her palm lightly resting on the arch of her hip, amazed at how much she desired her and surprised even more by how exciting it was to wait. She was wet; she was hard; and she wanted the wanting never to end.
"You know, I hated to leave Maddy’s," Jude whispered in the flickering light, raising a hand to brush along the curve of Sax’s breast.
"Why?” Sax asked, hearing the wistful, almost sad note in her voice. She leaned forward enough to press her lips to the hollow below Jude’s collarbone. “We can go back.”
"Because," Jude murmured, wondering if she were foolish to say these things out loud, and unable to stop. "I was afraid something would change when we got back to the city."
"What?" Sax inquired gently, moving her hand to Jude’s back, pulling her closer until their breasts met and melded. Her body hummed, electrified.
"I'm afraid you'll disappear." It took all her strength to say those words, because admitting how very much she wanted her was terrifying. She slipped her fingers into Sax’s hair, pulled her head near, sought her mouth. You are real; I can touch you.
"No, I won’t," Sax said deliberately when Jude released her. She ignored the thunder of arousal as Jude’s hand stole lower over her stomach, fingers seeking to claim her. She caught her wrist before Jude could touch her, because she knew she would be beyond words then. Raising the hand to her lips, she kissed the palm tenderly, then placed it over her own heart. "Do you feel that?"
"Yes," Jude whispered, her eyes searching Sax's face. In the yellow glow of the candles, her blue eyes were black.
"Why hasn't someone else claimed it before this?" Jude asked, her throat tight with desire and tears. "It's so precious."
"No one ever wanted it before," Sax murmured, her lips moving gently in the fine hair at Jude's temple. Carefully, she skimmed her palm up the inside of Jude’s leg to the vee between her thighs, catching her breath at the slick, welcoming heat.
"I can't believe that," Jude said throatily, her hand still resting on Sax’s chest. "You're handsome and brilliant and sexy as hell."
"And arrogant and stubborn and secretive," Sax added with a tremulous laugh. God, she wanted to take her, just take her. Her arm trembled with the effort it took to go slowly.
"Yes, true," Jude agreed softly, turning onto her back, drawing Sax with her. "But it balances out…in the end."
"I'll remind you of that one of these days when I've aggravated you too much," Sax murmured, leaning on one elbow, stroking her now, fingers gliding over engorged flesh, parting her gently.
"Good idea," Jude agreed, her voice shaking, losing focus.
"Jude," Sax said tenderly when she heard the faint whisper of uncertainty still in her voice, "you make it safe for me to be myself. I am not afraid when I'm with you."
Slowly, watching Jude’s expression dissolve as her lids fluttered, Sax moved inside her.
"Thank you," Jude whispered, laying her head where her hand had just been, against Sax’s heart. Closing her eyes, listening to the sure steady beat, she yielded all her secrets.
Personal Project Log - Castle
September 7 - 9:45 a.m.
[Note: Episode title-Call to Battle] Holiday weekends are even more difficult than normal, because when people party, they get into trouble. Trouble comes in many forms--bar brawls, car accidents, domestic disturbances, robberies, gang altercations. What it means in practical terms for the trauma team is that there is more work, fewer people to do it because of vacation schedules, and a general sense of stress and anxiety about what might be coming next. I should qualify that--Sinclair and Stein don't seem particularly worried. The two of them are almost unnaturally calm, as if they know that they'll deal with whatever fate may deliver. Confidence? Self-assurance? Maybe just simple experience, at least on Sinclair’s part. The rest of the staff are keyed up--from the nurses to the ancillary personal to the security guards at the front doors--you can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices. Excitement mixed with dread, like the kind of ambivalent anticipation you feel looking at one of those ridiculously large amusement park rides, wondering if you’ll vomit or laugh half way down.
Labor Day weekend is the end of summer and underneath the gaiety is a thread of anger and sadness.
Today's Saturday, the first full day of the long weekend, and the team just finished rounds in the TICU a few minutes ago. Stein and Sinclair are already in the operating room doing emergency exploratory surgery on a patient who was shot three days ago. Apparently, she is having episodic spiking fevers and they suspect an abscess somewhere in her abdomen. Because Sax and Deb are also the admitting surgeons for the day, the backup team, all of whom have been here since six o'clock yesterday morning, has to stay until this surgery is over and the two of them are free.
Jude turned off her recorder and randomly selected a tape from the pile on the desk. She slid it into the VCR and pushed play, leaning back in the swivel desk chair and propping her feet on the wastepaper basket. It only took a few minutes for her to recognize the scene as one in which Sax and Deb had been working on a New York City police officer who had been injured in a high-speed crash while pursuing a suspected dope dealer up the West Side Highway. Parts of the tape were dizzyingly shaky because Mel had been jostled by the dozens of police crowding into the trauma bay trying to find out how their fallen comrade was faring.
Leaning forward, she muted the volume. She wasn’t interested in the conversations. She was only interested in the dark-haired surgeon whose face was a study in fierce concentration and whose hands moved like magic over the landscape of flesh and bone. As Jude watched, images unexpectedly fused and blurred, her memory transcending time. Sax leaning over the officer became Sax leaning over her in the trauma bay at Bellevue and then suddenly it was Sax leaning over her in bed the night before—hands playing over her skin with unerring certainty, finding all her tender places, making her molten, making her scream, making her come.
She caught her breath at the swift stab of pleasure that accompanied the memory and closed her eyes. This had been a bad idea. She’d only wanted to see Sax’s face for an instant because she missed her, and now she ached in a way that she knew was going to torment her for hours.
“Jude?” a curious voice behind her inquired. “You okay?”
Swinging around, she grinned sheepishly at Mel. “Yeah. Fine…just woolgathering. Waiting for Deb and Sax to finish up.”
“And the silent movie?” Melissa asked, pulling over a chair, nodding toward the tape that still ran on the screen.
“Oh…that…nothing…I was just…” She stopped, unable to think of an explanation that wasn’t ridiculous, as if the truth weren’t ridiculous enough. Shrugging, she sighed and admitted, “I wanted to look at her.”
Mel followed Jude’s gaze and watched Sax and Deb work for a few seconds. It was good footage. They were captivating women. But Jude looked more than captivated; she looked stunned. “You really are nuts about her, aren’t you?” she asked, a touch of awe in her voice.
“Seems like,” Jude acknowledged. She glanced at Mel self-consciously. “Crazy, huh?”
“Not as long as it’s mutual,” Melissa replied carefully, mindful of the fragile line between caring and intruding. “Is it?”
Jude smiled, recalling Sax in the shower that morning, head thrown back, eyes closed, fingers laced through Jude’s hair, moaning Jude’s name.
“Yeah. Uh huh. Seems like.”
September 7 - 1 p.m.
We're on the roof waiting for South Star to bring in two patients found unconscious in a burning crack house. Preliminary reports indicate burns and inhalation injuries. As I look around, Nancy Stevenson--Aaron's replacement—and a respiratory technician, a med tech, and Sinclair and Stein are standing in a cluster, faces turned to the sky, poised to move. You can almost feel the tension rippling in the air. It's not as hot today as it has been, and there's a breeze. In the distance, I can hear the rotor blades thumping. There are stretchers with equipment piled onto them awaiting the wounded. No one is talking. The silence is eerie.
"The blades aren't that low, but watch your head nevertheless," Sax advised as Jude stepped up beside her.
"Understood," Jude responded, keeping an eye on Mel who was filming as they all moved forward in anticipation of the chopper’s arrival. She had to be sure that her photographer was clear of the landing site as the helicopter descended. Looking up into the sky, she held her breath, waiting for the drama to begin.
"It's odd how all sense of time, everything actually, disappears when the injured arrive," she observed almost to herself. There was a terrible pain in her leg…she found herself staring into a huge silver disk with a hot white bulb in its center… a silhouette took shape in her field of vision, backlit by the bright light…features began to emerge …a face bending near—blue eyes, so dark they were almost purple, intense and penetrating—black hair, thick and unruly… "Everything recedes into shadow except the space around the patient, and that's like a spotlight in the center of a darkened stage."
Sax glanced at her, struck by the pensive tone in her voice. They hadn't been alone together since they'd parted at the hospital doors six hours before. The sun on Jude's burnished copper hair glinted like shimmering firelight, reminding her that when she had awakened that morning, those glorious tresses had been scattered across her chest and Jude's face had been nestled in the crook of her neck. She had lain awake a long time the night before after Jude had shuddered to a climax in her embrace. Still, she had been more than content to rest with the soothing sound of Jude's soft breathing whispering in her ear. Finally, she had truly slept, and it had been a sleep without dreams or anxiety. She moved a step closer, her arm brushing Jude’s. "Time is suspended. There is only the now. No past, no future, no hopes, no dreams. Only the indecipherable reality of life. If you spend enough time on call, you'll forget there is any other world."
"That's frightening," Jude observed quietly. I don't want to forget what I feel when you touch me. I don’t want you to forget what I make you feel.
"But very effective. It's difficult to be efficient and focused if you're worrying about a dinner date or a birthday party. Everything about the training is oriented toward isolating us on some level from everyone else, even if it's never truly acknowledged."
"Here comes the chopper," Jude remarked with a sigh, knowing that their time was at an end, excited by what was about to happen, and indescribably sad that in the midst of it, she and Sax would be distanced even further.
"I still know you’re here, Jude,” Sax murmured, watching the helicopter grow larger against the backdrop of blue. “I still feel you on my skin."
"You say things that make my heart stop," Jude breathed shakily, staring at her in amazement. Sax stood with her face in profile, a smile lifting the corner of her mouth. "And at the damnedest times—like now, when I can’t touch you, and it’s sure to make me wild. You’re so damn impossible to predict, it drives me crazy."
Sax’s grin widened. "No, I'm not. Just because I understand the game, doesn't mean I choose to play. I won’t go away. I'll always know where you are."
"Sax..." Jude began, but her words were drowned out by the descent of the helicopter, and Sax was already racing forward, one hand guiding a stretcher. Jude watched her go, and even though she knew the surgeon's mind was entirely focused on the wounded men being lowered from the helicopter onto the waiting gurneys, she felt connected. What they had shared in the night had not ended with the coming of the dawn or faded in the harsh, bright light of life on the front lines.
"Are you getting it?" she shouted as she rested one hand on Mel's shoulder and steered her to an open space where the sight line was better for the camera, maneuvering her around the group of medical personnel administering to the injured almost before they had been lowered from the helicopter.
"Of course I'm getting it," Mel shouted, never looking away from her viewfinder. She trusted Jude to make sure she didn't lose the top of her head to one of the rotor blades, because if she missed the shot, she'd lose her entire head to Jude's temper. "Just keep me in the clear and I'll get you what you want."
"Roger that," Jude called, riding high as everything in her life came together almost as if it had been scripted-- she was doing the work she loved and watching the woman she lov... Oh, no. Do not go there. No, no, no. Not now. No way.
Jude kept well back as Sax swung the gurney around, Deb steering the second one, and they all headed down the ramp toward the elevators at a run. Running to keep pace, Jude tried not to think about how mindshatteringly sexy Sax looked.
En route to the trauma admitting area, both men had already received pain medication and loading doses of antibiotics. One had been intubated by the paramedics, and the breathing tube extending from his trachea had been connected to a respirator. Sinclair and Stein bent over him, discussing the plan of action in low measured tones. Jude and Mel edged closer to capture both the picture and the sound.
"What's his pO2?" Sax asked.
"Lousy--eightyfour on a hundred percent oxygen," Stein replied, glancing at a computer printout she had just collected from a nearby terminal. "His carbon dioxide level is high despite being ventilated, too."
"What you think?"
Deb studied the young man who didn't appear to be much older than his late teens, lying naked on the stretcher connected to a plethora of monitors and intravenous lines. Much more remarkable than this array, however, was the circumferential rubbery scar tissue encircling his chest which indicated a full thickness burn. The rest of his body was fairly untouched and it appeared as if his shirt had caught fire, probably from his crack pipe.
"I think the burn scar is constricting his chest movement and preventing efficient ventilation. If we can't expand his chest, we can't fully aerate his lungs and it doesn't matter what we pump into him, he's not going to breathe well," Deb summarized.
Sax nodded in evident satisfaction. "Agreed. Your recommendation?"
"He needs scar release—escharotomies—right now."
"Here or upstairs in the OR?" Sax queried, leaning back against the counter, arms folded over her chest, her tone conversational, as if she were discussing the latest sports scores. Her eyes, however, belied her casual demeanor. They were fixed on Deb's face so intently that Jude thought perhaps Sax could actually see what Deb was thinking.
She's marvelous, Jude thought. She's always watching Deb—evaluating her, testing her, guiding her—and all the while she's allowing her to grow and become independent.
"Breathe, Jude," Melissa murmured in Jude's ear. "It's going to be a very long day and you're going to need all your strength. Maybe you should just let me film and you try not to look at her. It seems to do something serious to your system—like shut it down."
"Shut up, Mel, or I'll be forced to hurt you," Jude whispered back, but she couldn't hide her sheepish grin. God, she loved to look at her and couldn't imagine that ever changing.
Deb Stein shrugged her shoulders and came to a decision. "I think we can do it right here. The burn scar is insensate so he won't feel it, plus he's got narcotics onboard even if there is some discomfort. We need to stabilize his cardiopulmonary status before we do anything else, so we might as well get to it."
"Go ahead," Sax suggested, moving out of the way so that Deb could open the instrument packs and prepare the area where she would make the incisions. "It's your show."
Stepping back next to Jude, Sax asked quietly, “You okay?”
“Yes,” Jude replied. “Is he going to live?”
“Probably. He’s young; we got him early. We’ll know better in a few days.” Craning her neck to see over Deb’s shoulder, she instructed, “Put that lateral incision a little more anterior, Stein. And don’t go too deep or he’ll bleed all over the place.”
Jude watched Deb work, aware that Sax, despite her casual demeanor, was watching her intently as well.
“You free for lunch?” Sax asked after a moment, her gaze following the sweep of the scalpel blade in Deb’s hand.
“I’ll treat you to the street carts out front.”
“Wonderful,” Jude responded, catching Sax’s grin and thinking she’d never had such a perfect invitation.
Sept. 8 - 5:48 AM
Jude came awake with a jolt, startled from sleep by the sound of shouts and running in the hall outside the on-call room. Beside her, Melissa was sitting up reaching for her jeans.
"What's going on?" Mel asked, fumbling into her clothes.
"I don't know," Jude replied as she jumped from bed and stepped into her chinos. As she was pulling on her boots, there was a sharp knock on the door and Sax's voice calling, "Jude?"
Jude crossed the room to the door in a matter of seconds, pulling it open as Melissa crowded behind her. The two women stepped out, joining Sax, as Jude questioned anxiously, "What is it? What's happened?"
"A tanker overturned in the tunnel. It’s blocking the exit on this side and there’s a huge chain reaction pileup behind it underground. Mass casualties--that's all I know at the moment. I'm taking the first response team out now. Deb is organizing the second team. I'll let you know as soon as I get--"
"Mel, get the portable video cameras and all the tape you can carry," Jude interrupted urgently as she kept pace with the trauma surgeon, who was already hurrying down the hall. Interpreting Sax’s quick frown to mean that she was concerned about delays, she added, "Don't worry, we won't hold you up. We'll get our gear, join Deb's team, and meet you there. "
"Jude," Sax began, too many things on her mind to be circumspect, “it’s going to be a mess out there. We’ll be first on the scene because we’re practically right on top of it. I'm not even certain yet that the tunnel is structurally secure."
She didn’t need to elaborate that if the stretch of highway carved out of bedrock under the Hudson River collapsed, the casualty count would soar.
"Let's go find out," Jude answered impatiently, electrified by the opportunity to be one of the first photojournalists on the scene. These were the moments of human tragedy and human greatness. These were the moments she lived to immortalize.
No. Sax wanted to tell her to stay behind; she wanted to tell her it would be chaos and insanity out there; she wanted to tell her that she couldn't work worrying about her. She didn't say anything, though her stomach clenched with apprehension, because she knew if the situation were reversed, nothing would keep her from doing what she had to do. Instead she grabbed Jude's hand and squeezed it briefly. "Fine, but I probably won't see much of you. Just... be careful...okay?"
"Okay," Jude responded instantly, unconcerned about her own welfare. Suddenly, however, she realized that as the leader of the first response team, Sax could be in danger. The initial moments in situations like this were always so unpredictable. The tanker could blow, the tunnel could flood, vehicles could explode. God. Tugging on Sax's arm, she halted her in midstride and pulled her around until they faced each other. "Don't be a hero, understand? I couldn’t…"
Sax smiled, lifting a hand to rest her fingertips on Jude's cheek. Unmindful of hospital personnel moving around them in the hallway, she closed the distance between them until their bodies nearly touched. Softy, her eyes holding Jude’s, she assured her, "I wouldn't think of it. Just you be careful, too."
Before Jude could respond, Sax kissed her swiftly and then was gone.
“Look at this mess,” Deb exclaimed as the three of them stood on the sidewalk in front of the hospital, surveying a scene out of a disaster movie. “We’ll get there faster on foot. Let’s go.”
Street traffic was completely gridlocked. People were standing outside their cars, trying to see what the hold-up was, shouting at one another. Scores of police were hastily erecting barricades and trying to divert traffic. Emergency vehicles, sirens blaring, were forced at some points to detour onto the sidewalks, making painfully slow progress in the crush of stalled or immobilized trucks and cars. The noise level made conversation almost impossible.
“What about the rest of the team?” Jude questioned, indicating the ambulance edging out into traffic from the emergency entrance of the hospital.
“They’ll catch up,” Deb pointed out, already moving. Mel, with her camera braced on her shoulder, was beside the young surgeon, tape rolling. Jude fell into step with them, the decision clearly made.
It wasn't hard to tell where they needed to go. The tunnel was only a few blocks away, and even if they hadn't known that, they could have navigated by the reflection of flashing emergency lights against the undersurface of the gray dawn clouds or followed the sound of screaming sirens. As she ran, the second camera tucked under her arm, Jude wondered if Sax and her team were already at the crash site.
"How many cars are trapped?" she asked, hastily clipping her network badge to her multipocketed khaki vest.
"At least twenty," Deb informed her. She was in scrubs, a stethoscope dangling precariously from her neck and a handful of rubber tourniquets streaming from her pockets. "According to the first radio report there are as many as a hundred injured, but you know how inaccurate that can be."
Deb stopped short and Jude nearly collided with her. Mel drew alongside, breathing hard from the added effort of carrying the extra gear. She didn’t look tired though; with her blond hair poking out from under her baseball cap and her baby blue eyes sparkling with excitement, she looked exhilarated.
“Holy cripes,” Melissa gasped.
They all stared, speechless, for a moment their mission forgotten. The four lanes leading from the mouth of the tunnel into Manhattan were completely blocked with dozens of emergency medical and police vehicles, many parked haphazardly with their light bars flashing. A huge fire engine nearly blocked the mouth of the tunnel--men clambered over it, unraveling thick hoses, disappearing with them into the billows of black smoke that poured out, engulfing them in acrid air and ash. It was impossible to see very far inside the tunnel through the dense clouds, but there were already a dozen or more injured men and women who had found their way out staggering about in the midst of the pandemonium.
Jude stood rooted to the spot, staring into the face of her nightmare. She knew exactly what it was like inside that tunnel—she knew the sounds, and the sights, and the smell. Twisted metal, broken shards of glass; the pungent odor of electrical fire and burning rubber; confused shouts; screaming. She knew the pain and the fear and the helplessness, too. She wanted to run—from the memories, from the reality, from the terror that surged into her chest with all the force it had on that morning five years before.
"I need to set up a command post and a triage center," Deb shouted, suddenly finding her voice and mercifully jolting Jude back to the present. Pointing to several emergency medical vehicles closest to the tunnel ramp, she added, "That looks like the best place."
"What about Sax?" Jude asked, running next to Deb again, trying to avoid colliding with firemen and police officers and emergency paramedics, all of whom seemed to be running as well. "Where is she?"
She didn’t go in there. Of course she didn’t. Why would she do that? No one would do that. That would be insane.
"Don't know. She probably went inside to assess the number of injured. There must be people trapped in vehicles in there, too."
A new rush of fear seized Jude by the throat, and for a moment she couldn't breathe. Sax is not inside that tunnel in the midst of smoke and fire and God knows what else. She said she would be careful. She said she wouldn’t be a hero. She promised. Glancing frantically about, Jude searched for Sax’s distinctive figure in the churning mass of people. Now that they were closer, she could see paramedics beginning to emerge from the tunnel carrying stretchers with injured, leading those who could walk, and shouting for assistance.
In a voice that sounded startlingly calm to her own ears, she directed, "Mel, I’m going inside. You stay with Deb."
"No way,” Melissa objected, looking up from her viewfinder—she’d begun filming in earnest as soon as they’d gotten close. “This story is in there, and I'm going, too."
"We don't have time to argue about this," Jude said sharply, her temper flaring with a mixture of worry about Sax's whereabouts and her own terror of walking into that dark hole in the ground. "We need footage of Deb for the documentary."
“We’ll have plenty of time to get that later. Right now we need to be where the action is, and you know damn well that's inside that tunnel,” Mel insisted. “You stay with Deb and let me go in.”
She wanted to agree. Everything she feared was in there. And so was everything she cared about. If it had just been the story, she might have given in to the nausea that clawed at her throat and turned her blood to ice, and sent Melissa in alone. Maybe. But Sax was in there, too. She couldn’t stand outside and wait. She needed to go in there, for herself and everything that mattered.
"We'll go together,” Jude said firmly. She grabbed the sleeve of Mel’s jeans jacket. “Come on, before they get organized and try to keep the press out.”
“Stay close, will you,” Melissa shouted as they ran. “I don’t want to lose you in there.”
"Don't worry,” Jude assured her. “I'll be right on your back--just like always."
“Today I won’t mind,” Melissa said fervently, making a hard right around a barricade the police were setting up to prevent unauthorized people from going into the tunnel.
Melissa and Jude ignored the shouts calling them back, and in a moment they were obscured from sight by the dense curtain of roiling smoke and plumes of fire.
The main overhead lights were out, the rescue teams had not yet rigged the portable arc lights, and the only illumination came from the safety lights at ground level which were working sporadically at best --entire sections were nonfunctional, casting the underground highway in patches of murky yellow and foreboding shadow. Fortunately, the air was still breathable despite the noxious smoke pouring from around the overturned truck. Firemen were already hosing it down with flame retardant foam as Jude and Mel skirted the throng of workers at the entrance.
"Follow these guys," Jude shouted above the din, pointing to emergency medical personnel identifiable by their tackle boxes of medical equipment who were inching their way past the rubble at the mouth of the tunnel to reach the stranded motorists deeper inside.
Climbing over bits of concrete and debris from the wreckage, the two of them emerged on the other side of the tanker and got their first view of the real scope of the disaster. Cars were piled up as far as they could see, several overturned and burning, and the first rescue workers on the scene were rushing from vehicle to vehicle trying to assess the status of the occupants. Victims were sitting or lying beside many of the wrecks, some being attended to by paramedics while others waited, confused and disoriented, for someone to lead them out. Here and there EMTs were starting IVs and intubating the more seriously injured.
"Do you see Sax?" Jude asked urgently. The faces of many of the rescue workers were already smudged with smoke and grime and in the murky light that flickered and flared as electrical circuits burnt out and small fires began, everyone had the eerie appearance of figures in a waking dream. Until she was right up next to someone, she couldn't even be certain if they were male or female. Most of the emergency workers were garbed in some form of hospital apparel and only the firemen in their heavy asbestos coats were easily recognizable. "Do you see anyone from St. Michael's?"
"No," Mel replied grimly, trying not to think about the extent of the carnage. "Let's just keep going and see how far this goes. They must be somewhere close by. Eventually we’ve got to run into them."
"Look at the ground," Jude remarked hollowly, trying not to let her fear show. There was six inches of water in the tunnel. There were tons of rock and water above their heads, and she wondered how long the damaged infrastructure could sustain the tremendous pressure without flooding or collapsing completely. She glanced ahead and could see only darkness beyond the first thirty feet. Every instinct in her body screamed for her to leave. She craved daylight and fresh air with an exigency that bordered on frantic. She bit her lip, desperately trying to stave off the wave of dizziness and surge of nausea that threatened to bring her to her knees. She tasted her own blood.
"What do you think?" Mel asked, staring at the water slowly eddying around her boots. "Turn back or look for them?"
Jude reached into one of the cargo pockets of her vest and found her halogen flashlight, switching it on to supplement the progressively poorer light. As they passed the wreckage of the deadly early morning commute, she spied a few motionless forms inside crushed vehicles, lying in the awkward poses that could only be obtained in death. Fortunately, most of the victims she saw appeared to be alive, although many were not ambulatory. The fact that the rush-hour congestion had already begun by the time that the accident occurred meant that traffic had been moving fairly slowly. She prayed that would mean fewer mortalities despite the large number of apparent injured.
"Over there," Mel exclaimed, pointing in the direction of several demolished vehicles headed north in the southbound lane. "Isn't that Nancy?"
Jude followed the direction of Mel's arm, squinting into the gloom, and felt a surge of relief as she recognized the head trauma nurse. "Yes! Sax must be with her."
She didn't wait for Mel's reply, but hurried as quickly as she could between the jumble of vehicles toward the team from St. Michael's. As she drew near, she could see Sax leaning through the door of a capsized four-wheel-drive vehicle. Jude's heart jumped, and her first instinct was to run to her. What she wanted to do was touch her, just touch her, and feel the solid certainty of her body. Instead, she forced herself to slow down, took a deep breath, and said, "Just keep the focus on Sinclair, Mel. She'll be recognizable to every viewer. We can't get anything better than this."
Moving carefully around open instrument packs and tackle boxes filled with drugs, Jude edged closer to the car until she was nearly touching Sax's shoulder. A man, apparently the driver, was trapped by the collapsed steering column.
"Nancy, get another flashlight in here will you," Sax said tersely without looking around. "I need to tie off this bleeder and I can't see a damn thing."
"I've got one right here, Nancy," Jude said, holding hers aloft and pointing it into the interior of the front seat. The car was on its side, and the bucket seats were angled nearly perpendicular to the ground. The unconscious middle-aged man was suspended in midair by a spear of metal penetrating his shoulder.
Sax glanced up quickly at the sound of Jude's voice. "It's treacherous down here. I'd be happier if you were doing your thing outside somewhere."
"Ditto," Jude replied. "But here we are. Can I do anything besides hold this light?"
"You think you can pass instruments to me? That'll free Nancy up to check other victims," Sax said, turning her attention back to the deep gaping gash in the man's upper arm. "Seeing as you're staying and all."
"I can manage. If I don't know what it is, just describe it to me." Jude allowed herself one brief caress along Sax's shoulder. "And I missed you, too."
"All right, Ms. Castle," Sax replied, registering the touch and smiling to herself. "You're hired. Hand me a hemostat."
Melissa got as close as she could and for the next eight minutes she documented some of the most exciting footage she had ever shot. Sinclair worked without a single break in her concentration or the slightest hesitation in the swift, smooth rhythm of her hands as she clamped and sutured and tied, controlling the bleeding and dis-impaling the motorist so that the paramedics could lift him out onto a backboard.
"Okay," Sax said with a sigh, resting back on her heels as her patient was taken away. She wiped her forehead with her bare arm, managing only to smear the sweat, smoke, and blood splatters around. Glancing at Jude, she smiled dolefully. "A success, I hope. Let's pack up this gear and keep going. Nancy will be triaging so keep an eye out for her. If there's anyone that needs acute surgical attention, she'll call for me. Otherwise, we'll just direct the paramedics to the ones that need to be evacuated first."
"Understood," Jude replied, hastily rearranging supplies in the drug box.
Thirty minutes later they were nearly at the end of the line of involved vehicles. Rescue workers were approaching from the New Jersey side of the tunnel, although several vehicles burning out of control at that end had hindered their progress. Others worked steadily behind them, transporting the injured to safety as quickly as possible. It seemed to Jude that the water level had risen several inches.
“Looks like most everyone is out,” Sax said, watching as the EMTs moved a woman with a fractured leg onto a stretcher.
"Things don't look too stable down here," Jude observed. "I think we should consider getting out ourselves."
"I think you're right. Let's turn around and check all the vehicles on our way back to the Manhattan end."
They had nearly reached the beginning of the pileup, just behind the tanker, when they ran into Deb coming in.
"The structural engineers are afraid part of the ceiling is going to give way," Deb shouted when she saw the three of them approaching. "We're double-checking to make sure all the injured are clear."
"All clear back there," Sax said with a jerk of her head indicating the area they had just come from. "Who's running the show outside?"
"Kirkland showed up," Deb said, indicating one of the attending surgeons from Sax's department. "I just left long enough to do this final canvas."
She didn't mention that she had gone in against the orders of the police because she knew that the three of them were still inside. "Let's get..."
A low rumbling that rapidly built to a roar drowned out her words. The ground beneath them seemed to lift and undulate as if shaken by some giant hand. The four of them struggled to keep their footing as bits of concrete and tile began to rain down on them.
"This section is going to collapse," Sax shouted, grabbing Jude and Mel by the shoulders and pushing them in Deb's direction. "Run!"
The four of them and the few remaining paramedics still in the tunnel began to sprint toward daylight, a distance of fifty yards that seemed like fifteen miles as debris began falling faster. Even Melissa finally gave up filming and simply cradled her camera against her chest. She put her head down and ran. One by one they vaulted over the final barrier of twisted metal and chunks of concrete, while behind them clouds of pulverized stone bore down upon them. Jude had just cleared the tunnel mouth when she realized that Sax was no longer by her side. Barely able to see through the billowing dust, she reached out and caught Mel's sleeve.
"Did Sax pass you?" she screamed over the roar of destruction rapidly closing upon them.
"No! She's right behind..." Mel yelled back, looking over Jude's shoulder, her expression one of dawning horror. "Oh god. She's still in there."
Jude turned and ran back down into the darkness. "Go back," she screamed as Mel caught up to her.
"There!" Jude exclaimed, pointing to a swatch of blue next to the overturned truck, just barely visible under a powdering of stone and ash.
Sax was lying face down, a trickle of blood streaming down her neck. A three-inch gash on the back of her head bubbled with blood, bone visible at the base. Jude fell to her knees next to her, unmindful of the shards of glass and metal and jagged rock that tore holes in her jeans. Tentatively, she reached toward her. She was afraid to touch her. She had no idea what death felt like and she was afraid that she might find out. Her fingers hovered just above Sax's shoulder, the shoulder she had caressed not long before. This can't be. She isn't supposed to get hurt. She's the one that makes everything else all right.
"Can we move her?" Melissa yelled, her fear making her voice shrill.
"I don't know," Jude said harshly.
"We've got to," Mel said urgently, watching huge slabs of concrete slide from the walls onto the roadbed. "We don't have any time."
Suddenly, Deb's voice instructed calmly, "Let me in there, Jude." As she slid her fingers under Sax's jaw, checking for a pulse, she said, "It's a good thing I saw you two lunatics running back this way." After a few seconds she raised her head and met Jude's gaze. "She's alive."
"She's not moving. Her head..." Jude's voice was rising rapidly, and she felt things begin to break apart inside. She clenched her fists so tightly that the nails dug into her skin. "Deb... what about her neck..."
"I know, Jude. But we have to get her out of here. I'll stabilize her neck and shoulders if you two can lift her body. Can you do that?"
"Yes. Yes, of course."
Together, they maneuvered the trauma surgeon's unresponsive body clear of the tunnel and onto a stretcher. The three of them piled into the back of an ambulance, Deb quickly beginning the routine resuscitation maneuvers. As she wrapped a tourniquet around Sax's upper arm, she yelled to the driver, "St. Michael's. And call ahead for the neurosurgeon. Let them know we're bringing Dr. Sinclair in. You got that? Tell them Dr. Sinclair is down."
Jude knelt by the stretcher, completely unaware of what Deb was saying or doing. If there was a world beyond this six by six foot space, she had no memory of it. Everything that mattered to her was just inches away in the form of the dark haired woman who lay so frighteningly still.
Chapter Thirty two
As the double doors of the ambulance swung open, Pam Arnold climbed up onto the rear running board and peered into the interior. She hadn’t truly believed the frantic, garbled radio transmission, but as soon as she’d heard it she’d hurried to see for herself, leaving her resident alone in the trauma bay to continue with the evaluation of a fireman who’d fallen from an extension ladder while humping hose up to douse a burning vehicle. Blinking in the glare of the vehicle’s ceiling lights, she surveyed a scene she would not soon forget. For a few seconds, trying to absorb the reality of it, she forgot why she had been called.
The trauma fellow, her back braced for balance against the partition that separated the transport section from the cab, was attaching EKG leads to the chief of the division of trauma, who lay unresponsive on the stretcher, naked from the waist up, an IV running into her left arm and a stiff cervical collar immobilizing her neck. The film person—the redhead—was on her knees next to the gurney, Saxon’s left hand clasped between both of hers. The look she gave Pam as she turned at the sound of the doors opening was wild--not with hysteria--but with some kind of ferocious protectiveness. In the far corner of the small space a grimy, bedraggled blond in a ratty baseball cap held a camera at eyelevel. Pam shook her head. This was not happening. Saxon Sinclair was not lying on that stretcher.
Pam squared her shoulders and narrowed her gaze, focusing on the patient. As she stepped inside, she asked brusquely, “Is she stable?”
“Vital signs are rock solid,” Deb answered steadily, pulling the sheet up to cover Sax’s breasts while watching the blood pressure monitor. “Pupils are equal and reactive, but sluggish.”
“No respiratory problems?” Pam asked, leaning down to flick her penlight into first one, then the other, of Sax’s eyes. She edged aside a few inches to allow the EMTs to pack up the monitors so they could remove the stretcher from the ambulance.
“Nope--she’s breathing fine all on her own. She never lost her pulse or pressure.”
“Was she ever conscious in the field?”
“No, she’s been unresponsive since we found her,” Deb said a bit dispiritedly, “but I think we’re dealing with just the closed head injury.”
“What about the blood?” Pam asked, nodding toward the stain on the sheets and the streaks down Sax’s neck, lifting and flexing Sax’s limbs as she talked. “Good tone, no hypereflexia,” she muttered.
“Her head is cut—something hit her,” Jude murmured, wincing as she stood up. Her legs were sore from the lacerations she’d not noticed earlier and her muscles were cramped from kneeling on the rough corrugated floor of the ambulance.
“Stein?” Pam asked, glancing from Jude back to the trauma resident for confirmation as the paramedics slid the gurney from the truck. At Deb’s nod of assent, Pam added, “I want to get her right to the CT scanner. They’re holding it for us. You good with that?”
“Yes. I’ll go with you, just in case there’s a problem,” Deb replied as she climbed out, Jude and Melissa right behind her.
Hurrying alongside the wheeled stretcher being steered by the paramedics, Pam was about to suggest that the civilians wait in trauma admitting, but one look at the redhead’s face made her change her mind. Mentally sighing, she figured it couldn’t be any more of a zoo than it was already going to be, seeing who the patient was, and it didn’t look like anything short of a nuclear blast could budge the woman from Sinclair’s side.
“What’s your name?” Pam asked as they commandeered an elevator.
“Jude Castle,” Jude replied distractedly, watching Sax’s face for some kind of movement. Sax, wake up, for God’s sake. Just open your eyes. Just—just come back. Unmindful of Pam’s intent stare, she smoothed the backs of her fingers over Sax’s cheek. “Can you tell anything yet?”
The eyes she lifted to Pam’s were dark with anguish. Pam had seen the look a thousand times. She would have given her the stock answer—Too soon to tell, I’ll know more later--not because she didn’t care, but because she couldn’t share every single person’s pain and still be able to work. But it was Saxon Sinclair lying there and this woman so obviously loved her.
“There’s no sign of focal injury—no paralysis or anything else to suggest major brain damage,” Pam said gently. “That’s good. That means there’s probably no surgical problem that’s causing pressure on one part of the brain. The CT scan will tell us that for sure.”
“Then she’ll wake up soon? She’ll be all right?”
Pam hesitated. “Look…”
“Please,” Jude said quietly.
“If it’s just a concussion, she’ll have a mega headache and nothing else to show for all of this,” Pam acquiesced with a sigh, hoping she hadn’t just shot herself in the foot by breaking her own rule never to prognosticate. Glancing at Mel, she asked pointedly, “I’d prefer not to have this conversation on tape.”
“Sorry,” Melissa said, quickly terminating the tape. “It’s automatic. You’re welcome to see it and we’ll erase…”
“Fine, fine,” Pam said curtly as they began to disembark, her mind already back on her patient. Stopping at the double doors to the CT suite, she added, “You two will have to wait out here. As soon as I see the scans, I’ll let you know. Has anyone called her family?”
“Oh god,” Jude gasped. “Maddy—I don’t even know her number.”
“Try Saxon’s on call room—there should be something in her wallet…”
And then the neurosurgeon was gone, and so was Sax. The heavy windowless doors swung shut and Jude was left standing in the stark, harshly lit hallway, wondering how everything had changed so quickly.
“Jude?” Melissa asked softly. “Who’s Maddy?”
“Her grandmother,” Jude said dully. “I need to call her.”
“She’ll be okay, you know,” Melissa began uneasily. Man, she felt inadequate. She’d never needed to comfort Jude before. She couldn’t ever remember her being really upset even, not personally, not about the kinds of things that people usually got upset about--a love affair gone south or a professional setback--nothing that had ever hit her somewhere deep like this had. Jude was always in control; Jude always managed to stay a safe distance away from all the upheaval that plagued most people’s lives. “Jude—these people are not going to let anything happen to her. She’s…hell, she’s…”
“She’s just flesh and blood, Melissa,” Jude bleakly, “and she’s vulnerable, just like all of us.” She passed a trembling hand over her face, then seemed to pull herself together with conscious effort. “Come on—let’s go see if we can get a key to her on call room.”
As she opened the door and stepped into Sax’s on call room, Jude thought about the first morning they had met--Sax standing a few feet away, peeling off her faded jeans, looking unconcerned and wholly oblivious to just how damned attractive she was. And totally unaware of the effect she was having on Jude. Jude realized now she’d been hooked from that moment. First her body, then her mind, and now—so much more. Everything. There was a small kernel of panic growing in the pit of her stomach, and she had to work very hard not acknowledge it.
She’s going to be fine. You’re not going to lose her now.
“Her jacket’s on the chair,” Melissa observed, watching Jude cautiously. Her friend was standing still, her expression distant, her entire body rigid with tension. “Want me to look?”
“No,” Jude replied softly, forcing herself to concentrate on what needed to be done. “I’ll do it.”
Crossing the room, Jude lifted the black leather jacket, caressing her palm over the surface worn smooth by years of use. She thought of the times she had rested her cheek against it while pressed against Sax on the motorcycle. She wanted to rub her face on it, to search for some lingering hint of the heat of Sax’s body or a breath of her scent, but she felt the pockets instead, finally locating the wallet in the inner left hand one. Opening it, she found Sax’s driver’s license in a clear plastic slot with several other cards behind it. Sliding them out, Jude shuffled through them, noting a medical license, a health insurance card, a donor card, and a finally a card with In case of Emergency typed on it. Maddy’s name and number were there.
“She even looks good in her license photo,” Melissa remarked, peering over Jude’s shoulder, trying to distract her friend from her worry. “That’s not fair. Nobody looks good in those.”
“Mel,” Jude asked, her voice tight, “do you think we need to bring this…donor card?”
“Jeez, no,” Melissa said sharply, watching Jude’s hands tremble. “Put it back. She’s probably awake by now.”
“Yes, of course, you’re right. I’ll call Maddy from radiology and let her know what’s happened. The CT scan must be done.”
They were almost there when they heard the overhead PA system blare.
Code Blue…Radiology STAT…Code Blue…Radiology STAT…Code Blue…
They looked at one another and ran.
“She’s seizing,” Deb announced breathlessly as she careened through the doors of the CT room, nearly plowing into Jude and Mel on the other side. “Fuck. Where do they keep the crash carts around here.”
“What happened?” Jude cried, her fear building as she realized that Deb looked—scared. “Deb?”
“I don’t know. We were moving her out of the CT scanner and she started…shaking…sort of.” As she spoke she grabbed a red cart on wheels and began pulling it behind her. “The code team should be here in a second—I’ve got to get back in there.”
Deb pushed the doors open ahead of her with her shoulder and Jude and Melissa followed her inside, never even stopping to discuss it. Pam was bent over the stretcher, lifting Sax’s eyelid with one hand, peering intently at her pupils.
“It’s the damnedest thing,” she muttered to no one in particular. “It looks like REM, but it isn’t. Not like anything I’ve ever seen before.”
Straightening, she frowned at Jude and Melissa, who were flanking Sax on the other side of the bed, but she dismissed their presence as one factor she could not control. “We’d better dilantinize her just in case this is some kind of brainstem instability,” she said to Deb. “Can you find a loading dose on the crash cart somewhere?”
“I’ll have it mixed in a minute,” Deb replied tersely, breaking open a vial and drawing the medication into a syringe.
“That’s an anti-seizure drug, right?” Jude asked, watching Sax shiver all over while her lids fluttered rapidly. Resting her palm against the surgeon’s jaw, she stroked her face softly.
“Yes,” Pam answered distractedly, checking Sax’s vital signs on the portable monitors. She waved away the members of the code team who had just barreled through the doors ready to start CPR. “Hold off—her signs are all stable.” What the hell is this?
Jude thought she felt Sax’s cheek press into her palm. In her mind she heard Sax’s voice. I’m very sensitive to any kind of drug. I know that now. I’m careful to avoid them. Turning to the neurosurgeon, she asked, “Can I speak to you, please?”
“I can’t tell you anything right now,” Pam said sharply. “In a few…”
“It’s about Sax. It’s important. I think that the dilantin could hurt her.”
Pam’s looked quickly from the monitors to Jude, her eyes narrowing. “Do you know something about her medical history? For god’s sake…”
“I didn’t realize…”
“Never mind. Just tell me now.” Pam took Jude’s arm and led her away from the bed, directing over her shoulder, “Stein, hold the dilantin but watch her vitals carefully. If her pO2 drops, push it.” Facing Jude, she said, “Go ahead.”
Jude hurriedly related what Sax had told her about the misdiagnoses in her childhood, the problems she had as a result of the drug therapy, the unusual REM patterns that no one could explain, and her altered neurologic responses. Desperately, Jude added, “I just thought the usual meds might not work or that they might hurt her.”
“You might be right,” Pam agreed, hiding her surprise and her intense curiosity about what Jude had just told her. Saxon Sinclair was an astounding woman in more ways than one, and she would dearly love the chance to learn more about this aspect of her life. The fact that the very private surgeon had chosen to share such confidences with the redhead suggested to Pam more powerfully than anything else could that she wouldn’t be getting to know Saxon quite so intimately. “We need an EEG before we do anything else. She doesn’t seem to be in any kind of trouble, at least not at the moment.”
Turning, Pam instructed, “Let’s move her to trauma admitting, Deb. We’ll get a bedside EEG there.”
As Deb nodded and started to wheel the gurney out of the room, Jude stepped over and reached for Sax’s hand. Linking her fingers through Sax’s, she said firmly, “I’m coming, too.”
“Could anyone stop you?” Deb asked with a faint grin.
Jude’s heart twisted a little as she realized how much Deb reminded her of Sax at that moment, but she managed to smile back. “Not in this lifetime.”
atypical EEG…WAIT…look at this… accelerated or…NO…focal anomaly…seizure activity…no…more like REM…cycles unusual…what the HELL…
Fighting to open her eyes despite the piercing glare, she found herself staring into a huge silver disk suspended above her head, a hot white bulb in its center. Oh, god. Waking up…just like before. Alone. She recognized the lights…the smell. Hospital. Her chest tightened. She tried to move her arms, tried to lift her legs. Restrained. She struggled, moaned at the swift surge of pain. Suddenly, a silhouette took shape in her field of vision, backlit by the bright light. She tried unsuccessfully to focus. “Please…”
Gentle hands touched her cheek, a soft voice spoke. "You’re in the hospital. You’re going to be all right.”
Lies. They tell you lies; they give you drugs; they make you lose yourself. She shuddered. She closed her eyes. Please.
“Can you hear me? You’re safe.”
Lies. Tender fingers brushed her forehead. They lie.
“Sax,” gently pleading now. “Wake up, please.”
She knew that voice; she knew that touch. Frantically she tried again to focus. Features began to emerge from the shadows, giving her something to cling to in the sea of confusion and pain. A face bending near—green eyes, caring and reassuring. Dark red hair, shimmering with gold, a perfect face. The look in those eyes—strong and steady and sure. Tightening her fingers on the hand holding hers, she asked desperately, “Jude?”
“Yes, right here,” Jude soothed, seeing the bewilderment in Sax’s eyes. She’s trembling. She’s terrified. “I’m right here.” Reluctantly, because she had to, she looked away for a second, calling to the doctors still bent over the EEG tracing, “She’s awake.”
“Don’t go,” Sax said urgently, struggling to sit up. She wasn’t sure where she was. She wasn’t sure what was happening. They can hurt me…no…Jude is here. This is now, not then. Jude. “Don’t go,” she asked again.
“Of course not,” Jude said, one hand on Sax’s shoulder, caressing her even as she guided her back down. Sax’s obvious fear was tearing at her. Her chest ached with the need to comfort her, but she knew it wasn’t her sympathy Sax needed, but her resolve. “Sax, you’re at St. Michael’s. Everything is all right.”
Pam moved to the head of the bed opposite Jude. “Welcome back,” she said with a fond smile, but her eyes were searching Sax clinically--examining, assessing. “Do you know who I am?”
Sax studied the tall, lithe figure, her initial panic subsiding second by second as she realized she did know who the woman was. Even more importantly, she knew who she was. “Pam Arnold. Neurosurgeon. And I’m Saxon Sinclair.” She turned her head as far as the restraining collar would allow. “And this is my trauma unit.”
“Excellent,” Pam affirmed with a nod, hoping that her intense relief didn’t show. She had so not wanted to put a drill to Sax’s skull.
Sax looked from Pam to Jude, aware for the first time that Jude’s face was smeared with soot and streaked with sweat…or was it tears? “What happened? Are you hurt?”
She tried again to sit up. The two women by the bedside answered simultaneously.
“No, I’m fine. Lie still,” Jude assured her, pressing one palm to Sax’s shoulder.
“You got cracked on the head and sustained a significant concussion, but no serious long term damage,” Pam stated.
“You’re sure you’re not hurt?” Sax asked again, her eyes searching Jude’s face.
Jude smiled, the burden of fear she had labored under for the last sixty minutes finally relenting. “I am just fine. Everyone is.”
Satisfied, Sax lifted her left arm to the extent that the arm board taped around it would allow and saw the plastic catheter in her vein. “Did you give me anything?” she asked, looking at Pam, her face losing the last of its color. Not again. God, not again.
“No. Nothing,” Pam assured her swiftly. At Sax’s look of surprise, she added, “You have Ms. Castle to thank for that.”
“Thank you,” Sax murmured, glancing at Jude and linking her fingers more tightly through hers. She took a deep breath, feeling infinitely more settled. Time to move on. “Pam, can you get this damn thing off my neck?”
“Yes, your spine is clear on the CT,” Pam informed her, releasing the velcro straps on the molded cervical collar and removing it. “Do you need something for pain? Let me finish my exam and I’ll order some morphine.”
“I’m fine,” Sax lied. Her disorientation, while lessening dramatically, had unfortunately been replaced by a throbbing headache. A trade she was happy to accept. She pulled at the strap that ran across her chest pinning her to the narrow table. “Let me up.”
“As soon as Stein closes that laceration on your head, we’ll get you upstairs to a room,” Pam informed her as she began checking reflexes and motor tone.
“I’m sorry?” Pam asked, raising her head to meet Sax’s implacable expression.
“I’m not going to be admitted.”
“Saxon, this isn’t negotiable,” Pam said, an edge in her voice now. Perfect. Lovely. Just what I need—a power struggle in the middle of a goddamned mass casualty alert.
“I’m sure you have something better to do than argue with me,” Sax said reasonably, as if reading Pam’s mind. “I’ll sign the ‘against medical advice’ form if you insist, but I’m not staying.”
“Can I talk to her for a minute…alone?” Jude interrupted calmly. Sax’s voice was strong and her eyes were clear, but she was pale as the sheets and the hand that lay in Jude’s palm shook. It was clear to Jude that she was in pain.
“Be my guest,” Pam replied in clipped, angry tones. “I’m going to check on my other patients.” She glanced at Jude, who was softly stroking Sax’s arm, and added tersely, “Talk some sense into her.”
“As if I could,” Jude said with a smile. Before Sax could make any kind of argument, she leaned down until her lips nearly touched Sax’s ear and whispered, “Do you have any idea how much I love you?”
Sax carefully turned her head until their eyes met, their lips barely inches apart. Jude’s irises were so many swirling shades of green she almost got lost in them. She forgot what she had meant to say. “How much?” she asked softly, just because she wanted to hear her say it.
“So much I can’t even imagine being without you,” she admitted. She’d said it. It was the truth, and the truth of it was amazingly simple to accept. I love you. Yes. “I was scared to death out there when we found you. I can’t go through that again.”
“Oh, that’s not fair,” Sax murmured, wanting desperately to hold her. She reached across with her unrestrained right hand and stroked Jude’s cheek, traced her fingers along her jaw, rested her thumb against the corner of her mouth. “I love you. I’d do anything for you.”
“Then stay here,” Jude said softly, leaning closer, kissing her.
Jude’s heart twisted, because she knew what that admission cost her. “I’ll stay with you.”
Sax turned her face away, struggling with old terrors, wanting desperately to embrace new trusts. She felt Jude’s touch, knew she was not alone. She drew on that strength, relied on that constancy, as she searched for reason and fought to conquer fear.
She awoke drenched in sweat. Rivers of it soaked her hair, the hospital gown, the sheets. The room was dim, illuminated by a faint light from the bathroom. Nighttime.
Pushing the covers aside, she slowly shifted toward the side of the bed. The movement didn’t seem to produce any adverse effects. Headache—nearly gone. Nausea—minimal. Vision—clear. Excellent.
“What are you doing?” Jude asked from the chair a few feet away where she had been dozing.
“I need a shower.”
“I don’t think you’re supposed to get up,” Jude remarked as she went to Sax’s side. She brushed the hair from her forehead. It was wet, but Sax’s skin was warm, not clammy.
“I’m fine,” Sax replied, sitting up. No dizziness. Good.
“What’s going on then—you’re soaked.”
“It happens to me sometimes—it’s probably just the tale end of the trauma. Like when a fever breaks, I guess,” she said, reaching for Jude’s hand. “Don’t worry.”
“Is Pam going to flay me when she discovers I let you get up?” Jude asked only half-teasingly. The neurosurgeon’s last words to her had been, “Make sure she stays put.”
“With any luck we’ll be gone before she shows up.” She took two steps, felt fine, then a few more. All systems go.
“Sax,” Jude said, holding her back with a hand on her arm. “You have me at a disadvantage here. I don’t want you to hurt yourself. Tell me you’re not being stubborn and foolish.”
Sax turned, met her eyes. “I need about two days before I can drive or work, but I’m okay. I can rest at Maddy’s a lot better than I can here. I won’t take chances. I promise.”
“Then let me give you a hand.”
“These weren’t designed for two,” Jude observed, bumping her elbow against the shower wall as she carefully worked the lather into Sax’s hair.
Sax pressed her hips into Jude’s pelvis, observing mischievously, “Maybe they were.”
“Stop,” Jude breathed, liking a little too much the slick feel of Sax’s skin against her thigh. She’d been so scared that she would lose her, and now she was so damn glad to have her back. God, it feels good. Too good. “There are so many reasons why we can’t do this here, I can’t even count.”
“Mmm, I know,” Sax remarked distractedly, running her fingers along the edge of Jude’s breast, watching her nipple harden. “What were they again?”
“Do that for another second and I’ll forget, so…stop.”
“Jude,” Sax said quietly, her hands resting on Jude’s waist, her expression suddenly serious. “Thank you for this morning. For being there, for talking to Pam about the meds.”
“Sax…” Jude started to protest, her palms on Sax’s shoulders, their breasts lightly touching, their eyes holding one another.
“No wait…I’m not done,” Sax interrupted, smiling faintly, wanting to say the words. “You took care of me, and I…I needed that. I needed you. So I…just…”
“Sax, I love you,” Jude said. Firmly. Clearly. Tenderly. “I need you.”
Sax closed her eyes, rested her forehead on Jude’s. “God, I love you.”
“Good,” Jude whispered, and kissed her. So very good.
After a moment, Sax moved her mouth to Jude’s ear and murmured, “I can’t remember why we weren’t supposed to do this.”
A sharp knock resounded on the bathroom door, clearly audible even above the pounding of the running water.
“That would be one,” Jude said dryly. She turned the knobs to off and slid the curtain back. “Yes?”
“Sinclair better be in there,” Pam Arnold warned from the other side.
“Uh, could you give us a minute?” Jude called.
“We need to get dressed.”
“I’m not hearing this,” Pam’s voice announced ominously. “I’m really not. Five minutes.”
When they emerged, Sax in the jeans and tee shirt Jude had retrieved earlier from her on call room, and Jude in the clean clothes Mel had delivered from her apartment, they found Pam waiting in the one chair, legs crossed, looking elegant and decidedly cool.
“You agreed to stay overnight. It’s 9:30pm,” she said, fixing Sax with a piercing stare.
“I’m fine,” Sax replied.
Before Pam could snarl a response, the door opened and Deb Stein entered, followed closely by Melissa.
“Hey, boss,” Deb called, smiling with delight. “You’re up!”
“Hi,” Mel added.
“Wonderful. We can have a party,” Pam growled, rising to her feet. “You two,” she said to the newcomers, “Out.”
As they looked from her to Sax and Jude in confusion, the door opened yet again.
“Whoa,” Melissa blurted before she could stop herself as a woman stepped inside.
“Maddy,” Sax exclaimed. “I told you not to come.”
“I know that, Saxon,” Maddy remarked, smiling at Mel, who was staring unabashedly at her. “But you can’t drive that motorcycle; Jude’s car is parked behind the house; and I thought you would be about ready to leave by now.”
“How did you get here? Tell me you didn’t drive the Rolls,” Sax cried.
“There’s a very nice policeman right out in front of the hospital who is watching it,” Maddy explained, her eyes twinkling. Saxon appeared fine, just as Jude had said, but she felt better seeing for herself. She knew what being a patient would do to her granddaughter.
“Oh my god,” Sax moaned. “I have to go right now.”
“Wait a minute,” Pam said, very nearly shouting.
“Ah, let me make introductions,” Jude said quickly before the scene could deteriorate further. As she went around the room getting everyone acquainted, even Pam began to relax.
“Madelaine Lane,” Melissa said reverently. “You’re Sax’s grandmother. Whoa.”
“And you’re Jude’s DP. Lovely work,” Maddy rejoined sincerely.
Melissa blushed and was, for once, speechless.
Maddy fixed Pam with an assessing stare. “So, may I take her home? Jude will be there to see that she behaves.”
“Maddy,” Sax groaned while Jude grinned.
“She seems fine,” Pam admitted reluctantly. “I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea, however.”
“How about if Deb comes along?” Jude suggested.
“Check,” Sax whispered to Jude, too low for anyone else to hear. She watched with pleasure as Jude deftly moved the pieces with surgical precision.
“Yes,” Maddy agreed. She looked from Mel to Deb, and added, “And you are welcome, too, Melissa. I’ve lots of room.”
“Well…” Mel replied hesitantly, looking at Deb with a question in her eyes.
“It’s fine with me,” Deb answered, grinning at Mel.
Jude moved a little closer to Sax, resting her hand on her back. “Do those arrangements satisfy?” she asked Pam.
“It would seem I’ve been outmaneuvered,” Pam conceded, a wisp of a smile softening her face.
“And mate,” Jude whispered, firmly taking Sax’s hand.
Twelve months later
"Who is it?" Sax called, her scrub shirt half off over her head.
"It's me," came a deep voice from the hallway outside her on-call room.
Hastily, she pulled down her shirt and quickly crossed to the door. "What do you want?" she said hurriedly, peering out. "It's already twenty after six."
Clearly, he was on schedule. He looked dashing in black-tie, every blond hair in place as always. Raising an eyebrow at her obvious state of un-readiness, he said, "I know precisely what time it is. I was just checking to see if you were ready."
"No, Aaron, I'm not ready. Do I look ready? Are you planning on helping me get dressed? Because if you're not, would you please go away and leave me alone?"
Aaron Townsend was enjoying Sinclair’s nervousness. It wasn't often, make that never, that he got to see her the least bit off her stride. Nervous was just not a word that applied to her. "Well, if you want me to, I could probably accommodate you."
"Aaron, just because I might once have said I missed you, I've forgotten that by now. Don't push, or you could be back doing float work on the medical floor."
“Deb just left. She looked—outstanding. Nice ride, too,” he continued, walking into her on call room and completely ignoring her empty threats.
Sax raised an eyebrow. “Let me guess. Grey Rolls? Mint condition—”
“Please, please tell me that my grandmother wasn’t driving.”
“Nah—some scruffy little blond—“ When Sax moaned, he laughed and took pity on her. “No—a gorgeous chauffeur’s driving—tall redhead with cheekbones like Jodie Foster. And Deb’s date looked great, too. Melissa’s hot.”
“The three of them together out on the town with the Rolls. It’s terrifying.” She put a hand on his chest and shoved. “Get out.”
“Where are your clothes?” He still hadn’t moved.
“The tailor is dropping them off.” Exasperated, she added, “Now goodbye.” She gestured toward the hallway and began nudging him in that direction.
"What time is she picking you up?"
"20 minutes, and I still have to shower. So will you please get lost."
"Yes, Doctor," he said, mockingly as he finally stepped back out into the hall. "I'll see you there."
"Yeah, yeah," she muttered, closing the door resoundingly behind him and finally shedding her shirt. She had untied her pants and was about to step out of them when the knock came again. "I'm not kidding," she shouted from her side of the door. "Disappear, as in vanish, unless you intend to come in here and help me off with the rest of my clothes."
For a moment, there was total silence, and then Jude spoke from the hall. "I'm trying to decide who you think might be standing out here. The only one I can reasonably come up with is Pam Arnold, and if that's the case, I'm coming in there to kill you."
Sax pulled the door open for a second time and peered out. "What are you doing here? It's not time yet. Is it?"
Jude didn't reply. She leaned against the doorframe, shielding her lover from the view of passersby in the hallway, and stared. Sax was standing a few feet away, nearly naked, her scrub pants halfway off her hips, her chest and stomach bare. Despite the fact that Jude had seen her step naked from the shower that morning, and by now she should probably be used to it, the site of Saxon undressed never failed to drive every other thought from her mind. Her palms actually tingled with the urge to touch her. Finally she managed, "Who were you expecting?"
"No one. Aaron was just here a minute ago bothering me."
"And you invited him to help you get undressed? That's an interesting twist," Jude remarked with a grin. “Something I need to know?”
Sax grinned back. "Not to worry. It was a threat."
"Not to me," Jude murmured as she crossed the threshold, tossed the garments she had been carrying over one arm onto a nearby chair, and kicked the door closed behind her. In one continuous motion she closed the distance between them until her breasts were against Sax's, and her hands were buried in her hair. Pulling Sax to her, she swallowed Sax's gasp of surprise before slipping her tongue into her lover’s mouth. Always so good.
When Sax managed to draw a breath she rasped, "Are you crazy? We have to be there in forty-five minutes. We're not even dressed. Don't... I mean it... don't touch me..." and then they were kissing again, and Sax was not resisting.
Coupled, fused, joined by hands and mouth and lips, they slowly moved across the room, never breaking the kiss. When they reached the door to the bathroom, Jude finally lifted her head and whispered, "We can be late."
"No, we can't," Sax groaned desperately. "Your documentary is one of the selections. This is the New York Film Festival, for God's sake, and we can't be late for the premier."
"I can't sit through four hours of speeches thinking about your hands on me," Jude insisted, pushing Sax into the room and against the small sink, then insinuating one thigh between her legs. She watched Sax's eyes grow hazy and knew that she had won. Gripping the sink on either side of Sax's body to hold her in place, she lowered her head and caught a nipple between her teeth.
Sax gave a sharp cry, arching her back as a swift jolt drilled through her spine and sparked fire between her legs. “Oh. Please…if you start…”
“I’ve already started.”
Sax knew she wouldn’t last, and if she was going to blow at the first touch, she damn well wasn’t going to be alone. Adroitly, she worked the zipper down on Jude's slacks and in the same motion slipped her hand in. She groaned again, this time not from the insistent pressure between her legs or the exquisite point of pain in her breast from Jude's teeth, but from the wet heat she found waiting for her between Jude’s thighs. “Oh yeah--you’re ready,” she gasped as they both shed clothing.
“I was ready at the door,” Jude rasped, moving her lips to Sax’s neck, her teeth to the skin just below her ear. “I saw you naked and I got hard.”
“Jesus,” Sax whispered, her head about to explode. She circled Jude now, pressing her from base to tip, losing herself in Jude’s soft moans. She ached, and thrust faster against Jude’s thigh. Each of Jude's sharp cries made her twitch and she worked her even harder, waiting until the last second to enter her. She thrust and Jude rocked. They were synchronized, leading and following, rising and falling together.
Raising her head, Jude’s eyes met Sax's and she caught her lower lip between her teeth, trying to hold back her orgasm. She was losing, but it was a wonderful surrender. She whimpered as Sax filled her; Sax groaned, the muscles in her neck taut, as Jude's thigh rode hard on her clitoris.
"I'm going to..."
Sax shuddered, Jude shivered, and they held tightly to one another, pummeled with pleasure until they were both sobbing.
Finally, Sax gathered herself enough to ask, "Did you happen to bring my tux?"
"Of course," Jude said with a shaky laugh, lifting her head from where she had been resting it on Sax's shoulder. "I brought both of them.”
“I love you,” Sax whispered. “You’re going to win, you know.”
Jude took her hand, thinking of the last year, and tugged her toward the shower. “I already have.”
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