"Heavens, I hope so," she said wearily. She glanced at the clock. "Another hour and I can go home."
"See the surgeon," Brad said solemnly. "You're taking a risk."
Her shoulders slumped. "I suppose I am. Maybe that extra money doesn't matter so much after all. Do you like cats?'' she added hopefully.
He shook his head and grinned. "I'm allergic to them. Why?"
"Oh. Never mind." She still had to worry about what to do with the new cat. Perhaps she could work out something with another member of the staff. She'd have to wait and see.
She finished her work, barely, and went off duty after she'd briefed her relief nurse. It was still pouring rain and cold outside. But she heard Ramon's scathing words in her head the whole way, and never noticed the icy wetness on her cheeks.
Ramon came back onto the ward less than half an hour after Noreen had left it, to make one last check of his patients before he went home. He examined carefully "the man whose blood thinners had been given later than scheduled and noted that his progress continued. He was vaguely disturbed with himself for
his attack on Noreen. It wasn't like her to be slow with medicines or overlook notations on the charts. He wondered what had happened.
Brad was just coming out of his last patient's room with his equipment when he saw Ramon waiting for him. He squared his shoulders for a frontal assault, because the surgeon looked more formidable than usual with that scowl on his lean face.
"Why was Noreen slow with the medicine?" he asked bluntly.
Brad's mouth pulled down. "Because she'd been out sick for two days and had to work a double shift tonight. Two of the RNs are down with flu." Ramon's face tautened. "I see." Brad searched the taller man's eyes. "You really should take a good look at Noreen," he replied quietly.
"What do you mean?"
Brad wanted so badly to tell him. But it was Noreen's secret, not his. "Never mind. It's not my business." He nodded and went on his way.
Ramon recorded his notes, and then drove himself home. But even as he pulled into his garage, he knew he wouldn't be able to sleep until he'd apologized to Noreen. With a sigh of resignation, he reversed the car out of the garage and drove the few miles to the apartment house where Noreen lived.
She sounded shocked when he rang the buzzer in her apartment, but she did let him in the front door. She was waiting at her door when he came up the flight of stairs. It was a modest apartment house, with only four occupants, but it was clean and not too spartan.
"What do you want?" Noreen asked, clutching her blue checked housecoat close at the throat. She was barefoot and disheveled, as if she'd been in bed. Surely not; it was barely nine-thirty.
"Donaldson told me you'd been pulling a double shift," he said shortly. "I didn't know."
Her eyebrows arched. "Would it have mattered? I can't think why. Jumping to conclusions about me seems to be your main form of entertainment."
His brows drew together. "All the same, I don't like berating you for..." He paused as he heard a soft sound in the apartment. "What's that?"
She grimaced, quickly looking up and down the hall and toward the staircase. She pulled her housecoat closer and stepped back. "Please come in."
He stepped into the small combination living and dining room and she quickly shut the door, just as a tiny ball of fur came trundling out of the kitchen mewing.
He gaped at it. The tiny thing was smaller than her foot, barely weaned by the look of it, and half-starved to boot. She bent and picked it up, cuddling it under her chin. It purred and purred.
"I'm not allowed to have pets," she explained. "But I couldn't leave it out in the cold rain. It's so tiny."
That was when he really began to have doubts about Noreen's part in Isadora's death. He couldn't drag his eyes away from the tiny kitten in her arms. She had a soft heart. People were forever imposing on her, because she was a sucker for a sob story. Her aunt used to complain about the number of stray animals Noreen would bring home, which had to be properly treated and then given to good homes. Her aunt and uncle didn't approve of pets, so Noreen was never allowed to have any. But that didn't stop her from rescuing the downtrodden of the animal population.
What bothered him about that memory was what it told him about her. She wouldn't even abandon a stray kitten to its fate, so what in the world ever made him think that she'd sacrifice a cousin whom she loved? It was so out of character that he was amazed at how easily he'd blamed her for Isadora's death.
She noticed the sudden paleness of Ramon's face under his swarthy tan and she clutched the kitten closer.
"What do you want?" she asked with accusing eyes. "I'm very tired and I want to go to sleep."
He studied her through different eyes. Her face was wan and there were bright patches on her cheeks. Her breath was erratic, quick. He could see her heart beating against the fabric of the robe, erratically. Something was wrong here.
"Have you seen a doctor?"
"For a virus?'' She laughed, bluffing. "Why would I bother a doctor with something that will wear itself out?"
"I have my bag down in the car," he began.
Her already erratic heart went wild at just the thought of having him listen to her chest. ' T have a doctor of my own," she said through her teeth. "And why do you think I'd let you examine me, even if I were dying?" she added bitterly. "I'd never trust you with a scalpel in your hand. The temptation might be too much for you!"
His sharp intake of breath was audible. "How dare you!" he said through his teeth.
She was too sick to be intimidated by that black
glare. "I'm tired," she said, backing up a step. "Would you please go away and let me sleep?"
He hesitated. Something was wrong, and she didn't trust him enough to tell him what it was. He was suddenly less self-assured. He felt guilty, though God knew why he should. He looked at her with open curiosity, seeing the thinness of her, the dark circles under her eyes.
"You're ill," he exclaimed softly, as if just realizing it.
"I'm tired," she repeated. "I got out of bed too soon after a viral infection, and I did too much. I'll be fine tomorrow. I don't need a doctor to tell me that, either."
Her cheekbones were high. She had a lovely mouth, just the right shape and size. Her skin was creamy and faintly flushed. He noted that her hair was in a long pigtail down her back, and he wondered again what it would look like if she freed it.
"Please go," she repeated nervously.
He didn't want to leave. He was genuinely worried about her. "Get a checkup, at least," he said.
"I'll gladly do that, but not tonight. Now, can I please go to bed...?"
He made a rough sound and turned on his heel. "If you don't feel better in the morning, stay home," he said gruffly.
"Don't presume to give me orders," she said calmly. "I'll do what I please."
He glanced over his shoulder at her. She'd blended into the woodwork for most of the time he'd known her. But nothing could disguise the fact that she was a woman, with spirit and independence and intelligence. Isadora had yielded to his will, flattered his ego, stroked his passions at first until she obsessed him. But she hadn't been intelligent and she never fought face-to-face. She was given to pouting and self-inflicted illnesses to gain sympathy. And she would never have soiled her hands with a wet kitten... His own thoughts shocked him. How could he be so disloyal to the only woman he'd ever loved?
"Good night," he said tersely. He went out the door and paused just for an instant. "Lock this behind me."
She glared at his retreating back. She slammed the door and then locked it. She leaned against the wall, barely able to get her breath. Her knees were weak. Why had he come to see her? Was it really a guilty conscience that had prompted his visit? She couldn't imagine what would have brought him to her door. He hated her so much that she'd never expected him to come to her home. He never had before.
On his way home again, Ramon was wondering about his motives, too. He kept seeing the spartan way she lived, the lack of frills, the frugal furnishings. She was obviously living on her salary, without any help at all from her aunt and uncle. Was that by choice, or did they simply ignore her now that Isadora was gone? He couldn't forget that they'd blamed her as much as he had for his wife's fatal illness.
He worried the question so much that the next time he saw the Kensingtons, at a business dinner, he asked them point-blank about the way Noreen lived.
"She earns a good living," Mary Kensington said haughtily. "Besides, we don't owe Noreen a thing. She's responsible for Isadora's death. How can you care how she lives?"