CHLOE HARRISON WAS THE last surgeon to leave the recovering patients and knew she would have to be back again for an early evening round so, carrying her white coat, she hurried along the empty corridor which served as a quick way to the lifts. Busy during clinic hours, the side rooms and seating areas were deserted. The whole place was in what were generally hoped to be the last stages of redecoration and she skirted a neat arrangement of stepladders and paint drums before slowing down as she passed the open offices near the swing doors.
"If you're here to talk to me, don't."
Chloe clutched at her coat and turned back to stare in the direction of the voice which seemed to come from between a sliding glass window and an open door. She stopped when she saw that Matthias Trevelyan was sitting at a monitor, tapping numbers into a grid. He was alone in the room used by clinic staff during clinic hours for the checking of appointment lists.
In the glass of the half window she saw herself move, an indistinct reflection as she shook her head, silently whispering, I'm not, and all the while striving to give a firm impression. She was attempting to subdue the tremor she always felt when they met, without doubt the anticipation of a rebuke which had never in fact come her way.
He raised a hand in a half greeting and nodded towards the screen. Something they'll need tomorrow.
She bit her lip, her gaze holding his. Compelling, muscular, and a dozen or so years older than Chloe, he was the chief consultant surgeon. The first time she'd seen him, near the same elevators she was on her way to now, she'd lifted her head and looked into his eyes. They had walked backwards into each other, and she'd found she was in his arms and, aware of his physical strength, his height, her heart had lurched, thumped as his head had bent towards hers and she had absorbed everything about him in a kaleidoscope of impressions - his hair, so thick and dark, his clear skin, slightly tanned, a controlled mouth, such watchful eyes, such warmth, and all wrapped around her, Chloe. She had been overwhelmed, instantly attracted, and almost as instantly, extremely wary.
Now he asked, "Where are you going next?"
"Three wards." She meant that she would be visiting three recently treated patients. Her voice was cool, perhaps a shade warmer than freezingly polite. "Then there's a netball injury. An end of finger. Possible break."
"Bone protruding?" He stood up, but continued to type with his right hand. "Though gruesome looking for the victim it's probably nothing."
Chloe blinked, then nodded, disconcerted to realise that she had tried to clench her fists. He was saying only what she had been thinking, but from him it seemed dismissive rather than dispassionate. He had, she acknowledged, a ruthless quality which she rather reluctantly admired.
He was closing the file. "You're lucky. I've got an appointments committee. Several hours of unproductive misery." He didn't say for whom and Chloe wasn't about to question what he had meant, though she knew her job might well be affected. For one thing he was suddenly at her side. She suppressed a surge of excitement and took a step back.
He leaned against the door frame. "What's the matter?"
For a second she was absolutely certain that he was about to grab her and give her a good shake, then, confused, she realised that he'd in fact made no such move. Her blood pulsed. Had his tone conveyed a warning? She was only too aware that she was still in surgical green, that the top was a size too big and that the neckline, slightly lower than usual, slid a little to one side, but under his disconcerting and undoubtedly disapproving appraisal she wouldn't, just wouldn't, let him see that he'd embarrassed her into pulling on her coat.
She said, "If you'll excuse me--"
She hadn't been allowed to finish. Nor, for that matter, had she any idea why he'd bothered to stop her by speaking to her as he had. She turned away quickly, pushed the swing doors and made for the lifts.
* * * *
WITH THE NETBALL QUESTION resolved, she was alone in the clean warmth of the women's changing room when the news that her aunt was in the hospital reached her. Such a visit was so entirely unexpected that she assured the reception officer that there must have been some mistake.
"No mistake, Miss Harrison. Mrs Marlowe is here now. Shall I send her across?"
Chloe blinked hard. "No need." She was flushed with surprise, her breath tense. "I'll be with you in five minutes."
She stepped into her skirt and then into her shoes. And, shivering very slightly, her movements smoothly practised, continuous, she pulled her sweater over her well brushed dark blonde hair, all somehow without touching a single strand. She twisted, frowned, scarcely needing to check her appearance in the large wall glass, but a sudden thought of her aunt Dorothea, who was given to tactful silences, made her flick her fringe across her brow. Then she turned towards the door.
Dorothea Marlowe was in the comfortably furnished waiting area. Sitting alone near the window, wrapped in stillness, she seemed to be searching the car park outside the window for something worthy of her attention. She looked wonderful, perfectly tailored, delicately made up, but frailer than Chloe had quite expected. Slightly more fragile. Papery. Tissue papery, with a sort of bloodless elegance. Perhaps she dieted too ruthlessly. She certainly had a youthful outline and her appearance was helped by her style, the skilled presentation. Yet when she heard Chloe's footsteps she stood up rather awkwardly, then moved forward hurriedly to kiss her cheek.
"How nice to see you," Chloe said self consciously, slightly at a loss. She looked at her aunt. "That's a wonderful jacket."
"It cost a fortune. But you look wonderful too. That shade of blue really suits you." They smiled at each other, then Mrs Marlowe asked, "Could we get some tea?"
Of course they could. There was a small refreshment bar near the curving stairway. Manned and supplied by enthusiastic volunteers, who seemed all to be competitive pastry cooks, it did good business. "Cake?" Chloe asked with a sudden smile. She knew that this might be all she would get for several hours and she ate when she could. Not an entirely satisfactory arrangement, but at home she kept a lot of fruit, and somehow things balanced out.
"Please." Dorothea seemed grateful. She looked around her. "This is very nice. You forget you're in a hospital."
Chloe brought a laden tray back to the sunlit table. "I chose Assam," she said of the teapot, and as they helped themselves she said of the cakes, "Those are supposed to be low fat and low sugar. But only relatively so, I should think."
Dorothea nodded. "They look wonderful." Then, her eyes averted, she said slowly, "I've been to see Rosemary."
Chloe wouldn't let herself look startled. She slid an almond slice on to her aunt's plate, then for herself took a morello and brandysnap confection which had its own tiny paper dish.
"They're looking for a bigger house; somewhere nearer to here. Well, not so far. She and Hamish . . . he's changing jobs."
Hamish, who had been engaged to her, Chloe, but who had married Rosemary. She said carefully, "I'm glad they're both well." That was true, at least, but it was as much as she was prepared to say. She wished them no harm. She met her aunt's pale, anxious eyes and smiled. "And I'm more than glad that you came to see me. May I give you more tea?"
"More? No, thank you. This is fine." Her aunt's mind was plainly elsewhere, for she looked momentarily stricken and her voice had trailed. "Rosemary worries about you."
"She really shouldn't." Chloe stirred her own cup. She had pushed her cake to one side. "I probably shan't be here much longer."
Chloe spread her fingers apologetically before pulling her cake plate back. "They're probably cutting the orthopaedic service, and in any case I'm on a short contract."
"Actually the cut is a threat rather than a promise but I'm almost certainly going."
"Aren't you at two hospitals?"
"Yes. Well, not exactly. Here, and the White Unit. That's only one or two days a fortnight. For a clinic."
"What sort of clinic?"
"Mostly knees. We do a great many total knee replacements."
Her aunt nodded and picked at an almond. "I don't think Rosemary realised." That Chloe would be going, no doubt. "All this was such a pity. You were such friends."
"But three proved to be a crowd." Chloe managed a smile. She was stung by the reference to pity. She shook her head as though getting rid of cobwebs.
There was an undertow of anxiety as her aunt spoke. She asked, "Do you still . . .?"
"Regret what happened?" Chloe looked down at her hands. That Dorothea would have given her life for her daughter, and still would, Chloe didn't for one moment doubt. Fortunately, that hadn't been necessary. And wouldn't be necessary. "I accepted everything. You knew that."
"I know you were at pains that I shouldn't worry." She was looking at her niece with a deep fondness that was very touching. Her sincerity reached out. "When are you likely to leave?"
"Leave here?" Chloe's eyes were wide. "As soon as I find something else."
"And you're looking?"
"Yes." The morellos were gone. Chloe began a glazed apricot pastry. In spite of the warm comfort of the tea shop area she was suddenly cool, her hands cold. "All the time." She remembered tearing photographs in two, burning theatre programmes, putting a match to a crinkle-edge red-ribboned menu. She'd been the losing party. Her mild, nervous cousin had been the winner. Of course as far as Hamish had been concerned Rosemary had also been more willing. And of course she'd had more money. Not that money . . .
Her aunt drank until her teacup was empty. "I'll tell Rosemary." Her manner was vague but her eyes were anxious. "I knew you would reassure me. If you move to the North . . ."
"I'd certainly see more of you." Chloe was struck again by her aunt's pallor. Was she eating properly? Did she need a serious check-up?
"That would be wonderful. . . but now I really should go. I know how busy you are." Mrs Marlowe was smiling and Chloe saw with relief that her cheeks were pinker.
In the car park Chloe watched her aunt unlock her silver grey BMW. Across the tarmac a tall man was unlocking a dark blue Bentley. Matthias Trevelyan. He didn't smile as he nodded briefly in Chloe's direction.
"Does he work here?"
She realised Dorothea had spoken. "I'm sorry?"
"Oh." Chloe spoke more apologetically. "Yes, he does."
"How long have you known him?"
"Known him? Sorry. Since I came here. He's . . . he's the chief of surgery."
"He's wonderful looking." Her aunt sounded almost absent-minded.
Chloe murmured an uncommitted agreement. She pushed away her memories in an attempt to see him with objectivity. His lean face and dark hair were attractive enough; his shrewd eyes, expressively so. One might have thought him almost human, particularly as he could clearly pass as such with his grateful clients. To them he was no doubt at pains to hide his effortless arrogance. He was undoubtedly a superb organiser, but he had none of the genial affability she had found in the others working in the orthopaedic area.
"He seems . . . dependable."
"Oh. Yes, he is. Very." Chloe didn't look directly towards Matthias Trevelyan, who seemed to be checking a map. At a distance he seemed not unfriendly, but at close quarters Chloe knew him to be distinctly a man of ice. Not that he wasn't pleasant to his patients. She knew that he was, and she supposed that it was only his juniors that he ruled by fear. She had seen him in action against a visitor to the White Unit he'd been observing, no more than that, but he'd been, she'd supposed, still over the limit from a party the night before. She still shivered when she thought about it.
"You'd make a very good pair." Dorothea was smiling, really smiling. Looking happy. "He can't be that much," and she stressed the words, "that much older than you."
Chloe was almost twenty nine. She said, "Yes. No." Her mind ran back over Dorothea's earlier remark. "And you were right. He is very dependable."
And, she thought ruefully, he's plainly magnetic. She'd registered that the first time they'd met, the time when she'd walked into him, and even more so on the second time she'd seen him.
He hadn't seen her. He'd been talking on an A&E telephone to a woman, arranging a get-together, not knowing that he was being overheard. For Chloe it had been a warning that she should keep her distance, which from then on she had. And her work load had meant that there was no social life, at least for her. So to that extent their paths hadn't crossed.
Dorothea was starting her car. She told Chloe, "This must be a good place to work."
"Yes. It is." As she watched her aunt leave she was thinking of Matthias Trevelyan. She told herself, I mustn't exaggerate. The others seemed to like him, and it had suited Chloe to learn from his work and otherwise maintain an arm's length relationship which was strictly one of business. Her pager vibrated at her waist. She was wanted in Accident and Emergency. By Philip Edmunds, the second in command. And if she didn't perform whatever was required to standard, her terrifying head of firm would surely find out and make certain that she knew exactly where she had fallen short.
The blue Bentley had disappeared towards the exit road. I must be fair, Chloe told herself. He isn't that bad. She had never felt the edge of his caustic tongue, nor known the explosion of his legendary temper, and she intended that things should stay that way. But from the start of her employment at the hospital she had felt self-conscious in his company, though she had to admit that this was not caused by his attitude, which after that first day had never seemed other than one of polite if ever-critical indifference.
She found Philip Edmunds in one of the curtained examination areas. He told her, "You said you'd like to see more of these. It's an emergency laminectomy. Anthony Lawrence. He's a musician, nineteen years old. I think he sings. Jumps around." Phil looked dubious. "Have you time?"
"Yes, I have." It was true that she was preparing a paper, on the minimising of neurological damage following traumatic compression. The young man would lose a little of one of his vertebrae. She blinked, smiled. The patient was lucky that Philip was around. He was enormously experienced, very, very skilled, and a great teacher. "Yes," she told him, "thank you."
"Graham's all set."
Graham Hunt, the anaesthetic registrar. Chloe checked a mental list. She would telephone the ward sisters about her evening rounds. She didn't anticipate being told there were problems, but one never knew.
And as it turned out there were none.