'No.' She rolled her eyes, 'For someone so bright, you can be remarkably dense. Jake, I want you to do the op.'

CHAPTER TWELVE

She wanted him to do it?

How the hell could he stand in Theatre with the woman he loved on the operating table in front of him and cut into her brain? 'No.'

'What do you mean, no?' Vicky stared at him. 'You've done the operation before—you know how to free the neck of the aneurysm from the feeding vessels without rupturing it so you can put a clip round it. You're familiar with microsurgical techniques. I've seen you work, Jake. I even know how neatly you close incisions.'

He closed his eyes for a moment. 'I can't do it on ethical grounds. I'm involved with you, Vicky.'

'There isn't a hospital policy about not being able to operate on family members or people you're involved with. Well...not that I can think of. And we've kept it quiet about seeing each other, anyways. So you won't get into trouble.'

'I don't give a damn about getting into trouble. I'm saying that I'm involved with you so I can't be detached enough.'

'That's an easy one to solve.' She folded her arms. 'As from now, we're history.'

Considering that they were in bed together, naked... He shook his head. 'No, we're not. And even if you go through with dumping me, it's not going to stop me being in love with you. I can't operate on you, Vicky.'

She tightened her arms, and he realised that she was shaking and trying to pretend she wasn't. 'Ah, Vicky. Don't do this.' He put his arms round her, holding her close against him again. 'I love you. And it's not over between us until you look me in the eye, tell me you don't give a damn about me and mean it.'

She was still shaking. 'I don't give a damn about you.'

'Look me in the eye and say that,' he challenged softly.

But although she twisted round to face him, she didn't say it. He didn't gloat. He just kissed her. He needed to feel her mouth on his, feel her breasts pressed against his chest and her heart beating.

'I love you. And nothing's going to change that,' he said softly when he broke the kiss.

'Then do this for me. Please.' Her breath hitched. 'If I have this operation, I need to be in the hands of someone I trust. Someone I trust with my future career—someone I trust with my whole life.'

She'd said she needed him. Trusted him. But she still hadn't used the L word. He tried, very hard, not to mind.

'If you loved me,' she said very softly, pulling back from him, 'really loved me, you'd do it.'

'I do really love you—and that's why I can't do it. I told you, I can't be detached enough. I can't be a surgeon and pretend it's just another operation on my list and make what might be a really tough clinical decision when it's the woman I love under my knife. If it...' The thought was unbearable. His voice cracked. 'If it goes wrong, how would I ever live with myself?'

'It won't go wrong. I believe in you.' She paused. 'If you let someone else do it, and it goes wrong, won't you always be asking yourself, "What if?" Won't you ask yourself if you could have done it better—done it right?'

Of course he would, and they both knew it. 'You're playing dirty.'

'I know. And I'm sorry.'

He could see that on her face. Guilt mixed with fear and pleading. Yet she wasn't the guilty one—he was. He gathered her to him. 'It's all my fault.'

'How do you work that out?'

'I'm a jinx. I loved my mum and dad. They died. I loved my nan. She died. I love you, and...' The words stuck in his throat. Choking him. Oh, God. Please, don't let this be happening. Please, let it all be a bad dream. Please, let him wake up and find he was just in Vicky's arms and everything was just how it had been yesterday morning.

She took his hands and pulled back from him slightly. 'Look at me, Jake Lewis. Look me in the eye. You're not a jinx. Your mum and dad died, yes—but it was an accident. You were twelve at the time and you were on another continent! How could you possibly have had anything to do with it? And your nan... You know the stats. Strokes happen. The risks increase with age. She was—how old?'

'Seventy.'

'Seventy. It wasn't your fault.' She paused. 'Look at it another way. If it's a jinx, then this is third time lucky. Because, this time, you can do something about it. You're here, now, right in the thick of it. You can fix this.'

Or make it worse. 'I need to think about this.'

'It's the only way.'

'Give me time, Vicky,' he said hoarsely. 'Please.'

'Sure. We won't talk about it any more tonight.' She kissed him lightly. 'Let's go and make dinner together. And I'm sorry I, um, wasted the take-away.'

'It was mutual.' He smiled wryly. 'And you're just a little bit more important than a brown paper bag full of food.'

'I'm glad to hear it.'

'Even if it was red chicken curry with sticky jasmine rice,' he added, teasing her.

She groaned. 'Don't tell me you bought those tiny little spring rolls.'


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