This time he did meet her gaze. Uncompromising. ‘Because I asked them to.’
It was the way he said it. The sincerity behind his brown eyes. Every hair at the back of her neck stood on end as if a cool breeze had just blown past.
She could tell he wasn’t going to say any more. His tone had more or less let her know the conversation was over. But it only succeeded in making her more curious than ever.
‘What do you need the money for?’ Her voice came out as a whisper, almost lost in the background noise and chat. There were deep furrows across his brow.
He didn’t have time to answer before the plates were put down in front of them. It only took a few seconds for the wonderful aroma to engulf her. It wasn’t the only thing to engulf her. A wash of relief was sweeping over her too. She’d asked a question she wasn’t sure she wanted an answer to.
The frown on his forehead made it clear he wasn’t happy with her comments. Mitch leaned forward and murmured what each dish contained. He picked up his knife and fork and started eating quietly. The silence was painful.
Things had been so much fun earlier, so festive, so flirty. She certainly knew how to create an atmosphere.
Panic started to flow through her veins. What if he decided to sack her? She needed the income for her mum.
This job was playing havoc with her senses. One minute she was threatening to quit and walk away, the next she was feeling panicked about getting sacked.
The truth was this should all be about the money—and her responsibility to care for her patient. But, slowly and surely, this complicated man was starting to get under her skin.
The rational part of her brain started to kick in. She’d merely asked a few questions. Sure, she was curious about the personal stakes, but the initial questions had been based around his condition. That was fine. That wasn’t a sackable offence.
She took a mouthful of food then sucked in a deep breath. It was time to take a different tack. ‘What about practising, I mean, rehearsals for your tour? Shouldn’t you be doing that now? Your tour starts in two weeks. Isn’t this the time to be running about like crazy, doing all those sound-check things?’
The corners of his mouth turned up and his shoulders relaxed a little at her lack of showbiz knowledge. ‘We’ve done all the rehearsing. We did it in advance as we all wanted to take some holiday time over Christmas and New Year. It was during the rehearsals that I became unwell.’ He ran his fingers through his hair again. ‘I just thought I was working too hard—becoming too focused on what we had to do.’
Pressure. Stress. Those were the words that jumped into her head. Always risk factors for diabetes. Was the tour putting him under undue stress? Because that could affect his diabetic control too.
She was a little surprised. ‘But these are your songs. You know them back to front. I would have thought the rehearsals would have come easy to you.’
He smiled. ‘Just because I can play the guitar and sing the song doesn’t make it easy. There are hundreds of things that can affect a performance. Every arena is different and because of the amplification and the way it can affect the sound, we have to take all of that into consideration. We’re constantly tweaking for every venue we’ll play at.’
‘But what about your health? Isn’t that important to you, Mitch?’
The frown fell back into place. ‘My health is the least of my concerns right now. I just need to be able to stay on my feet and complete this tour.’
The words made her feel uncomfortable. Her nursing instincts were firing shots across her brain. ‘You’re not making this easy. If I don’t think you’re fit I’ll have to say that. I’ve got to be confident that you can keep your blood sugar under control.’ She bit her lip, ‘The truth is, Mitchell, I’ve seen you skiing and we’ve worked out how much carbohydrate you burn while doing that. We can tailor what you eat and how much insulin you take for that activity. But a two-or three-hour concert? I wouldn’t even know where to start.’
She reached across the table and touched his hand. The pads of her fingers tingled as soon as she came into contact with his warm flesh. ‘I’m worried, Mitch. The last thing I want is for you to have a hypo attack in front of thousands of fans. That would be a nightmare. Truth is, the timing of all this is really difficult. The first few weeks of diabetes should be about seeing how to work things around your normal routine. Once that is sorted, then we can look at how a performance affects your blood sugar and plan for that.’ She gave her head a little shake. ‘I hate to say it, but I really think the best thing you can do is cancel.’
‘What?’ His voice echoed around the room, and several heads turned in their direction. Sam felt herself sink into her chair.
He realised immediately what he’d done and lowered his voice, leaning across the table towards her, eyes blazing. ‘I wasn’t kidding when I said this had taken two years to plan, Samantha. You think I can just cancel and set this up for a few months down the line? Not a chance. These venues, these arenas are booked out nearly eighteen months in advance. The timetabling for the band is done even further ahead than that. We have commitments to record a new album. Frank, the drummer, needs surgery—even that’s had to be fitted into our timetable. Cancelling this tour would be a disaster.’ He paused. ‘And not just for us.’
He was deadly serious and her brain was scrambling to decide how to handle this. No matter what she’d seen at the hospital today, Mitchell Brody was used to getting his own way. Like it or not, she was going to have to try and work in a way that fitted around his demands.
He was staring off into space again, lost in his own thoughts. She’d have to give this some consideration. She needed him to work with her, not against her.
His eyes locked on hers. She could almost see the shutters falling into place. If she couldn’t turn this around it wasn’t only dinner that was going to be a bust.
‘We’ll need to do some rehearsals. I’ll need to see you perform for the whole length of the concert. And not just once. We need to do it a few days in a row to see if the overall build-up affects how much insulin you’ll need. This is complicated, Mitch, I can’t just make up these calculations in my head. We need to base it on real life.’ She was bending. She knew she was bending. But she was still allowing for her professional judgement to say no.
His brown eyes fixed on hers. ‘Fine.’
Just like that. No argument. No ranting. Each concession was taking a little less time. A little less effort.
Then it happened. He gave a little shudder, as if he was shaking off the black cloud around his shoulders. She saw him inhale deeply and his gaze softened and he tried to smile.
He leaned towards her. ‘So, Samantha. What about you? How do you feel about being away for Christmas?’
Wow. What a turnaround. She felt a little uneasy. But it was probably best just to go with the flow.
She looked around the room with its evergreen garlands and red bows, the shimmering tree in the corner of the room. There didn’t seem to be a single part of this city that didn’t scream Christmas at you.
The Austrians did Christmas like no others.
It did give her little pangs. It took her back to years gone by when she and her sister hadn’t slept at night with excitement. Their mum had loved Christmas, their whole house full of brightly coloured tinsel. Nothing could beat that feeling of waking up on Christmas morning to see a stuffed-full Christmas stocking at the bottom of their beds. Even as an adult she missed that. No matter how silly it seemed.
She took a deep breath. The words were hard to say. ‘My life has changed. This is how it’s got to be. I know that my mum is somewhere she’s being looked after. I have complete faith in them—and that’s a big thing for me. Trusting someone else with my mum’s care is hard. But I have to do this. Christmas is the most profitable time of year for agency nursing. The last few years I’ve been with a family, caring for a little boy with CF.’
‘Like Rudy at the hospital?’
‘Exactly. They were great. They made me feel like part of the family. His mum and dad really wanted to do everything for him, but they had two other kids to consider too. It made a huge difference for them to have an extra pair of hands they could count on. It meant the whole family could enjoy Christmas with no pressure. I enjoyed doing that for them.’
It was true.
‘Yeah, but Christmas at a price.’ His voice dripped with cynicism.
She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. ‘Don’t say that. I know what you mean. And, yes, his family could afford it. But the whole job, it just didn’t feel like a job. It felt like being part of the family. And at this time of year that’s important.’
He took another forkful of the stew and lifted his eyebrows. ‘So what happened this year?’
‘The little boy—Daniel—he was sick. He’s in hospital.’ A cool chill washed over her skin. She hadn’t phoned Trish to see how he was and she should have. She’d been so wrapped up in Mitchell this last week that she just hadn’t got around to it. What was wrong with her? She never forgot things like that.