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I turn to catch the waiter before he gets too far. “Sir—”
“Kiddo!” Dr. Lopez grins and steps between me and my end goal: pilfering every last shrimp on that silver tray.
“Oh, hey, Dr. Lopez.” I try not to sound as dejected as I feel as the waiter disappears into the crowd. “I didn’t realize you’d arrived.”
He chuckles and knocks me gently on the shoulder. “You don’t have to look so sad. You’ll find another boss like me one day.”
That’s not why I was sad, but now it’s why I’m sad.
“At least we still have one last surgery in the morning,” I say with a half-hearted smile.
“I’ll even let you pick the playlist.”
Oh jeez. Tears are welling up in the corners of my eyes. I’d use my crumpled napkin to dab them away but it’s covered in shrimp juice.
“Let’s change the subject or we’ll both be crying.” He chuckles. “Have I already told you that you clean up nice? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen you in anything but scrubs—and your hair’s down.”
At work, it’s all high ponytails and scrub city. Tonight, I probably look like a different human. Thanks to Josie, my eyeshadow is smoky and blended flawlessly like I’m a YouTube beauty influencer. I feel good.
“You look sharp too, Dr. Lopez.”
It’s weird seeing everyone from the practice in their street clothes, albeit nice street clothes. The invitation demanded we dress up, so I had to pull something out of the back of my closet, a cocktail dress I purchased a few years back for a college formal. It’s black and simple, and thankfully, timeless. Unfortunately, it’s slightly tighter in the chest area than it used to be, but hopefully it’s not completely indecent. Josie’s eyes widened when she saw me as I was leaving the house.
“WHOA! Who knew you were so hot?!”
“It’s not too much?” I asked, trying to tug down the hemline.
“Are you kidding? If I had boobs like that, I’d never wear clothes.”
“It’s scary because I don’t even think you’re kidding. Also, I didn’t have these when I was your age either. There’s still hope for you.”
Now, of course, I feel weird thinking about my boobs while in a conversation with my soon-to-be-retired boss, but that’s just life.
“I’d like to introduce you to Dr. Russell tonight when he gets here.”
“He’s not here yet?” I ask the question innocently enough even though I know damn well he’s not here. I stationed myself by the door when I first arrived for two reasons. One, because I think that’s where the buffet line will start, and two, because I wanted to see Dr. Russell as soon as he arrived.
I’m still waiting.
I’m worried he won’t show up. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to make cheesy company parties a priority, even for a colleague like Dr. Russell.
“No, but he told me he’d be here.”
“I watched him operate this morning,” I mention, sounding way more cavalier than I feel.
His brow arches with interest. “And?”
“And it was a really intense surgery. It took a few hours longer than it should have because of faulty hardware. Everyone in the OR was peeing their pants.”
He shrugs as if that’s nothing to worry about. “I heard the surgery was a success.”
“It was but…maybe I have enough stress in my life without going to work for someone like him.”
“Maybe so.” He looks away, claps the back of a guy passing by, and then nods hello to another guest. “Like I said, floor two is still an option.”
I roll my eyes. “C’mon, be serious.”
His eyes glance back to me and he shakes his head. “I am being serious. Believe in yourself. You’re exactly the kind of surgical assistant Dr. Russell needs—and look here, he’s walking in right behind you.”
My stomach drops.
My eyes widen, and even though I want to, I can’t make myself turn around.
A chill runs down my spine knowing he’s behind me. My hand tightens around my balled-up napkin. This feels more ominous than it should. He’s just a surgeon, I remind myself. Just a man! You’ve seen men before!
I slowly venture a glance over my left shoulder, fully prepared to be knocked off my feet by the sight of him, but nope. Jesus. I was not prepared enough.
Midnight suit. Midnight hair. Tall, built frame. Dr. Russell is standing at the threshold of the ballroom, scanning the crowd coolly and deciding if anyone or anything is worth his notice. I wonder if I’d make the cut if Dr. Lopez didn’t take it upon himself to draw his attention. He raises his arm and waves it back and forth, flagging his colleague down. “Dr. Russell!”
His blue gaze cuts to us and my gut clenches. It’s fitting that his eyes are the color of ice. I bat at my arm for an imaginary jacket I can pull closed around myself. It’s a reflex. For some reason, I want to cower. If I could get away with it, I’d step behind Dr. Lopez. Instead, I lift my chin and steel myself against the arctic blast of his approach.
“You’re late,” Dr. Lopez teases.
Dr. Russell shrugs, his eyes still scanning. He still hasn’t really looked at me. “Paperwork called.”
“Don’t worry, you didn’t miss dinner.”
“Good. I didn’t eat lunch and I’m starving.”
Then I realize why he was scanning the room: he was looking for food. A waitress passes and he stops her, taking two little puffed pastries. Meanwhile, the waitress’ eyes widen. Her tongue wets her bottom lip. It’s all probably subconscious on her part. I want to lean in close and tell her I get it. Boy, do I get it. He’s taken the time to shave, and there’s beauty in the sharp contours of his jaw. I think if I ran my finger across it, it’d feel as smooth as silk.
“I was worried you’d miss my party,” Dr. Lopez quips.
The edge of Dr. Russell’s mouth tips up and the waitress finally realizes her presence here is no longer necessary. She reluctantly moves on.
“How could I? You had Patricia leave about forty notes on my desk reminding me.”
They talk without me. Dr. Russell doesn’t seem to notice me standing there, but that doesn’t stop me from studying him. We’ve never had a reason to be this close. I’ve seen him from across conference rooms. I’ve seen the back of his tall figure as he disappeared down a hallway. Once, I nearly bumped into him getting onto the elevator at work. He was too preoccupied reading a file, so I was the one who had to sidestep and veer out of his way. There was no apology, no acknowledgment from him. I had to suppress the urge to utter a bitter, Excuse me!
This proximity is new and heady. After watching him operate this morning, I’ve come to admire (or fear) him even more.
“That’s because I’ve been eager for you to meet Bailey.”
Dr. Lopez’s hand hits my shoulder and he pushes me gently in Dr. Russell’s direction like I’m an offering. Dr. Russell’s eyes finally fall on me, and I’m assessed with a look of cool indifference. Blue eyes meet mine for only a moment. He doesn’t even do a once-over. The expression on his face is unreadable and austere. I might as well be gum on the bottom of his shoe.
“She’s the surgical assistant I’ve been raving about,” Dr. Lopez says, looking down at me proudly.
My cheeks flush and I extend a hand. “Nice to meet you, Dr. Russell.”
He accepts my handshake and for a few seconds, my palm is completely enveloped by the warmth of his grasp. I’m shaking the hand that operated flawlessly this morning. This is the hand that changed that little boy’s life. This is the hand that inspires awe in so many.