'Stiff upper lip?'
'Sort of.' Though not posh, like Vicky's family. Lily Lewis had had backbone. 'She grew up in London during the Blitz. She hated being evacuated, so she ran away and made her way back to the East End. The way she saw it, if she managed to get through the war without being hit by a flying V, she wasn't going to let anything else throw her.' Including losing her only child. Lily had been the rock Jake had leaned on after the plane crash, and, even though her heart must have been breaking, she'd held it together for his sake. 'She'd just take the "funny turns" in her stride and pretend they hadn't happened.'
'Yeah. She wouldn't listen to me. And she ended up having a stroke.'
'So that's why you specialised in neurology?' she guessed.
He didn't want to answer that, though he guessed that the muscle he felt tightening in his jaw would give him away. 'If you hadn't persuaded Violet to let us do the endarterectomy, I'd have told her about my nan.'
'Bullied her into having it done?'
'Guilt-tripped her into it,' Jake corrected. Then he saw a flicker of a grin on Vicky's face. 'What?'
'Beat you to it. I told her the stats and let her work it out for herself: she could have it done and go back to her own home, or risk a stroke and being stuck in a care home. Or—worse, in her view—being fussed over in her daughter's home.'
'You understand your patients well.' With a flash of intuition, Jake guessed, 'You're the same, aren't you? You hate being fussed over.'
She nodded. 'Worst nightmare. Comes of being the youngest of three—and the only girl.'
'I remember you told me your brothers are both doctors. What are their fields?'
'Plastics and ED. And they insist on referring to me as "our baby sister, the brain surgeon".'
Teasing, but he'd guess that they were proud of her. And that they knew exactly what she was like: if they made a fuss over her and told her how they felt, she'd shut them out. So they teased her instead, saying the words in the way they knew she'd accept them.
Her family. People who loved her. Jake forced the surge of envy down. He'd made his decision years ago. Losing one family—his parents—had hurt enough. Losing his second, his nan, had been even harder. And he wasn't going to risk it a third time. He'd go out with the crowd, sure. But he wasn't letting anyone close. Wasn't going to have another family that he could lose.
And that included Vicky Radley. Despite the fact that his whole body yearned to touch her, hold her, he wasn't going to take the risk.
Asking her to breakfast this morning had been a mistake. He'd been listening to his libido instead of his common sense. Well, he wasn't going to make that mistake again. 'Thanks for the coffee and cake,' he said, though he hadn't touched a crumb. 'See you later.'
To his relief, she took the hint and left his office.
Though he could still feel her presence in the room after she'd left. Still smell her perfume. And it made him ache for her.
An ache he dared not let himself soothe.
A month they'd been working together. Four short weeks. And Vicky couldn't get Jake out of her head. Worst of all, she'd gone to Chloë's christening, had had a cuddle with her goddaughter at the party afterwards and had had this weird almost-vision of holding another baby.
A baby with huge brown eyes, just like her daddy's.
This was bad. Really bad. Vicky never, but never, fantasised like that. She didn't want children and she didn't want a life partner. She wanted a career. She wanted to blaze a trail in medicine and discover new things. She wanted to save people.
So why couldn't she get his face out of her head?
It was worse because she'd seen him practically naked at the pool. Jake's swimming shorts were perfectly demure, but she'd seen him dive into the pool at the gym they both went to. She'd seen his perfect musculature, the light sprinkling of hair on his chest, his strong, sturdy body. And she'd wanted to touch—something that had sent her straight to the side of the pool and out to the showers before she'd done something stupid. Like suggesting breakfast together. And not after a session at the gym, either.
She really had to do something about it. Sooner rather than later.
She sealed the envelope, addressed it and wrote Personal on the front so Jake's secretary wouldn't open it, then slipped into Jake's office and put it in his in-tray.
Jake stood at the top of the Canary Wharf tower. He'd done this before, and he knew it was safe—he had a harness on and protective clothing—but adrenalin was still fizzing through him. In a couple of minutes he'd be walking backwards off one of the tallest buildings in London. Abseiling his way down.
And the ward had come up trumps. Everyone had signed his sponsor form, from the auxiliary staff through to the director of Neurology, even though the money wasn't going to benefit their hospital.