#24HoursInMandB - Runaway Heart Surgeon by Marie Timlin
Congratulations to Marie Timlin for her scintillating Runaway Heart Surgeon - read the entry below and follow the instructions beneath to vote for Marie!
Maggie Fitzgerald sat frozen in disbelief the moment she laid eyes on the man confidently taking his seat on stage. Her stunned mind screamed OMG! Kulvinder Gill was here in this very lecture hall! Her sweaty palms clutched the program in a death grip. Harvey Smith. The lecturer was listed as Harvey Smith. The Cardiac Symposium’s main topic – stem cell research – definitely Kul’s world but --How could he be up there on stage? In Los Angeles at the same time as her? The ghastly coincidence must be someone’s idea of a joke. Her returning confidence and belief in her coping abilities were shot to hell in the space of one nanosecond. She would know the deceptively indolent stroll of the tall dark-haired, dark-skinned surgeon anywhere.
What was he doing here? Mind reeling, Maggie fought off panic as she looked around in search of a means of escape. For one heart stopping moment her fuzzed brain screamed. He knows I’m here! He’s found out about Cameron. Oh… God… No… Half expecting him to be staring at her from the podium she found the wit to look up to check. Kulvinder seemed concentrated on the host, head tilted to one side, listening with keen intelligence.
How could the man who had altered the course of her life be sitting so casually on stage in her direct line of vision? If she stood up he would see her for sure. A loud gasp escaped her lips and she clamped a hand over her mouth in a desperate attempt not to scream. Mr. Know-it-all in the chair next to her turned around in surprise.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
She had! A ghost from her past.
Same glossy black hair, or was it tinged with a little silver? Exotic film star beauty and those eyes. Eyes that could melt her from ten paces back then…Tears of frustration and desperation welled up as Maggie frantically searched for the exits. She tried to speak but nothing came out past the lump in her throat. Stomach churning nerves turned her knees to jelly, stalling any thought of making a dash for it.
An expectant buzz presided over the audience as the event facilitator took hold of the mic. “Ladies and Gentlemen. You may think you recognize the next speaker from amongst our Hollywood colleagues sharing this facility today. At dinner last night he was asked for his autograph at least four times!”
Maggie heard delighted laughter from the audience. Last night, she too had reveled in the movie atmosphere that was abuzz in this elegant West Hollywood hotel. The fact that Ron Howard himself was here as a guest, while his team filmed a promotion for his latest movie release, leant excitement to the proceedings. She was so lucky to attend this medical conference on stem cell research and then to find the film folks from LA LA Land all in the same elegant surroundings.
Was it only last night she’d messaged Simone, her BFF back in Glasgow, “You would not believe”…she’d caught herself sounding like a Californian cheerleader on team day.
Eat your heart out. I am in the swankiest hotel ever, with my posh clothes on sipping chilled Chablis at the most amazing piano bar. Ok, I am lying. I was at the piano bar but some sleazy man in a white suit wouldn’t take his eyes off me so now I am tucked up safely in my ‘shabby chic’ bedroom like a good little girl. There are real, live movie stars staying here. Maybe I will get a part in a movie! Wish your powers of persuasion had worked this time Sim, we could have a blast here together. Missing you as ever…
Now she could only stare in disbelief as the man who had discarded her to marry someone else sat there with a self deprecating grin that only the truly confident could muster.
With a nod in Kulvinder’s direction the facilitator continued. “Ron Howard assures me that you will definitely be considered for the part in Alexander the Great should the handsome lead step down, but please, don’t give up your day job!” More laughter. “Eminent colleagues, I am delighted to introduce a fellow cardiac surgeon who gained his experience in Glasgow and London before earning world renowned respect in the field of myocardial stem cell research. Kulvinder Gill is a good friend and fellow researcher of the event host, Harvey Smith, who unfortunately had a family emergency and could not make it today…”
Add snake, bastard and all round scum to his list of achievements. Maggie couldn’t control the convulsive shaking of her shoulders. Fear rooted her to the spot. The hairs on the back of her neck stood to attention, reacting to the clipped vowels and slightly accented English as the man who had turned her life upside down began his lecture oblivious to her presence.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. Perhaps after my talk I may be seeking employment with the cast and crew of Alexander the Great.” A few chuckles… “Bear with me while I take you through the UK clinical trials that compares with my eminent colleague from Cedars-Sinai data.” The lights dimmed as the first slide appeared on the screen.
So. He’d completed his research? Maggie knew that was his dream. Good to know he’d managed to get on with his life while hers fell apart with astonishing momentum. Shock and a horrifying sense of déjà vu vied with utter confusion as Kulvinder, “call me Kul,” smoothly led in to the next slide, charming his audience with skill and verve, as she’d watched him do countless times before.
Her heart palpated a mad beat in time with the incessant jiggling of one leg. She put a hand on her thigh to still the shaking. One thing was certain, she had to find a way out before he saw her, she could not face meeting the biggest disaster of her life. Last night Simone returned her instant message to congratulate her on having “moved on” and now with this ridiculous reaction to Kul’s presence, she could imagine her sophisticated girl friend delightedly cackling from the side lines.
Scrambling around in her handbag, furtively searching out some tissue, Maggie decided to make a run for it right before the lights came on for question time. No doubt the irritating man seated next to her would ask the presenter yet another interminable question and she would be exposed.
“The Arturo trial found remarkably similar results with implantation of their first batch of stem cells as you can see on the next slide…” that honeyed voice continued to assault her senses from every loudspeaker. Surrounded by the sound of him as well as the vision of him Maggie’s instinct to run reached fever pitch. How could she get out of here without making a scene? Trust her to put on the “look at me” scarlet summer dress and matching glossy pumps to mark her “moving on.” With her bright red hair and milky white skin she would stick out a mile amongst all these suited and tanned individuals if she attempted a quick getaway mid- lecture.
How could she have guessed when she left San Francisco yesterday to travel to her first medical conference in the US that she would bump in to the very man she moved six thousand miles away to forget? Happy and carefree she’d set off in her classy Saab convertible, with the top down, on another glorious day in the sunshine state. Compared to scraping an inch of ice off her ancient Mini back home in Glasgow, the long stretch of freeway to LA seemed effortless in her fabulous car with the sun warming her body. Knowing Cameron, her son, was safe with his new best friend, elderly Mrs. Zosky in the next apartment, she’d looked forward to a few days to herself, away from the busy cardiac ICU at St. Josephs.
Distraction therapy was overrated, Maggie thought, as she forced herself to take calming breaths. In and out. Yes, that’s it. Slowly.
It was impossible. The first deep breath turned in to a gulp she tried to swallow. She could feel Mr. Know-it-all staring. Trying not to look at him she begged her calamitous mind to make sense of the situation. She needed her wits about her to time her exit. Just as the thought entered her head the lights went up and the man next to her shot his hand up for the first question.
She had missed the last slide.
Horrified, she kept her head down, refusing to look as Kul stepped down from the stage to mingle for question time. Maggie struggled to breathe as the facilitator handed her neighbor the mic. She positively squirmed down to her toes and held her breath. Kul had to be looking in their direction. It felt like forever and the man had still not asked his question.
“I think he must recognize you from somewhere.” Her neighbor nudged her arm.
Oh. Please God no. She heard the audience stirring.
Her eyes drew upwards of their own accord to find Kul staring at her in total shock. As her eyes met his she saw him mouth the word, Maggie. Time stood still and she knew her anguish was mirrored in his dark eyes. In that moment she saw in to his soul and it was filled with darkness. He looked like a man facing the hangman’s noose.
Struggling to get out of her seat, faintness threatened and she felt herself sway. Her neighbor reached out at the same time as Kul began to step towards her. That’s when instinct took over. To hell with not making a scene. Maggie jumped out of her chair as though the Devil himself was after her and ran to the back exit. Trying desperately not to break a heel or fall over she made it out of the room without looking back.
Kul ran. He ran as though his life depended on it. The back exit door banged shut behind his stunned audience but he just kept running. Intuition told him this was it. His chance at salvation. Where was she? His eyes scanned the crowd hurriedly. There was no time to lose.
There was no way he could find Maggie now only to lose her…Oh God. He could see her up ahead, red hair flying side to side as she bobbed and weaved through the hoards of people looking for lunch. Kul felt his life could be defined by this moment in time. Her haunted eyes. His gut wrenching guilt. Heart bounding he quickened his pace. He flew down the corridor where Maggie was half running, half walking, trying not to draw attention, but failing miserably. Stunning, in a red dress and heels, Maggie could never be dismissed. In any setting.
She ran toward the Emergency Exit. Kul sprinted after her.
“Maggie,” he yelled. “Stop!”
Astonished, he watched as she half turned around, caught sight of him close by and ran even faster. His stomach churned to think he was the cause of her panic. Sweat poured down his back. The tightness in his chest was not from chasing her but sheer terror that she might get away before he could catch her.
The rear exit of the hotel convoluted through a small, zig-zag corridor then led into a vast space of unforgiving concrete. A couple of huge trucks were parked at the far wall bearing logos for various fruit and vegetable companies – this was obviously the tradesman’s entrance.
There was nowhere for her to go.
He breathed hard as he saw the moment she reached the same conclusion. She stopped and whirled round, face flushed and chest heaving. Green eyes blazed across the twenty feet that separated them. Not with the loathing that he deserved but worse. Fear. He had never given her cause to be scared. Had he?
Kul stopped running. He leaned forward and put his hands on his knees breathing hard. The ninety degree LA heat suffocated him.
His voice seemed disembodied and out of his control. Was he having some kind of panic attack? Then he heard her whimper.
“Leave me alone.” Her voice came to him in the slightest whisper. Three and a half years of misery and hurt spilled out in that sentence. He had never seen Maggie look fragile. Her wilting shoulders and bowed head twisted the knife already buried in his gut. Wishing only to offer some comfort for her obvious distress, intuitively, he stepped towards her.
“Maggie, I only want to speak with you.”
She reared back immediately, as though struck by a sudden bolt of lightning.
“No. Don’t come any closer.” Her voice trembled. Clearly agitated and stepping from one foot to the other, Maggie put her hands up to warn him off, although he now stood still, anxious of her reaction to him.
“You know I would never hurt you.”
Her eyebrows shot up in a glance that spoke volumes.
“I mean… I know I hurt you but...” Desperately he spread his hands wide and shook his head. “I am making a mess of this.” Humbly, he pleaded. “I would never hurt you physically, you know that.”
Aware of the intense heat burning down on both of them Kul needed to find a way to get them back inside, somewhere they could talk. But he was anxious she would bolt again and by the mutinous look forming on her face he knew that was exactly what she intended. Desperation made him act. “It’s been a long time Maggie. A lot has happened since we last saw each other.” Hasn’t it just? “It’s such a shock to see you here.” He faltered, wiping sweat off his brow. “Look, can we talk inside out of this heat?” he implored.
Maggie felt sick. If he thought this was a shock he had no idea what was going through her mind. Wave after wave of physical pain made her almost double over on the red hot concrete. She felt the heat right through her platform shoes. With the fierce midday sun beating down it felt more like trying to endure a reality survival show. Sweat trickled down her back and she knew she had to get inside before she melted in a puddle at his feet.
A lot has happened since we last met. You bet it has.
One day she had the most handsome man in her bed, sophisticated, urbane, cardiac surgeon ready to be consultant. Then four long weeks of nothing. Not a note, email, text, zilch. They had dated all year. The fake betrothal he'd joked about had turned out to be very real, in the form of a young Indian woman presumably suitable enough for his esteemed family!
Her mind screamed with unspoken accusations. Now that the shock of his presence was subsiding slightly, a sour taste of bile rose up and lodged in her throat. By the fourth week of worrying herself sick about him she finally received the news that he was indeed in India and had just got married. The day she received his letter she found out she was pregnant to the loser.
“I find myself in circumstances that are beyond my control. I cannot express my desolation at losing what we have. I think, Maggie, you know I have strong feelings for you. Now I find myself in a place where I cannot express them as it would be unconscionable.”
Even now she could remember the letter word for word. Strong feelings! How absurd that she had thought they were falling in love. They hadn’t said it. They had made no commitment but seriously? The way they had enslaved each other’s bodies. Immersed in each other. Totally. She knew it, he knew it. Or at least she thought he had. And she had been left, literally holding the baby. Disgusted with herself for being so weak she shook the memories away. How dare he waltz back in to her life and expect to calmly sit down for tea together?
“I… don’t… want… to… talk… to… you.” Maggie bit out every word. She wasn’t lying. She wanted to scream at him, rant and rail against his very existence. Especially when all she could see as she looked at his impossibly handsome face was the same expression her beautiful son wore when he knew he was in big trouble.
“Look” she said, trying not to show she was still trembling from head to toe. “I am going inside.” At his penetrating gaze she added. “By myself.” She faced worse situations in her busy cardiac unit every day. Life and death. I can get through this. She gritted her teeth.
He straightened to his full six foot plus, brown eyes bored in to hers, and despite the heat she felt the shiver all the way to her toes. He morphed in to full cardiac surgeon mode, seriously full of intent. No longer apologetic he looked exactly the way he did on the ward round ready to cross examine his registrar. He took two strides and was up close and personal before she could react.
“Maggie, we are going to have a conversation whether you like it or not. What are the chances of us bumping in to each other in Los Angeles for goodness sake? It’s time. Time we talked. This meeting may be chance or coincidence. Call it what you will but you are not getting away from me till we talk. Now please.” He gestured towards the door. “Let’s find somewhere quiet. If you bolt again rest assured I will follow you all the way to your room.”
Close enough to sense the turmoil radiating off him, his musky scent turned Maggie’s trembling to vibrant energy at the implied threat. No way could she let that happen. She neatly skipped around him and made for the door. Before she reached it he caught her elbow in a vice like grip.
“Ow.” Maggie tried to pry herself loose and open the door at the same time but he forestalled her easily. He tugged her back to him while holding one hand against the door to prevent her opening it. She was caught hard against his powerful frame. Although she couldn’t see his face she could feel his hard body pressed against her back. Closing her eyes against shock waves - size ten on the Richter scale - she could not prevent the shudder that rocked through her. He held her by the midriff and leaned over. Her toes curled as she felt his words in her ear.
“Maggie. This is too much of a twist of fate.” His voice sounded strangled and she heard him take a deep breath. Her pulse rate ricocheted to life threatening proportions. “You have every right to detest me.” His words changed to a deep timbre, torn and full of anguish. “I’m begging you to let me...just sit with you, talk. I can’t let you go without having this chance.” This man never begged or pleaded in his life. The shudder became a seismic wave as he whispered softly, “Please.” Every hair fiber stood on end as her body remembered how he used to hold her like this during their frenzied lovemaking.
Why now? She finally had her life together. She was over him and ready to move on and yes, she knew long ago she would have to track him down and tell him about Cameron, but now? Faced with the reality of her son’s father, the cardboard cut-out likeness unbearable, Maggie knew she wasn’t ready at all. Tears threatened.
Just as she felt herself sag some inner power reached up and grabbed her. Behaving like a wilting loon in a bodice ripper was so not her style. She had made it through the worst of times and she could make it through this too. It was only the unexpectedness of meeting that caught her offside. My God. His wife could show up at any minute. How could she have forgotten that? Self preservation forced her shoulders up and square. Some well needed spunk straightened her backbone. So he wanted a conversation? Right let’s do it.
Like her ancestors before her she drew on her Scottish pride. Be damned if this man is going to mess with me again. Not in this lifetime!
She shook out of his hold. “Ok. Find somewhere to talk.”
The hotel was buzzing with the unlikely combination of conference members and film people. Kul’s medical training hadn’t included what to do when caught amongst the Hollywood elite, excited fans and adoring public. When he’d arrived last night to the hectic scenes of cameras and movie people his customary poise escaped him. It seemed he bore a passable resemblance to the lead in a new movie and he’d hardly been able to make it to his room without being stopped by autograph hunters.
The lounges and restaurants would be full and noisy. The set look on Maggie’s defiant face recommended he find somewhere quiet so he stopped a passing waiter and asked for help securing one of the private ante rooms used for business meetings. With the film people around there nothing was available. The waiter led them in to a small piano bar off the main hallway. The barman was unlocking the till and setting up for the evening to come. There was only one other customer.
“This won’t get busy until around 4pm.” The waiter indicated a small booth in the corner, away from the entrance.
Grateful for his presence of mind Kul thanked him. “My friend is feeling a little… unwell with all this heat.” A smile tugged his lips as Maggie bristled at the implied weakness. His lips twitched. Despite his desperation to speak with her he just couldn’t help the sudden lightheartedness he felt seeing that look on her face. In the old days he’d relished their fiery clashes that more often than not ended in frantic lovemaking.
The waiter found them a private room and ushered a polite smile. Then stopped and stared as though just recognizing him. “Are you…” the young man paused with a lopsided grin.
Kul sighed. “No, I am not an actor. I’m here with the conference.”
“Oh, it’s just that you look like…” he trailed off as Kul raised one eyebrow.
“Oh yes sir, right away.” The boy hurried off. As soon as the waiter left Maggie rounded on him.
“Did you know I was here?” Her eyes sparkled like a maharani’s emeralds.
“No, how could I?” He hadn’t come out of his self-imposed exile to the real world in the past year. All he’d been able to do was work.
“Ok. Shoot!” Maggie stood legs apart like a modern Boadicea, all attitude and fire. He wouldn’t be surprised to see a chariot and spear materialize. Adrenaline surged through him bringing him to life in a way he hadn’t been since they’d last met. God, he’d missed her. Flashbacks of Maggie in his flat, every available surface a sex scene, caused a sexual surge so familiar it ached. Even if his mind knew it was inappropriate his body throbbed like a teenager on speed.
“There is so much I hardly know where to begin.” Watching her erect posture he knew how wrong his thoughts were. She eyed him like a bug under a microscope.
“Well I don’t have all day. I have to be back for afternoon lectures.” Her frozen voice imparted a time limit. Every titian wave bounced as she tapped out impatience with her glossy red pump. A whisper of annoyance crept up his spine at her attempted dismissal.
He needed time to collect his thoughts. Thankfully the tea arrived along with the star struck waiter who set the tray on the table and waited for his tip. “Anything else, sir?”
Yes do you have a draught that can turn my beautiful former lover back to her usual self? Then I could stop feeling like the world’s biggest bastard? No? Okay then, tea will have to do.
Kul gestured to the tea tray with the side plate of delicate sandwiches artfully arranged. “Come, Maggie, you should eat before you go back to the lecture. Let’s call a truce.” Her glance wavered as she surveyed the spread. Her silence was unnerving but the shock of meeting like this and the suffocating heat outside had drained them both, they needed sustenance.
For a moment he sensed indecision then with a slight shake of her vibrant mane, her delicately freckled chin stuck out at a rebellious angle, she moved over to the couch. The tension in his chest eased as she reluctantly sat down.
He sat down heavily in the seat opposite. “Here, drink up.” He poured and stuck the cup in her hand. She took it wordlessly and he sighed again. His astonishment and elation at seeing her was obviously not reciprocated. Maybe he should have let her go. Why hash through all that had happened when he couldn’t turn back the clock. Would it make any difference if he could? Face it. He would make the same choice again given the circumstances. In reality he had had no choice.
He watched some colour return to Maggie’s pale features and knew he could not leave without apologizing for the sudden way he’d ended their affair. In his worst moments he’d consoled himself knowing his brave Maggie would move on quickly. He’d seen the way men watched him with Maggie, envious, waiting for a chink in their relationship to move in. When they were together he’d been flattered. Afterwards…not so much.
Her strong reaction today was surprising. He’d dreamt of her for so long after he left, right through the early years of his marriage, but surely she would have gotten over him and moved on? She may even be married. His stomach churned.
“So what are you doing over here Maggie? Did you come for the conference?”
For what seemed like several minutes he thought she wasn’t going to answer. Then she put down her empty cup and straightened in the chair. Her shiny hair hung down her back in waves. A little more bedraggled than her usual self but still the most beautiful woman he had ever had the good fortune to meet.
As though each word caused bodily pain she stumbled at first then managed, “I live here now.”
What? She lived in LA?
“Really, how long?”
Oh. Good grief. She must have moved here a year after he left Glasgow.
“Do you like living in LA?” His voice came out strangled. Get a grip man. “How do you cope with the movie business mania?” he recovered enough to ask, trying to ease her to talk a little more.
“No, not LA. I am here for the conference, yes, but I live in San Francisco.” She raised her head to look at him properly for the first time since they’d been outside. The deep emerald irises revealed a level of pain that cut straight to his gut. She shouldn’t be carrying this level of hurt around. Not after three years. The thought made him pull at his tie and loosen his collar. He ran his hands through his hair in frustration.
“Are you still nursing? Working over here?” He rambled on. She gave him a funny look that said what do you think? She appeared ready to give him a piece of her mind then stopped. Her wooden answers and what she wasn’t saying irritated him beyond belief. She’d retreated from her earlier outburst. He never imagined that they could meet up again and it would be so frozen. So Awkward. After what they had shared it was crushing. And yet he had no right to judge.
“Are you just here for the conference?” She asked, ignoring his question.
“I’m supposed to fly back tonight.” Suddenly that didn’t seem like a good idea.
Maggie looked relieved. Some of the strain around her forehead relaxed.
So she wanted rid of him? Well he couldn’t blame her for that but he wasn’t going anywhere until he had made his peace with her.
Maggie seemed to make up her mind about something as she stood up looking a little more poised now.
“I can’t do this right now. I have to get back to the next lecture.”
That was it? She was going back in to the seminar without giving him a chance to talk? Not bloody likely!
“Surely our time together meant something to you Maggie?” He stood up too. With only a foot separating them he all but yelled. “Can’t you spare five minutes after what we shared?” She flinched and he knew he had hit home. It didn’t give him any satisfaction. Wide eyed, her head snapped up.
“Three years ago you couldn’t spare five minutes to make a phone call before you disappeared off the face of the earth!” she hissed venom with those words.
He felt the knife twist. “I wanted to Maggie.”
“What stopped you? It wasn’t like you were in jail.”
Not the kind of prison you are thinking of, no.
“No, but it might as well have been.” He drew in a deep Karmic breath, struggling to control the desolation at having his life railroaded. “My hands were tied by family pressure. I had to go back to India.” The urgent call from his father of all people! Normally his mother did all the pleading for him to come home but this time his father. Your mother is dying, your betrothed has been compromised. You must come home immediately. He could still feel the horror of those words today.
“I tried to call you that day Maggie, before I got on the flight. You didn’t answer.” He remembered his fingers shaking trying to dial her number. Frantically he’d pushed the redial button so many times he lost count. The flight was being called and he knew she was at work.
Watching her stricken face he went on. “I knew I could call you from India. I waited till the traveling was over.” And then it was too late. Steel traps descended and shackled him to a life he neither chose nor wished for. His mother’s pleading eyes as she lay on her sickbed haunted him. He felt the room closing in around him, suffocating him. He needed fresh air.
He made it over to the large bay window and stared outside barely noticing the beautiful display of hydrangeas in the well kept lawn. Maggie must have sensed his despair, her hand shot out as though to comfort him, and quickly she jerked it back, staring at her hand in surprise.
“I have to go.” She said, making for the door.
He turned slightly as she headed to the exit. “We have to talk Maggie.” Close to the door she stopped. Her brows furrowed. Her shoulders straightened and he saw her nibble her lower lip the way she did when she was anxious. He sensed she needed space. “I need to talk.” He pressed his luck.
“Is your wife here with you?” her voice chilled several degrees.
“No.” Kul hesitated. There was no easy way to say it. “Zatia died. A year ago today.”