Callie believes Con wants a woman who can give him a child, so she decides to run awayleaving behind nothing but a note and a bewildered husband.
Con is determined they can make their marriage work, with or without children. As he sets off to find his wife, he realizes he must prove his love. Because he knows their marriage is meant to be!
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"WHERE are you, Callie?"Con muttered aloud, his concern increasing by the second as he put the phone down again. "What on earth's happened to you?"
It wasn't like her to let people down like this. She should have turned up for her shift nearly two hours ago, and it didn't matter how many times he'd tried to contact her, there had been no answer, not at home or on her mobile.
"Con, can you come and have a look at Mrs Fry for me?" said an all-too-familiar voice at his elbow, and he sighed, dragging his fingers through his hair with frustration.
"Isn't there anyone else free, Sonja?"he asked as he turned to face the willowy blonde nurse who seemed determined to dog his every step these days. "I'm trying to make some phone calls."
"She's an elderly lady who's had a fall," Sonja said earnestly, clutching his arm with a determined hand. "She's obviously broken both wrists but it's the wound on her head I'm worried about. She must have hit it pretty hard to gash it like that. We've stemmed the bleeding but she seems very confused. I need to know whether she should go for an MRI."
He sighed again, knowing he was going to have to look at the poor lady, even though his concern for Callie was growing by the minute.
"Which cubicle is she in?" he asked, resigned to the few minutes' delay before he could contact their neighbour.
Jan should be home any minute if she'd followed her usual routine of doing her shopping when she finished her shift, and he was certain she wouldn't mind going next door for him. If there was no answer, she had an emergency key to let herself in. If Callie had been taken ill or had some sort of accident that prevented her getting to the phone
"Thank you for doing this for me," Sonja gushed, and he rolled his eyes behind her back as he followed her along the corridor. Sycophancy was something he'd never been able to stomach, especially when he had too much else on his mind like his precious, vulnerable Callie.
"Hello, Mrs Fry. I'm one of the doctors here. What have you been doing to yourself?" Even as he approached the elderly lady his eyes were beginning their primary survey, noting how pale and shaky she was and wondering how much of that was normal for her.
"I fell coming in from the hens," she quavered, peering up at him from under the bulk of a pressure bandage wound tightly around her head. "Hit my head and broke both my eggs."
"No, dear, it wasn't your legs you broke; it was your wrists," Sonja corrected in the annoyingly bright tone some people adopted with children and the elderly.
Con threw her a quelling glare and turned back to the little woman who seemed far from confused to him, despite her age and the recent trauma. "Eggs," the woman repeated stubbornly, fixing her pale blue gaze on Con. "I'd been out to the hens and was bringing the eggs back into the house when I missed the step."
"Ouch!"Con said sympathetically, as he took a peep under the bandage and saw the size of the gash on her forehead. He wouldn't disturb it too much until it was time to stitch it, not while the newly formed clots were slowing the bleeding to a sluggish seep. "There was one step you should have missed. Are you in a lot of pain?"
"I'm eighty-two, doctor. At my age I'm always in pain. Everything's wearing out."
"What about your hands? Can you move your fingers for me?" he asked, as he pressed on a nail bed of each hand to check that her circulation wasn't being compromised by the broken bones.
"I can, but I don't want to because they hurt," she said with a stubborn glint in her eyes.
Con grinned at her. "If I give you something to take the pain away, will you move them for me?"
"I might," she conceded. "But when can I go home? The ambulance people wouldn't let me clean the broken eggs off the step. It'll be a terrible job to do if it dries on. And they shut my dogs Floss and Nell in the kitchen. They'll be needing to go out to do their business."
"You won't be able to go home for a little while, Mrs Fry," he said gently, delaying the moment he'd probably have to tell her that she was going to have to be admitted. With two broken wrists most people would need help to take care of themselves, let alone an eighty-two-year-old with chickens and two dogs to take care of. "First, we need to take some pictures. Then we can sort out your hands and fix the cut on your head."
"But how soon can I go home?" she demanded, clearly determined to get an answer. "I haven't even given the dogs their breakfast, yet."
"Have you had anything to eat this morning?" he sidestepped, not wanting to upset her with the bad news until he knew exactly what they were dealing with.
He quickly scrawled his signature on the paperwork for an MRI of her head to rule out any injury to her brain and X-rays of both wrists to find out exactly how many breaks there were in there. Depending on what each revealed, the poor woman might even have to go to Theatre for Orthopaedics to patch her up.
"Haven't eaten anything yet. That's why I was out getting the eggs. I was going to boil one and have it with some toastI still make all my own bread," she added with a spark of pride, "and my own marmalade, too."
Con's stomach gave a sudden noisy growl and he chuckled. "You can't imagine just how delicious that all sounds at this time of the morning," he said, even as his thoughts automatically flew to Callie and the way she always insisted on setting a place at the table for him before she came out to work. There would be no breakfast for him any time soonnot until she turned up to start her shift. They were far too short-staffed during this early-morning rush of patients for him to feel comfortable taking off just because it was past the end of his own shift. As long as the department manager didn't spot him
"Dr Lowell! Your shift ended two hours ago," said a stern voice behind him as he was making for the nearest phone, and he turned with a rueful grin to meet the unsmiling eyes of Selina Drew. was absolutely no question about who ruled St Mark's A and E department.
"I know, Selina, but"
"But nothing! There's no point thinking you can soft-soap me," she continued firmly. "You had a tough shift last night and you know as well as I do that you won't be able to do your job properly when you come on shift again if you don't get a proper rest."
She was right, but under the circumstances "I wasn't just staying on for the fun of it," he said, uncomfortably aware that there was definitely a defensive sound to his voice. And he was tired oh, so tired. Sometimes it felt as if the weariness had penetrated right to the marrow of his bones. "Callie hasn't arrived yet, and I was just "He shrugged.
"You were just keeping busy while you waited for her to turn up?" she suggested kindly, obviously understanding far more of his situation that he'd realised. "Well, Con, as of this moment, you're officially off the clock. I've just been informed by the office that your wife's reported off sick today. Now, get yourself home and take care of each other."
She started to turn away from him then changed her mind. "How is Callie really doing, Con?"she asked, and with this lion-hearted woman he knew that the question came out of genuine concern rather than any other reason. "It's just that well, she seemed to be coping reasonably well since she came back to work, right until the last few days."
Con blinked, puzzled. "What do you mean? What's been happening the last few days? I didn't know she'd been having problems. She hasn't said anything to me."
"Not problems, exactly." She pulled a face, looking as if she now regretted saying anything. "It's almost as though as though she's had something weighing on her mind. You know how it is when you're trying to make a decision about something?"
"Did she give you any idea what it was about?" he asked. It didn't feel quite right to be pumping Selina for information, but if there was something that Callie was worrying aboutsomething that was actually affecting the way she did her jobthen it was something he needed to know about. They'd spent the last three years going through hell and high water together as they'd tried to start a family the hard way, and he couldn't believe that there was anything they couldn't talk about any more.
"I was going to ask you the same thing,"she admitted, then paused a second as though worried about encroaching on private territory. "Con, I didn't know if perhaps the two of you were trying to make a decision about calling a halt if you'd decided that she'd been through enough?"
He closed his eyes and sighed, pressing his head back against the wall, knowing that if he didn't consciously keep his knees locked he would probably slide right down into a heap on the floor.
When he was busy, he could almost forget, but as soon as the memories surfaced, the devastation was enough to cut him off at the knees. He could only guess how much worse it was for Callie. The first two pregnancies hadn't even progressed far enough to show, and she'd broken her heart over each of them. The third onethird time lucky, they'd told each other as the weeks had gone pasthad been more than halfway to term when the routine ultrasound had failed to pick up a heartbeat and they'd learned that the baby had died before they'd even held him.
"I tried to talk about it the other day," he murmured, feeling the warmth of her concern as she stood silently beside him. "Because we just can't go on in in limbo like this, but she said she just wasn't ready yet. You know this one was just such a shock "
He couldn't go on. His eyes were already burning with the threat of tears when he remembered the tiny boy she'd finally given birth to after six hours of induced agony, and how perfect he'd looked in every way. It still tore his heart out by the roots to think that his son would never open his eyes or smile or walk, that his precious life had been over before it had begun.
"Go home, Con," Selina said with a gentle pat on his arm. "If she hasn't turned up at work this morning it's because she's still at home and she needs you with her. Just one thing, though. If the two of you need an extra day or two to get your heads on straight, let me know so I don't end up without any staff at all! I'll need some time to call in favours."
"Will do, boss!" he said with a flip of a salute, suddenly eager to get home. He had no idea why Callie wasn't answering her mobile phoneunless she'd forgotten to charge the battery againbut Selina was probably right. He'd get home and she would be sitting in the kitchen-diner they'd remodelled together with a pot of coffee and a pile of freshly made toast no, make that a scattering of crumbs on the plate, because she wouldn't have sat there looking at hot buttered toast for long without tucking in.
And while she was waiting, she'd be going over in her head exactly what she wanted to say, and as soon as he walked in she would stand there and deliver her little prepared speech the way she always did once she'd weighed everything up and come to a decision .
And all the while he was driving, a little corner of his brain was doing calculations and lining up facts and figures, deliberately cross-checking the tests he'd ordered on the patients he'd seen anything to stop him trying to second-guess what it was her decision whether to put it through yet another round of IVF or whether to finally abandon the attempt at having the child she desperately wanted.
The short distance to the spacious home they'd bought when they'd first got marriedchosen both for its proximity to the hospital and because they'd thought they would have no problem filling it with childrenwas long enough for him to recall that it was nearly five months since their son had been stillborn.
In that time they'd both spent far too many nights staring into the darkness, alone with their thoughts even though they still shared the same room and the same bed they always had. Yet, in spite of that surface closeness, in all those weeks he'd been very careful not to let Callie know how much he'd missed the ultimate intimacy of making love with her, their joining not just the sexual one of bodies but of hearts, minds and spirits, too. He'd been determined to wait until she was ready, but she'd only ever shown that she would welcome his attentions once, and with his emotions on a hair trigger with the months of abstinence, that had hardly been an outstanding success.
He'd hoped that his consideration would help to show her how much he cared for her but now he wondered if it might have been a mistake to put a lid on what he was thinking, how he was feeling and what he wanted. If she'd spent all that time waiting for him to make the first move