Beneath Sierra Skies
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by Susan Aylworth
Description: Cardiologist Brandon Demarse epitomized Mr. Right for the female staff at Chico General, except for caseworker Robin Hill, who knew that ice water ran in his veins. When a plane crash stranded them in the frozen Sierra Nevada wilderness, Brandon's heart thawed to reveal a tender, passionate man. With the elements and the odds stacked against them, all that could save them from perishing beneath Sierra skies was love. Contemporary Romance by Susan Aylworth writing as Shannon Gale; originally published by Silhouette Romance
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 1990
eBookwise Release Date: October 2011
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [224 KB]
Reading time: 142-198 min.
A breeze as soft and warm as an embrace carried the blossoms that fell from the almond trees. A preview of spring had come to the Sacramento Valley, and Robin reveled in it, lifting her chin into the breeze and tossing her red-gold hair. She'd lived in Chico long enough to know winter would return before spring finally came, but these lovely days in February gave her patience.
She walked briskly, stretching her stride. At five foot eight she'd always been long, leggy and with an ample figure, and men had appreciated her looks. Then why...? She shrugged the thought away. Perhaps the warmer weather had made her wishful, or maybe it was her sister's wedding, only three days away. It seemed as though the whole world was pairing off in couples!
Robin quickly covered the few blocks between the university and the hospital, entered at the old doors off the Esplanade and skipped up the stairs.
Nancy, her supervisor, stepped from her office as Robin put on her lab coat. "Ah. The guest lecturer returns. How did it go?"
"I'm a hit. The students all want to be just like me, if you can imagine that!"
"I certainly can. You're the best cardiac caseworker I have."
"I'm the only cardiac caseworker you have."
"In that case, get to work." Nancy winked as she picked up her clipboard. "Oh, Dr. Collins's office called about the Chilton case. They're assigning it to Dr. Demarse."
"I was afraid of that," Robin grumbled.
Robin shrugged. "We really haven't worked together often."
"He's supposed to be a wonderful surgeon. It's the only reason we keep him. That and his blond hair," Nancy said with a grin.
"He sure isn't famous for talking with his patients. The first time we worked together was with a postsurgical patient. Just before he was to be discharged, he asked Dr. Demarse when he could make love to his wife again. Demarse just shrugged him off, saying 'Sex is no big deal. If you can run up a flight of stairs, you can have sex, and if you can't, you can live without it."
Nancy groaned. "He didn't really say that, did he?"
"He sure did, and two days later, the patient was back in the emergency room with a broken nose. He'd fallen while trying to run up a flight of stairs."
"Oh, no!" Nancy was laughing in spite of herself. "Well, many doctors have a hard time talking about sex. That's why the job often falls to us."
"I know, but some doctors have a worse manner than others."
"Oh, I don't know. I've heard some interesting things about Demarse's bedside manner..."
"Don't tell me you listen to hospital gossip?"
"Come on, Robin. Are you going to pretend he's not attractive?"
"Well, I'll admit he's nice-looking--"
"Great-looking," Nancy corrected.
"Okay, great-looking, but that's no excuse for the way he behaves."
"Well, try to put up with him. He is a very fine surgeon. By the way, he has asked for discharge planning for Mrs. Chilton."
"He can't do that, Nancy!"
"I'm afraid he can, hon."
"But you know this case. Inpatient rehab is the only way to handle it. I've practically promised. Dr. Collins agreed, before he had his stroke."
"I know that, Robin, but Demarse is the doctor now, and you know how it goes--"
"The doctor is king."
"You've got it."
"Well, I'm just going to have to change his mind." She picked up her files. "I've got to get this resolved before I leave this weekend."
"Oh, right. Tracy's wedding."
"On Valentine's Day, no less!"
"At least your new brother-in-law will be able to remember his anniversary. Well, back to work." She started down the hall. "Good luck with Demarse."
"I'll need it!" Robin answered. The prospect was already tightening her stomach in knots.
It was a full day. She visited with eight patients and made several phone calls, just in case she ended up placing Mrs. Chilton in convalescent care. By five o'clock she was tired.
She had only two short visits to make and then she would confront Dr. Demarse.
Her stomach fluttered slightly as she thought of him, and she grimaced, flustered. So what if every woman in the Western world had fallen for him? She wasn't like them. Of course, she couldn't blame them, either. Despite her dislike of the man, she couldn't deny the visceral response that rose within her whenever he was near. She'd never felt this kind
of instant attraction, and he wasn't even her type. "I like dark men," she told herself firmly, and Demarse was blond--golden, in fact, with a radiant glow . . . She stopped the thought. Maybe it wasn't his face. Maybe it was that hard-muscled body on its lean, strong frame, or the sense of power about him, or the undisguised virility....
"Stop it!" she mumbled. She shook her head, driving his image from her mind. She started toward her last patient but was paged to Emergency, and hurried, almost running, to the E.R.
A paramedic met her in the hallway. "Hi, Robin," he said, handing her an admitting sheet. "Demarse has a walk-in cardiac in three."
"Bad?" She tried to ignore the look of puppy-dog longing in the man's eyes. He'd been clear about his infatuation with her, and she hoped to discourage him.
"Hard to say."
"Okay. Thanks, Kyle." She slipped the admitting sheet onto her clipboard, and looked it over quickly, while Kyle drifted away. Each time she began a new case, she gained fresh appreciation for these tidy collections of facts.
Norris Peterson was a classic cardiac patient--fifty-five, married, a little too well-fed. He and his wife had been passing through Chico on the freeway when the persistent "indigestion" he'd felt all morning had suddenly become disabling.
The case seemed designed to give a social worker nightmares. The man was away from home, friends and family--all the support systems a seriously ill patient relied upon. Robin put on a smile and stepped into examining room three.
"Hello, Mr. Peterson. How are you feeling?"
The man looked dazed, bluish. "A little better, I think."
"I'm pleased to hear it. I'm Robin Hill, a social caseworker with Chico General. Do you mind if I ask you a few--"
"We've scheduled an angiogram for tomorrow morning.' ' Brandon Demarse entered the room talking, apparently not caring that he'd interrupted Robin in midsentence. His jaw was set and the hospital lights shone off the sharp, clean planes of his face.
Robin started to form a rude reply, but the look on her patient's face stopped her cold.
"Angio-what?" Peterson's eyes were wide with terror.
"An angiogram," Robin replied gently. "It's a procedure to test the flow of blood in and out of your h--"
"We'll need surgical consent forms," Demarse broke in. Robin's eyes flashed.
"Surgical?" Peterson's eyes grew wider. "I'm not... I didn't have a heart attack, did I?"
"The test is a surgical procedure, Mr. Peterson," Robin said, trying to restore his confidence. "I have a short film. I can set it up right here. We won't ask you to sign anything until you feel comfortable."
Demarse turned, looking at Robin for the first time, his eyes startlingly blue. "I want those forms within the hour," he said and strode out, leaving Robin seething.
Peterson wasn't angry; he was hysterical. It took Robin nearly two hours to calm him before he finally signed. Robin turned the forms in at the nurses' station, then stopped at the cafeteria for a bowl of soup. She was pleased to find Nancy there.
"He was horrible," she said, concluding her story. "Can you imagine anyone treating a cardiac patient like that?"
Nancy fiddled with her salad. "I remember my father used to say that some doctors treat pathologies, not people. I'm afraid Demarse is that kind of doctor."
"Any fool ought to know better than to frighten a cardiac patient."
"You're right, but that sometimes takes practice, Robin. A doctor gets so used to running his routine that he forgets his patients don't understand everything--"
"--and doctors don't think about support systems the same way we do."
"You're right about that!" Robin's voice was bitter. "He acted as if I was there just to jump to his orders, the dirty...chauvinist."
Nancy smirked. "It's been a while since I've heard that one."
"Well, he is," Robin argued. "He's like that with all the women in the hospital."
"Could it be there's jealousy in your voice?" Nancy smiled sympathetically.
"You have to admit that he attracts you."
"Okay, so he attracts me."
"It's all right, Robin. Honest. Your secret is safe."
Robin blushed. "Nancy--"
"Tell you what. Let's just change the subject, okay? How are your plans coming for the wedding?"
Robin fought to make her voice sound normal. "Okay, I guess. I'd planned to take off fifteen pounds. I only have sixteen to go!"
"As if you need to lose anything," Nancy said. The talk turned to diets and clothes and Robin was able to escape with her dignity.
Nancy was wrong, clearly wrong, Robin told herself as she started the easy walk home. She wasn't one of those breathless, senseless creatures who could fall for a creep like Brandon Demarse just because his hair shone in the light, his smile could melt the snowpack in the Sierras and the smooth planes of his face put fine sculpture to shame. "No matter how attractive he is, Brandon Demarse will never again treat me or any of my patients as badly as he treated us today," she said defiantly.
Her vow hung in the air as she worked at home that evening, packing things she would take to Tracy's wedding in Modesto. By the time she was ready for sleep, she'd resolved to confront Demarse as soon as he completed Peterson's angiogram. She would face him down once and for all, not just for Mrs. Chilton and patients like her, but for herself.
* * * *
She was calmer when she arrived at work the next day. Sleep and the golden dawn had given her perspective. By midmorning she was confident she could persuade Demarse to listen, and stopped by the surgical unit to try.
Brandon Demarse was the first person she saw. He leaned against the wall, golden light gleaming around him. Robin smiled stiffly. "Good morning, Doctor." He looked up. "Peterson was your patient, wasn't he?"
Robin felt a blow to the center of her chest at his use of the past tense.
"We lost him on the table. Massive myocardial infarction. Nothing we could do. You'll have to tell the widow. She'll take it better that way." He gave her a pathetic little half smile as he left.
A massive heart attack. Robin hugged herself to stop her trembling. It wasn't that she mourned. She'd barely known Peterson, but she had seen his fear and pain, and she identified only too well with the slim, dark woman who sat waiting in the lobby, so much like her own mother on the day her father had died.
She spent most of the day with the widow, helping her make plans to transport the body, getting her some sleeping pills, trying to share her grief. The effort was exhausting. Mrs. Peterson was just leaving when Kyle trotted in with the message that she was wanted on the phone. It was Nancy.
"Demarse has been looking for you. He's ready to discharge Mrs. Chilton. He wants to be sure you have a space in a nursing home."
Robin sighed wearily. "Where is he now?"
"At the nurses' station on her floor."
"Thanks." She ran down the corridor, cursing Demarse under her breath. Was it always a crisis when he was around?
"Oh, there you are. Have you done the discharge planning for Chilton?"
"Yes, but I was hoping to consult with you about it first."
"Consult?" he asked sarcastically.
"Please? Do you have a few minutes?"
He looked at his watch, then, slowly, at her. "A few, I think. Would you care for some coffee?"
"No, thank you. We can talk right here," she answered coldly. She stopped at a bench against the far wall.
Robin reviewed the case as calmly as she could, trying to avoid Demarse's blue, blue eyes and knowing smile. "As you know, Mr. Chilton is diabetic and legally blind. Mrs. Chilton will try to overdo it if she goes home now, so some kind of interim care is indicated."
"I concur," Demarse said, obviously amused.
"I don't agree regarding the choice of care, Doctor," she continued. "I recommended to Dr. Collins that she be admitted for inpatient rehabilitation, and he agreed."
"He didn't chart it."
"I realize that, but--"
"Does the patient require hospital care?"
"No, not medically, but--"
"Discharge her." Demarse stood.
"Doctor, wait!" Robin, too, was on her feet.
"Yes, Ms. Hill?"
"She's terrified, doctor. I'm afraid for her if we put her in nursing care. She's--"
"Hysterical," Demarse finished. "Irrational and manipulative. I'm afraid we can't base medical decisions on the rantings of a sick old woman."
"It's not like that, Doctor. She's sick with terror!"
"Many patients feel that way. They get over it."
Robin felt her temper rising. She wanted to scream, but her voice was low as she asked, "Have you ever been frightened? I mean really frightened?"
Ignoring her question, Demarse walked to the house phone and dialed. "Nancy Toomey, please. Mrs. Toomey? This is Dr. Demarse. Robin Hill is on the Chilton case. I want her off it." He waited a moment, said "thank you," and hung up.
"You can't do that." Robin's voice was hushed.
"I already have. Good day."
Robin stood, hating his broad, departing back, barely believing what he'd done to her, and so easily. Absorbed in her hurt and anger, she didn't see Mr. Chilton approaching.
"Miss Hill, Miss Hill, you must help me," he said.
Robin's heart sank. "I'm sorry, Mr. Chilton."
He caught her arm. "You have to do something. You know how Alice feels about those places. She trusted you, and you let her down!"
"I am sorry," she said. "But there's nothing I can do. I tried. I recommended inpatient rehabilitation, but--"
"Rehabilitation," she said carefully. "It's a kind of step-down hospital care. I thought it would be ideal for your wife, but--"
"Oh, yes, yes. That's a fine idea, just what we need. Can you arrange it, then?"
"No, sir, I can't. I've been taken off the case."
"Taken off? What the hell kind of place is this, anyway? Inpatient rehabilitation, you say? I'll arrange it myself. That's just what I'll do."
"That's fine, Mr. Chilton. Good luck."
"Luck has nothing to do with it. What we need here is a little backbone."
The strange little man hobbled down the hallway, and Robin dragged home for a healing sleep.
* * * *
It was Friday the thirteenth, and Robin awoke with a throbbing head. Her sleep had been troubled by visions of Brandon Demarse--golden and graceful, his ice-blue eyes seeing through her facade of indifference.
She groaned and rolled out of bed. That's when everything started--or failed to start. First the toaster wouldn't toast. Then the shower head was blocked and she had to take a bird bath from the sink.
Finally ready for work, she picked up her cell phone to call her office -- just in case she was late -- and found it not working. According to the message on the phone, it had no battery left and needed a charge, even though it had been charging all night.
Robin groaned and used her house phone to call the office. Then she stepped out the front door and slipped on a gum ball from her neighbor's liquidambar tree, turning her ankle and breaking her sandal. Cursing all liquidambar trees, she limped into the house to put on canvas deck shoes. By the time she was ready to load the car, she was beginning to feel superstitious.
She hastily loaded her things. The last was her wedding gift to Tracy and Jeff--a thick, hand-quilted comforter. It was queen-size and filled with real eiderdown. It had cost her most of her extra money for the last four months, but it was worth it. Robin caressed its lace edges as she carefully wrapped it in plastic bags, and then loaded it into the car.
Her head still swam and her ankle throbbed, so she swallowed two aspirin, dropped the bottle into her purse, then wrapped an elastic bandage around her ankle and threw an extra into her suitcase. Then she locked the front door, slipped behind the wheel of her car, and turned the key.
Nothing happened. She tried again; the engine didn't even purr. She didn't have time to call the auto club for help. She would just have to take care of it on her lunch hour.
Favoring her sore ankle, Robin walked and worried, wondering what was wrong. It had to be something simple--a dead battery, maybe, although she'd just bought one last summer. But what if it wasn't simple? What if she couldn't leave tonight? Tracy's wedding was tomorrow. She was still fussing when she reached the hospital.
"Robin, may I talk with you right now?" Nancy stepped out of her office and held the door. The look on her face told Robin it was serious. She took a deep breath and followed Nancy inside.
Nancy turned to her. "Demarse has demanded your resignation."