DR. JEFF Martin was listening to his patient’s endless babble with half an ear, most of his attention focused on her legs, which weren’t healing as fast as he would like. He knew what the problem was, and more to the point, so did she. At a shade over a hundred years old, Mrs. Gillard was finally starting to wear down and her body was telling her to rest, a fact she blatantly ignored. The skin on her shins was ulcerated and weeping.
“You’ve been rushing around too much, Helen,” he said, cutting across her current story as politely as he could. He’d heard it before, and as much as he didn’t mind tales of her gorgeous great-grandson—he’d seen the photos, and the man was stunning—now he was far more concerned with his patient’s health.
“I have not,” Mrs. Gillard denied.
Jeff raised one eyebrow, daring her to lie to his face again. “So you didn’t go to bingo last week? Or bowling on Monday. And what was it on Tuesday?”
“Rose’s funeral,” she muttered, refusing to look into his eyes.
“How did it go?” he asked, starting to bandage her leg again. One of her friends, Rose Owens, had finally succumbed after a stroke a couple of weeks previously. Helen had talked about Rose before.
“Raucous,” she said. “It could never be anything different with the Owenses.”
Jeff grinned. “What happened?”
“It was loud but at least young Paul behaved for once. He was draped over a rather nice American lad. Sam’s Liam gave the eulogy. Had us all in tears. Rose would have killed him if she’d heard it.” Mrs. Gillard sighed. “She was very lucky to have a family like that.”
Jeff frowned as he secured the dressing. “What do you mean? You’ve got a family like the Owenses.”
“I don’t think they care for me like Rose’s family cared for her.”
Jeff sat back on his heels and looked at her, noting the tears threatening to spill over onto her wrinkled cheeks. “What’s happened, Helen?”
“I had words with Maureen.”
“Your… daughter-in-law?” Mrs. Gillard’s family, while not as extensive as the Owens clan, stretched over several generations, and Jeff was hard put to remember all their names.
Mrs. Gillard nodded, and a tear trickled down each cheek.
“Why did you have words?”
“She wants Norman to put me in a home. She says I can’t be trusted to look after myself.”
Jeff held back a sigh. Maureen had a point. Although Helen Gillard was fiercely independent, she was finding it more difficult to look after herself, and combined with noncompliance about keeping her feet up, there was going to come a point when she couldn’t carry on alone. Norman and Maureen were in their seventies, and not in a position to look after Helen at home. It fell to her great-grandson, Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome, to look after her for shopping and cleaning.
“Would it be so bad? A couple of the nursing homes on the island are really good.” He could recommend a few homes on the Isle of Wight if they needed a list.
“If you’re about to croak,” Mrs. Gillard snapped. “I’m not ready to go out in my box just yet, thank you, Dr. Martin.”
Jeff saw the fear in her eyes. “Accepting a little extra help isn’t admitting defeat, Helen.”
“Wait until your kids want to force you out of your home. See how you like it.”
There wasn’t a chance in hell Jeff was going to have kids at any age, but he kept his mouth shut. “What do you want?”
“I want to die in my bed. I’ve lived here nearly eighty years, doctor. Can’t they wait just a little longer to get their hands on my money?”
Jeff patted her gnarled hand. “Let’s see about getting you some more care at home, before you have to worry about going into a home.”
Mrs. Gillard fumbled for her handkerchief and blew her nose. “Thank you.”
“But the deal’s off if I find you’ve been overdoing it, okay?” He waggled his eyebrows, and she giggled and sniffed.
“You just won’t find out.”
“They give you away.” He pointed at her bandaged legs.
Helen shook her gnarled fist at them. “Traitors!”
“I’ll get the nurse in to dress them tomorrow. If they don’t improve, you’re going to have to go back into hospital, and you don’t want to give Maureen any extra ammunition, do you?”
“I’ll try.” She sounded like a small child being scolded by her mother.
Jeff washed his hands and was about to leave when he heard the front door open and close.
“Gran, are you here?”
Mrs. Gillard’s eyes brightened. “Cameron. In here, duck.”
Before Jeff could make his escape, Cameron walked into the lounge, the ready smile morphing into a look of surprise as he saw Jeff.
“Hi. I’m Dr. Martin.” Bloody hell! The man was even more gorgeous in real life than he was in the numerous photos Jeff had seen. Jeff was hard put not to drool.
They shook hands, and then Cameron bent to give Mrs. Gillard a kiss on the cheek.
Jeff knew from Mrs. Gillard’s ramblings that Cameron was twenty-seven, which made him six years younger than Jeff. Cameron had only just had his birthday. Tall enough that Jeff had to look up, large hazel eyes framed by dark lashes, broad shoulders, long legs, and…. Jeff dragged his gaze away from Cameron’s arse as he bent over. Damn, Jeff needed to think of his boyfriend.
“I must be going,” he said, picking up his bag. He caught a flash of something in Cameron’s expression.
“Don’t let me drive you away. I’m only here to see if Gran needs anything.”
“I’ve finished,” Jeff said. “I’m due at the next patient.” Past due, Jeff realized as he looked at the clock. The surgery would not be pleased with him if he got behind. “Remember what I said.” He looked pointedly at Helen.
Jeff frowned, because that meek tone was totally fake, and saw a similar expression on Cameron’s face.
“What are you up to?” Cameron asked her.
“Nothing,” Mrs. Gillard said.
“Helen needs to stay off her feet or she’ll end up back in hospital,” Jeff said.
Cameron snorted. “Good luck with that.”
Jeff grinned as Mrs. Gillard frowned. Cameron grinned back, and something in Jeff melted.
“I’ve got to go,” he said hastily and left before he betrayed his interest in a wholly inappropriate and unprofessional fashion.
Cameron caught up with him at the door. “I’m glad we finally met, Dr. Martin. Gran talks about you all the time.”
Jeff clutched his bag in front of him, because the man was too gorgeous for his own good. “Likewise. Look, I really have to go, but you’ve got to encourage her to stay put. Her legs are really bad at the moment.”
“If they get any worse, I’m going to get her admitted.”
Cameron shoved his hand through his hair, ruffling the black curls. Jeff itched to smooth them out. “I’ll try, but you know what she’s like.”
They stared at each other, and Jeff wondered if it was his imagination that Cameron seemed as reluctant for Jeff to leave as Jeff was to go. Fortunately—or not—Jeff’s phone rang.
“I’ve—ah—got to answer this.”
“Yes, yes, of course.” Cameron opened the door, and Jeff fled down the path, apologizing profusely to one of the practice receptionists for being delayed and offering his nonexistent firstborn child by way of payment. He promised to make up the time as quickly as he could.
Jeff got into his car and looked at the clock. He groaned, knowing he was going to have to work through lunch to catch up before the afternoon surgery. As he started the car, something caught his eye, and he glanced over at Mrs. Gillard’s house. Was it his imagination, or was Cameron watching him from behind the curtain?
LATER THAT afternoon, Jeff was writing up his notes when he was disturbed by a knock at the door.
The practice manager poked her head around the door. “Have you got a minute, Dr. Martin?”
Jeff plastered a smile to his face. “For you, anytime.”
She shut the door and sat down by his desk. “I received one or two complaints today.”
“I’m sorry, Heather. What have I done?”
“You were late. You’ve got to keep to the schedule.”
It wasn’t the first time Heather had scolded him for his timekeeping. Not the first, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
“Mrs. Johnson?” he asked ruefully. He had had to apologize at least five times to the elderly woman before she would let him over the threshold.
“And Mr. Goldsmith. You know he hates his lunch being late.”
“I got there at eleven forty-five, and I was out by eleven fifty-nine. His lunch doesn’t arrive until twelve forty-five,” Jeff protested. “If he wants an earlier appointment, he should ask for one.”
“If you’d been on time, he wouldn’t have complained.”
“Yes, he would.” The old goat complained about something every time, from tardiness to cold hands.
“Okay, so yes, he would. But the fact remains, you upset the patients when you are late.”
Jeff pressed his lips together. He didn’t need scolding for doing his job. “I’m not going to leave patients who need me.”
“Who needed you?”
“Mrs. Gillard. She was upset and needed to talk.”
“She needs full-time nursing care, not your time.”
“She’s not ready for that yet.” At Heather’s huff, Jeff took a deep breath and silently counted to twenty. He knew she had a point, but Helen Gillard was his patient and he made the medical decisions for her, not some administrator. “I’ve apologized to all the patients. No one had to reschedule.”
“Is Maureen giving Helen a hard time?”
“Something like that,” he said cautiously.
“She’s an old cow. I don’t know how Norman has put up with her all these years.”
“She must have done something right,” Jeff said. “They’ve been married for fifty years.”
“Norman spends his life in the shed.”
Jeff raised an eyebrow. “The shed?”
“His garden shed. He spends every moment he can in there.”
“Do you know the family?”
“Mum and Maureen used to go to school together. Mum can’t stand her, but she has to be polite.” Heather snickered. “You should hear what she calls her behind her back.”
“You can see why I feel sorry for Helen, then. Maureen’s nagging her to go into care. I think she does need extra help. What do you know about her great-grandson?”
“Yes. I met him today.”
“Not much,” Heather said. “He was at school with my daughter, but they weren’t friends.”
“Why does he look after his gran?”
“He’s the only one who gives a shit, frankly. All the others are just waiting for her to die so they can get their hands on her inheritance.”
“She said something similar. God, that’s sad.”
Heather shrugged before she got to her feet. “Not every family cares. Anyway, consider yourself chastised. Don’t do it again, Dr. Martin.”
Jeff saluted her, snickering when she poked her tongue out. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Huh?” Jeff had turned back to his notes before she’d even got to the door. He blinked, trying to focus back on the conversation.
“Trisha. Your girlfriend, remember?”
Jeff had a particular problem with remembering who Trisha was. She only existed in his imagination—the fake girlfriend to stop the island busybodies trying to set him up with their granddaughters.
“Oh… she’s fine.”
“Are you seeing her this weekend? You’re off, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. I’m driving up on Friday night.” To see Tris, not Trisha.
Heather blinked. “Are you insane?”
“I must be. I wanted to go on Thursday, but no one would swap shifts with me.” Jeff spent many hours on the road, traveling nearly three hundred miles to Manchester to see his boyfriend.
“How long have you been together?”
Jeff thought for a moment. “A decade. Since uni. Although we’ve never lived together.”
“Ten years? When are you going to make an honest woman of her?”
“Tris—sha doesn’t believe in marriage.” Or commitment. Or anything remotely approaching a relationship.
“You really need to pin her down. Force the issue.” Heather sounded indignant.
He gave her a rueful grin. “Why would I do that?”
“Ten years, Jeff. Ten years. You’re not getting any younger, and if you want kids….”
Jeff rolled his eyes. “I’m thirty-three, Heather, not ninety-three. Not everyone is into kids, you know.”
Heather tilted her head as she stared at him. “Funny, I always thought you were into kids. You’re so good with them.”
“That’s because I can hand them back.”
Jeff had thought about having a family over the years. Of course he had. But somehow he’d never pictured him and Tris settling down with rug rats. Tris had never shown the slightest inclination to start a family, and Jeff had mentally filed it to one side, along with living together, a civil partnership, and coming-out.
“You’re a funny bloke,” Heather said, and to Jeff’s relief, she walked out and shut the door.
Funny? Jeff had never thought of himself as comical. She didn’t make it sound like a compliment. Jeff shrugged and went back to his notes.
DAISY DIED at the crossroads in Shanklin. Daisy was Jeff’s car, an old Nissan Micra held together with love and desperation. Andy, his mechanic, had given up on Daisy years ago, but she was his first car and he was reluctant to say good-bye to her.
He turned over the engine. Nothing. Not even a click to say she was trying. Jeff begged and pleaded with her, to the sound of impatient horns behind, but still nothing. Jeff switched on the hazard lights, got out of the car, and waved apologetically to the cars behind. He started to push her to the side of the road.
“Want a hand, doc?”
Jeff looked up to see Cameron Gillard. “If you wouldn’t mind, before I upset everyone.”
“You steer, I’ll push.”
With the extra help, Daisy was shoved to the side of the road and the traffic flowed past. Jeff stretched, pretending to ignore the dark looks from the drivers he’d inconvenienced.
Cameron smiled at him. “Not a problem. What happened?”
“She just died while I was waiting at the traffic lights.”
“Daisy.” Cameron’s lips twitched. “Yeah, I know. She just suits the name.”
“Was she named after anyone? An old girlfriend?”
“My dog. We had a golden retriever when I was a kid.” Jeff had loved that mutt and been devastated when they’d finally put her to sleep.
“How long have you had this old lady?” Cameron patted the rust-spotted roof.
“Eleven years. She is my first and only car.” Jeff smiled at her fondly, and then not so fondly as he remembered he was going to have to call out his garage.
“Do you want me to take a look at her?”
“I’m a mechanic. I’m happy to check her out. See if I can get her going.”
“That’d be great. Andy’ll only laugh if I call him out again.”
“Yeah, do you know him?”
“I know him.”
Jeff couldn’t fail to notice the edge in Cameron’s voice. While Jeff was deciding whether to make a comment, Cameron popped the bonnet of the car and inspected the engine.
“I know nothing about cars,” Jeff confessed.
“I know nothing about medicine, so we’re even,” Cameron said easily.
Jeff contrasted his easy tone with Andy, who never failed to make Jeff feel less than a man because he didn’t know how to change a spark plug. “I know she’s a heap of rust.”
“Don’t give up on the old girl.” Cameron’s voice was muffled. “She may surprise you yet.”
“Are we talking about Daisy or your grandmother?”
“Either. Both.” Cameron stood and wiped his hands down his jeans, leaving grease smears down his thighs.
Jeff tried not to stare at the lines.
“If there’s one thing Gran has taught me, it’s not to discount something that’s old just because it’s got a few years on the clock.”
“Your gran is a wise woman.” Jeff had learned early on in his medical career not to underestimate elderly people.
“Try her again.”
“Daisy. Try her again.”
“Oh. Oh!” Jeff scurried into the passenger seat and switched on the engine. Daisy coughed once, twice, and then she purred into life. Jeff breathed a sigh of relief and smiled at Cameron. “What was wrong? No, don’t bother to tell me. I’ll still have no clue.”
Cameron grinned. “She should be fine now.”
“Thanks, Cameron. Let me take you out for a beer sometime.”
“That’d be great. What are you doing this weekend?”
“I’m away, visiting my… girlfriend. Next week sometime?”
Cameron frowned. “Oh. Okay. Well, see you around.”
He walked away abruptly, leaving Jeff staring after him, wondering what he’d just said to annoy him. Jeff mentally filed it under what the hell and drove away, relieved that Daisy seemed to be back to normal.
Tris’s crisp tones rang in Jeff’s ear.
“Hi. Jeff, are you nearly here?” Tris never seemed to modulate his tone, whether he was talking to a client or his friends.
“I haven’t left yet. I’ve got to finish up some notes. I was calling to tell you I’ll be really late, so don’t lock the door.”
“You said you’d be on your way just after lunch. I’ve made plans for the evening.”
“I’m sorry,” Jeff apologized, though he was racking his brains trying to remember when he’d made any such plans. He never managed to get away before six on a Friday and ended up being stuck on the motorways and A roads for hours as he negotiated the rush hour. “I’m booked on the eight o’clock ferry. I don’t suppose I’ll be with you much before midnight.”
“I’ll have to go by myself.” Tris huffed in his ear.
Jeff tried not to lose his patience. “What did you have planned?”
“It doesn’t matter now, does it?”
“I really am sorry, Trissy. Was it important?”
“I’ve got a new client. Important clients. I wanted you to meet them.”
Jeff would never have admitted it, but he mentally thanked the wee Thompson twins for delaying his departure by several hours. In the past he had been forced to sit through many meals with Tris’s “important” clients, and they were mind-numbingly boring events. He sat with a fake smile plastered on his face, listening to Tris and the client talk business while the client’s wife pushed food around her plate and asked him if he’d watched EastEnders the night before. The fact that he was a doctor seemed unimportant when they discovered he was a GP rather than some hotshot consultant.
“Next time, eh?”
“If you can be bothered to turn up at a reasonable hour,” Tris snapped. He disconnected the call, leaving Jeff staring at the phone.
The temptation to text Tris and tell him he wasn’t coming was overwhelming. He hated spending Fridays and Sundays traveling to and from Manchester, and if Tris was in a mood, then it would really be a waste of his weekend. Then he felt guilty because he hadn’t made the effort for several weekends, mainly because he’d been on call. Tris rarely came down to him because he was tired on a Friday evening after a busy week with long hours. The fact that Jeff worked equally long hours didn’t seem to register with Tris.
Jeff sighed and looked at his notes. “I’m going to go. It’ll be fine once I get there.”
He didn’t sound convincing, even to himself.
A soft knock at the door interrupted him. “Come in.”
“Dr. Martin?” Heather advanced with a pile of folders.
Jeff eyed them in alarm. “If you’re going to tell me I have to look at these now, I’m going to cry.”
“These are for Monday.”
The practice wasn’t yet fully computerized, and Heather insisted on keeping computer and written notes.
She frowned as she looked at the clock. “Why are you still here?”
“The Thompson twins had a scare.”
Heather rolled her eyes. “What was it this time?”
“Mum thought it was meningitis.”
“What was it?”
“When is she going to realize that those boys aren’t her little preemie babies anymore?”
Mrs. Thompson was notorious among the doctors for her frequent visits with her four-year-old twin boys. Heather had a point. Born three months early, the boys had been the tiniest scraps Jeff had ever seen, and for the first year of their lives, had been in and out of hospital. But that was a long time ago, and now they were healthy boys just starting school. Mum hadn’t made the mental adjustment to see her kids for what they really were.
“She’s just nervous,” Jeff said.
“She needs to be told.”
Jeff held up his hands. “Don’t look at me. I’m not upsetting her. Every time I upset a patient, you tell me off. Why can’t you tell her?”
“Because I’m not a doctor. She won’t listen to me.”
“She won’t listen to me either.”
Jeff wasn’t exactly sure who Mrs. Thompson would listen to, but in the meantime she panicked about every sniffle.
The top name on the pile of folders caught his eye. “What does Mrs. Gillard want?”
“It isn’t Mrs. Gillard. It’s Maureen. She wants to talk on behalf of her mother-in-law.”
Jeff curled his lip. “What does she really want?”
“I wouldn’t presume to say,” Heather said primly.
“But you’re going to anyway.” Jeff knew his practice manager far too well.
Heather ignored his jibe and plonked herself down next to him. “Maureen wants to get her mother-in-law into sheltered housing.”
“I told you that at the beginning of the week. That’s why I was late. Mrs. Gillard’s really upset about it.”
“Well, Maureen wants us to force the issue.”
“She does know we can’t do that, doesn’t she?”
“I think she thinks we can section Mrs. Gillard for her own good.”
Jeff groaned. “Why do we have to get involved? Helen Gillard’s perfectly capable of making her own decisions.”
“You can’t deny she needs extra help.”
“She just needs a care package.”
“Maureen isn’t going to be pleased if you suggest that.”
“Maureen can take a long walk off a short pier. It’s got nothing to do with her. Helen’s of sound mind, even if she is a stubborn old cow. Does her grandson know about Maureen’s visit?”
“Cameron. Isn’t he the one who cares for Helen?”
“I guess so. I don’t think he knows.” When Jeff eyed her speculatively, Heather held up her hands. “Oh no, I’m not getting involved.”
“There must be some way we could let him know. Isn’t he a car mechanic?”
“Yeah, he works near Chale Green.”
“I know the place.” Jeff nibbled on his thumbnail.
“What are you thinking, Dr. Martin?”
“I’m thinking Daisy needs looking at before I make a long journey to Manchester.”
“You’re a wicked man.” Heather laughed.
Jeff feigned an innocent look. “Just looking after my patient.”
“Are you sure it’s the right thing for Mrs. Gillard? She’s pretty old now.”
“If it was anyone but Helen, I’d agree with you,” Jeff said. “But she’s got more life in her than half the island put together.”
“Now that I agree with. You need to get away to see your lady, though.”
“Eh? Oh yes, Trisha.”
She gave him an odd look. “You know, sometimes I wonder if this woman really exists.”
“You think I’ve made up a girlfriend?”
“Well, have you?” Heather demanded.
“No. No!” he said a little louder when Heather gave him a disbelieving look.
“Have you got a picture of her?”
Jeff did his level best not to panic. “No. Not since I changed my phone.” Good save, Jeff.
“It’s no shame if you haven’t got a girlfriend,” she said quietly.
“I know that.”
Heather got to her feet. “As long as you do.”
Jeff took a deep breath as she walked out of the door. Heather always made him feel like he’d been through a wringer. He adored her to bits, but Lord, the woman was hard work. He looked at the name on top of the first folder. He really didn’t have time to drive over to Cameron’s garage on some fake pretext that Daisy needed a service. He checked, and Cameron’s mobile number was on Helen’s records. Before he could talk himself out of it, he made the phone call, his stomach churning as he waited for Cameron to answer.
“Hi, Cameron? It’s Dr. Martin from the surgery.”
“Hi. Is everything all right?” Cameron sounded slightly panicked.
“Yes, yes everything’s fine. I wanted to find out if you were coming in with your gran on Monday.”
“Gran doesn’t have an appointment on Monday.”
“By your gran, I mean Maureen. She’s coming to talk about your great-grandmother. I wondered if you were coming with her.”
“No,” Cameron said grimly. “I didn’t know anything about this. Thank you for telling me.”
“I’m sorry if I spoke out of turn.”
“You didn’t. I’m glad you told me. What time is it?”
Jeff checked his list for Monday on the computer. “Nine thirty.”
“I’ll be there,” Cameron said. “Nine thirty. Does Gran know about the appointment?”
“You mean Helen? I don’t know.”
“I’ll find out.”
Jeff winced. He could just imagine Helen’s reaction when she found out about the meddling daughter-in-law.
Cameron spoke again. “I’m sorry, Dr. Martin, I’ve got to go. See you Monday.”
Jeff disconnected the call and nodded to himself. There was a potential fallout from his interference, but he didn’t care. He was a firm believer in every party being involved in medical decisions, including the patient.
And now he really had to get to Manchester, or he wasn’t going to get there at all.