'Has it ever occurred to you,' she asked quietly, 'that it's more stressful for me doing nothing? Jake, I'm used to hard work. It doesn't bother me. I like being busy. But if I have to sit around and do nothing for the next week, I'll go crazy. That's my definition of stress. Please. I want to go in tomorrow.'
'What shift are you supposed to be on?'
'Late. Same as you.'
'OK. But if you feel the slightest bit rough,' Jake warned, 'you stop.'
'So what were you going to tell me?' he asked.
She smiled. 'Tomorrow.'
'Why not now?'
'Because,' she said softly, 'I need to believe tomorrow's going to come.'
He flinched and she stroked his face. 'I'm going to be all right, Jake. Because you're going to do the operation. And you're the best neurosurgeon I know.' He just had to believe it, too.
And maybe tomorrow, she'd be able to convince him.
Jake put his head round Vicky's door at four o'clock the following afternoon. 'How are you doing?'
'OK. Got a minute?'
'Sure.' He closed the door behind him.
She took the box from her drawer and handed it to him. 'This is what I was telling you about.'
Nothing on the wrapping gave him a clue about what it was.
'Remember, I bought it the day before yesterday. Before I knew about the aneurysm.'
Slowly, he undid the dark green bow. Took the lid off. And stared in surprise. A row of five hand-made chocolates. With a message piped on the top: V R ♥ J L.
'I was going to tell you the other day. But then this all blew up. And I didn't...' She closed her eyes for a moment. Please, let him believe she was telling the truth. 'I don't want you to think I'm only saying it now to make you operate. Because I'm not. And you can ring the chocolatier and check when I ordered this, if you don't believe me.'
He still hadn't spoken. And she couldn't read his thoughts from his face. He just looked stunned. Shocked.
Or maybe he didn't believe what he was reading. He'd said it enough to her, over the last day or so. Maybe it was time she said the words. Words she'd never, ever thought she'd say to anyone. 'I love you, Jake Lewis. With all my heart.'
She loved him. She loved him.
Jake was unable to speak. He just held her close, his face against her hair. He wasn't dreaming. She'd said it. The Honourable Victoria Radley loved Jake Lewis. And she'd written it in chocolate.
'We're going to get through this, Jake,' she said softly. 'You're going to operate. I'm still going to be professor. And life's going to be just as it was—just as it was before we knew about the aneurysm.'
His heart contracted sharply. He wanted to tell her not to make plans, not to jinx it. Just in case.
'And we're going to get married. We're going to have it all,' she said.
Was that too greedy, asking for way too much? 'I'd settle for getting you safely through next week,' he said softly. He pulled back slightly and kissed her on the tip of her nose. 'You're going to have to tell the ward about the aneurysm,' he warned. 'You can't just let them find out about it when you turn up in here next week as a patient.'
'Or on your operating table.'
Mmm, and he still wasn't a hundred per cent happy about that. 'When are you going to tell them?'
She sighed. 'All right, don't nag. I'll tell them tomorrow. But if anyone pities me or starts treating me like a delicate little flower...'
He laughed. "They wouldn't dare. But people care about you, you know. They're a bit in awe of you, but they care.'
She looked uncomfortable. Why didn't she like people making a fuss over her? From the photographs on her mantelpiece—and the fact that she saw her brothers at least once a week—he knew she was close to Seb and Charlie. But he'd bet that she hadn't said a word to them either. 'Have you told your family yet?'
'Don't you think they'd want to know?'
'They'll fuss. And I'm already having to put up with enough fussing from you.' She narrowed her eyes at him. 'I'll tell them the day before the op.'
'That's not fair, Vicky. It's dropping a bombshell on them. Give them a few days to get used to the idea.'
'No. They'll fuss.'
She refused to discuss it further, so Jake took matters into his own hands. That evening, when she was asleep, he borrowed her mobile phone from her handbag, copied down the two numbers he wanted and made the calls.
The next morning, he told Vicky he'd be late back after his shift because he needed to see someone. To his relief, she assumed it was a fundraising thing for the Lily Lewis Unit and didn't suggest joining him.
When he walked into the bar, he recognised Charlie and Seb immediately. Even if he hadn't seen their photographs, he'd have known who they were because of the family resemblance. The same aristocratic bone structure, dark hair and slate-blue eyes. They looked so much like Vicky, it hurt.
He went over to them and introduced himself.