He talked her through the two-hour operation, clearing one artery himself and then giving her a chance to work on the other carotid artery. She liked the way he worked: deft, neat, precise. But as soon as the operation was over he seemed to switch back to the brooding, uncommunicative man he'd been while scrubbing up.
Something was wrong. Not the operation—it had been a complete success. She didn't think it had been anything she'd done either. So had this op brought back bad memories? A patient he hadn't been able to save?
When Violet was out of the recovery room and had settled back on the ward—with her daughter fussing round her bedside—Vicky quietly slipped out to the canteen on her break. She bought a slice of carrot cake and two coffees—he took his black and sweet, she remembered— then headed for Jake's office and rapped on the door.
He was doing paperwork at his desk, and there was strain in the lines of his face.
'What's this?' he asked when she closed the door behind her and put the coffee and cake on his desk.
Cake. The Hon. Victoria Radley had brought him cake. 'Why?'
She shrugged. 'The men in my life are cake addicts.'
Jake tried to squash the pinpricks of jealousy. He had no right to be jealous. She was a colleague—a distant colleague at that, barely even an acquaintance. The men in my life... He didn't think she meant that she had a string of men, but clearly she'd been good at keeping her relationships secret from the hospital grapevine. 'Oh.'
'Our cook made the best cake in the world,' she said, almost as if explaining. 'Which is why both my brothers are putty in the hands of any woman who gives them cake.'
Jake frowned. Was this her way of saying she wanted him to be putty in her hands? Or was she just explaining about the men in her life—her brothers?
As if in answer to his unspoken question, she said quietly, 'You looked upset earlier. I wanted to make you feel a bit better. It's also an apology for running out on you over breakfast this morning.'
He shrugged. 'No problem. You were paged.'
'Want to talk about it?' she asked.
Then he realised what was going on. Vicky had made a fuss over little Declan, who'd been bullied. She'd fussed over Violet, too, but on the old lady's terms—practical things, like bringing her a puzzle magazine. And now she was quietly adding him to her collection of lame ducks, bringing him cake and offering him a sympathetic ear.
'I'm fine,' he said stiffly.
'No, you're not. It's something to do with Violet.'
How did she know?
She must have been able to read his mind, because she said quietly, 'She got to me, too. I never really knew my grandparents because they died when I was very young. Violet's the kind I would've liked as a gran.' Her smile was suddenly bleak.
Jake knew exactly where she was coming from. The same place as him. Loss and loneliness. 'She reminds me of my nan,' he admitted.
'You were close to her?'
He nodded. 'She brought me up. My mum was a singer and Dad was her manager. They were always on the road, and Nan refused to let them drag me along with a home tutor or put me in boarding school. She said kids need a steady place to grow up.' He looked away. 'They were in America, flying interstate on my mum's first US tour, when their plane crashed.'
He was half expecting Vicky to trot out the usual platitudes or try to work out who his mum was, but she surprised him. 'Hard for you. How old were you?'
'That's a really tough age to lose your parents.'
Something in her voice made him look at her. The expression on her face...she knew exactly how it had felt. It had happened to one of her schoolfriends, probably. Another of her lame ducks.
'Yeah. But at least I had Nan.' Then, to his horror, the words he'd tried to bury whispered out of him. 'I just wish she'd seen me qualify.'
'Missed it by much?'
'Ouch. But, if it helps, she'd have known from your prelims that you'd qualify.'
At least Vicky hadn't gushed that his gran would have been proud of him. He appreciated that, because how did you ever know exactly how someone else felt—especially if you'd never met that person? That kind of reaction always drove him crazy.
Vicky Radley, on the other hand, was calm, practical and sensible.
He took a sip of his coffee to buy himself some time, and discovered that Vicky had sweetened it exactly to his taste. Which meant she was observant. He already knew she was clever, so she'd probably guess whatever he didn't tell her. So he may as well spill the rest of it. 'Nan died of a stroke. She had a TIA first, except she wouldn't admit there was anything wrong. It was only when our neighbour found her that she admitted she'd had a "funny turn". I rang home that night and got Bridget, who told me. I tried to get Nan to see her GP for a check-up at the very least. But she insisted it was nothing and I was making a fuss. Nan was one of the old school.'