The look on her face said she didn't believe a word of it.

'And I'm sure you've got things to do,' he added.

The amusement vanished from her face, and he realised what he'd said. He'd meant it as 'I don't want to take up your time', but she'd clearly taken it as 'You're slacking'. Hell.

Before he could explain, she said coolly, 'You're quite right. No doubt I'll see you tomorrow, Mr Lewis.'

And she turned on her heel and walked away.

Jake swore to himself. If he left it, she'd be all ice towards him tomorrow—and she'd probably tell her colleagues that the new boy was going to throw his weight around. If he chased after her and explained himself, he'd end up sounding like a gibbering idiot. Either way, he lost

Well, icy professional was marginally better than fool. They'd soon find that he thawed out. So he'd take the lesser of the two evils. And he'd sort it out with Victoria Radley tomorrow.

CHAPTER TWO

'I wonder if Jake's single?' Gemma, the ward sister, asked.

Vicky shrugged. 'I'm more interested in whether he's good at his job.'

Gemma gave Vicky a searching look, which Vicky ignored. Honestly. When would her colleagues understand? She wasn't interested in having a relationship until she'd got where she wanted to be in her career. And she really wasn't interested in Jake Lewis, their new consultant. She was still annoyed with him about yesterday—she'd tried to make him feel welcome, and he'd made her feel as if she were slacking.

He'd find out his mistake soon enough. Victoria Charlotte Radley was far from being a slacker. And although part of her wanted to see him eat humble pie, the sensible part of her knew it was best to just ignore it and get on with her job. Emotions of any sort—except where her brothers and new niece were concerned—just weren't part of her life.

'He seems nice. And you have to admit, he's good-looking,' Gemma continued. 'Tall, dark and handsome to a T! And those eyes—they're really come-to-bed. Like melted chocolate.'

Vicky sighed inwardly. Either Gemma hadn't got the message or she didn't want to. Before Vicky had a chance to explain—firmly but politely—that she really couldn't care less if every other woman in the hospital thought Jake Lewis was sex on legs, because it really wasn't relevant, her pager bleeped.

She glanced at the display. 'I'm needed in ED. I'll finish the ward round later and I'll ring down when I know which theatre I'm in.'

'OK. I'll fill the board in for you,' Gemma said.

'Thank you.' Vicky smiled at her and headed for the emergency department.

'Dr Radley—you paged me,' she said to the receptionist.

'Yes—it's one of Hugh's patients. I'll just get him for you.' She returned with a doctor in tow.

'Hugh Francis, SHO. Thanks for coming, Dr Radley,' he said, smiling at her. 'I've got a ten-year-old with a suspected subdural haematoma.'

'Did he fall?'Vicky asked.

'Tripped up and hit his head on a skateboard ramp.'

Vicky frowned. 'Wasn't he wearing a helmet?'

'I couldn't get much out of him,' Hugh admitted. 'He was pretty scared. But he told Ruth—one of our staff nurses—that he's been having some problems with bullies. A gang of them waylaid him in the park this morning on the way to school, kept on and on about how useless he was and how he couldn't do some move or other on the skateboard ramp. They goaded him into trying it—but, of course, he didn't have a helmet with him and they said he was a coward if he didn't do it without.'

Vicky groaned. 'And he thought they'd lay off if he did what they wanted.'

'Something like that.'

But bullies never let up. If you proved yourself and did what they said you couldn't do, they'd find something else. On and on. Nag, nag, nag—until you finally snapped. And girls were probably worse than boys, because they went for mental torture. Being clever and being an Hon. had marked Vicky as a major target at school. She hadn't said a word to her mother, knowing that Mara had been too self-absorbed to do anything about it. But Charlie had found Vicky crying one afternoon after school and had made her tell him what was wrong. He and Seb had taught their younger sister the rudiments of judo so she could defend herself—and Vicky had practised on them enough to make sure that when she finally gave in to the demands for a cat-fight on the playing field, she'd left the bullies flat on their backs and crying. She'd had detention every lunch-time for half a term afterwards, but it had been worth it. The bullying had stopped.

'Poor kid,' she said feelingly. 'Was he knocked out, do you know?'

'He says not. But he was late for school, and the teacher picked up that he seemed a bit confused and drowsy. She wondered if he'd been sniffing glue or something and sent him to the first-aid room. He said he had a headache but wouldn't tell anyone anything.'

Of course not. If you told, it just drove the bullying underground. They were sweetness and light in front of the teachers, and when you were on your own you were really in for it. No more nasty letters, because they could be traced back—but there would be name-calling, deliberately breaking your things, accidentally-on-purpose tripping you up, or taking something precious and playing 'catch' with it until you were running frantically around like a hamster on a wheel, desperate to get it back.


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