Jude sighed and tried to stop thinking about Saxon Sinclair. She couldn't decide if the woman annoyed or fascinated her more. She has to be one of the most infuriating people I've ever met. She's rigid and inflexible and arrogant, and if that weren't bad enough-she's-she' accomplished and talented and driven. And-oh, hell-so damned attractive.
"Aren't you hungry?" Lori Brewster asked with concern.
"What?" Jude replied, startled. She glanced at her plate and the half-eaten entrée and realized that she had forgotten about it. "Oh, no. I mean…I was, but I'm not now." Seeing the look of concern on her companion's face, she hurriedly added, "I'm just distracted. It probably wasn't very smart of me to make a date for the first day of this new project."
The attractive dark-haired attorney frowned, reaching across the immaculate linen tablecloth to take Jude's hand. "We didn't need to go out. I haven't seen you in two weeks." She brushed her thumb over Jude's palm. "We could have just gotten take-out and spent the evening in bed."
"I'm sorry," Jude replied, squeezing Lori's hand. "I'm lousy company tonight." She hoped the fact that she had sidestepped the overture to sex wasn't as obvious to her dinner companion as it felt to her. She wasn't even sure herself why she wasn't that interested. They'd been dating for more than six months, casually, whenever they could find time, which was how they'd both agreed they wanted it. Lori was busy establishing herself in a competitive law firm where she intended to make partner before anyone else her age, and she worked ninety-hour weeks to prove it. Jude traveled frequently for shoots and promotional meetings and didn't feel she could give a serious relationship the attention it required. So far their arrangement had been mutually satisfying. Jude smiled at Lori, appreciating the appraising look in her eyes and remembering how much she liked her trim, athletic body. We've got similar interests, we want the same things professionally, and we're good together in bed. What more could I want?
She shook off the odd sense of disquiet she'd had ever since leaving St. Michael's and tried not to think any more about Sinclair or why she even cared if the irritating trauma surgeon liked her or not. Jude smiled at the waiting woman, then said quietly, "Let's skip dessert."
The glass door on the shower slid open and Jude felt a soft, smooth body press close against her back. Arms slipped around her waist, lips trailed across her shoulder. A voice, husky and intimate, whispered in her ear.
"Hey, I missed you. The bed is cold without you."
"I tried not to wake you," Jude responded, leaning back into the embrace, turning her head to brush her mouth over a damp cheek. "Sorry."
"You okay?" Lori asked.
"Yes." But she didn't feel quite okay, and she wasn't sure why. Nothing had changed. They had shared themselves with each other as they had in the past, enjoyably and with an easy familiarity that came from mutual caring. It was nice to feel the heat of another body, and to touch flesh other than one's own. It was nice to be physically satisfied. It had been every bit as nice as it had been the first time they'd slept together. Nothing had changed.
"Do you need to go?"
"Mmm, yeah. I've got an early meeting with my photography director in the morning. And early by surgeons' standards means six-thirty," Jude explained, turning in the mist and water to face her companion.
"Jesus, that's inhuman."
"I need to get some sleep and prepare a few things," Jude said with a grin.
"Well then," Lori murmured, bending her face to Jude's neck and licking the trail of water from her skin, "you should probably leave. I can't promise how much sleep you'll get if you stay."
Jude kissed her once, quickly, and stepped from the shower, reaching for a towel. "My very thoughts."
They parted with the usual promise to call when their schedules allowed, and by the time Jude reached home in the taxi, her mind was already on her plans for the next day.
July 2nd - 6:50 AM
Sax passed Aaron Townsend in the hall as he was leaving after a night on duty.
"Everything quiet?" she asked, although she knew that it must be. She'd returned to the hospital in the middle of the night, even though she wasn't on call, and she knew that someone would have notified her if anything big had come in. She was second call, on back-up if more than one major trauma arrived at once. Technically she could have taken call from home, but she was just as happy to sleep in familiar surroundings.
"Depends on what you mean," he said with a grin. "The only admission we had was some guy who lost a battle with his fan belt at two a.m. Don't ask me why he was working on his engine in the middle of the night, but he's in the OR now getting his fingers reattached." His sly expression suggested there was something else however-a secret that he found amusing.
Sax stopped walking and fixed him with a piercing glance. "Would you like to tell me what else is going on?"
"There are four people in the trauma bay hanging cameras and microphones from the ceiling right now."
"Really," Sax remarked dryly, thinking that Jude Castle hadn't wasted any time getting to work. She had to admit she liked that about the filmmaker. As irritating as this entire project was likely to be, she admired Castle's persistence and perseverance. The woman was a professional, and that kind of determination was something Sax understood. "Guess I'll wander back and see what's happening."
"Uh huh." The head nurse watched her walk away and wished he didn't have a breakfast date. He would have loved to watch the confrontation. The undercurrent of competition between the two women hadn't escaped his notice the previous day. And they said that alpha males were dangerous when you put them together. He'd worked with Saxon Sinclair for four and a half years, and he knew just how tough an alpha female could be. It's going to be a very interesting few months around here, he thought as he pushed through the ER doors into the bright morning sun and waved to the brunette in the convertible waiting at the curb for him.
Sax leaned against the doorway at the entrance to the trauma bay, her trauma bay, and stared at the strangers fast at work. A woman in jeans and workshirt stood on the top of a stepladder adjusting a ceiling mounted camera that was directly over the patient treatment tables. Her blond hair was half concealed by a baseball cap turned around backwards with the word Sundance stenciled in bright orange letters. Her figure, at least from the back view, was neat and tidy. Two young men appeared to be stringing cable from the camera to a bank of monitors and recording equipment stacked on rolling tables pushed up against the wall near the nurse's station. Jude Castle stood observing them, intermittently referring to her notebook and then looking up to follow the progress of the equipment installation. Looking fresh and energized, she was wearing khaki pants and a tight black T-shirt, leaving her nicely muscled arms bare. For a second, enjoying the view, Sax forgot how annoyed she was at the invasion of her domain.
"The primary shots are going to have to be with the handheld," Jude remarked to the blond on the ladder.
"The best quality is going to come from this one up here," the woman countered.
"There's too much action to follow with a stationary. I'll want to focus on the surgeons, especially Deb Stein, and they're moving all the time."
The blond climbed down and pivoted to survey the area she would need to cover with her cameras. She halted suddenly when she saw Sax watching, and a small smile flickered across her face. "Good morning," she called in Sax's direction, a faint hint of flirtatiousness in her voice.
Sax pushed away from the wall and came forward. "Morning," she responded neutrally, her glance moving quickly from the attractive blond who was appraising her to Jude. "Ms. Castle," Sax murmured by way of greeting.
"Dr. Sinclair," Jude said smoothly, "this is my DP, Melissa Cooper."
"DP?" Sax queried as she turned to extend her hand.
"Director of photography," Melissa furnished as they shook one another's hand.
"Ah, I see." Sax look back at Jude and continued, "Could I speak with you for a moment, please?"
"Of course. Mel, would you make sure they run a sound check once they get their lines connected?"
"Sure", the photographer replied. She watched the two women walk out into the hall, checking out Sinclair's denim clad ass. Now there is one hot item. This is going to be a very enjoyable shoot. Oh, yeah.
"You're up early," Sax said as they walked through the still quiet corridors. "Let's grab some coffee. I'll buy this time."
"I thought it would be a good idea if we took care of some of the construction details before things got busy in there," Jude said carefully. She knew the surgeon had something on her mind, and she half expected another skirmish.
"Traumas don't tend to follow a schedule, unless it's lunar. There's something in that tale. Every full moon we're swamped." They reached the coffee kiosk and Sax ordered two red-eyes.
"I just took a chance that we could get most of it done this morning," Jude agreed. "Still, the hour right around the changeover from the night shift to the day shift is always quiet."
"Usually," Sax allowed, looking at her carefully. "You've had some experience in hospitals then."
"Some." Jude stared straight ahead and didn't elucidate further. Those six weeks were nothing she cared to discuss. She'd forgotten it, buried it, left it behind. She shivered.
"Cold?" Sax asked quietly, handing her a coffee.
"No," Jude said, taking the paper cup. "I'm fine."
Sax nodded. "Okay. Let's talk about this project of yours. Since I can't get rid of you, I'd better find out what I'm in for."
"Okay-" Jude began.
"Wait," Sax interjected. "Come with me."
The view from the helipad was incredible. Like most New Yorkers, Jude was used to the kind of vistas one saw from restaurants on top of skyscrapers and out the windows of offices on the 70th floor, but the sight of the water and the white dots of sails flickering over the surface and the majestic rise of the Statue of Liberty were still eye-catchingly gorgeous. Saxon Sinclair in profile, the wind whipping her black hair around her starkly handsome face, was pretty captivating, too. Jude wished she had a camera.
"Nice up here," Jude observed.
"One of the few places in the hospital where there's any privacy," Sax commented. She wasn't certain why she'd brought the filmmaker up here. It was one of the places she came to be alone, when the chaos in the world downstairs became too much or the long hours between midnight and dawn stretched too long. It was amazingly peaceful here at night, surrounded by nothing but the wind and the dark and the lights from surrounding buildings that substituted for stars in the urban landscape. Far below, the streets teamed with life and people living it, some in desperate abandon and some in unconscious ignorance. Up here, she felt both a part of it and apart from it, the watcher who on occasion ventured forth to take part in the game. She turned her back to the view, watching Jude study the rooftop with that same intent expression she'd noticed several times the day before. "Looking for a shot?"
Jude stared at her in surprise, amazed that she could tell. She blushed faintly, because at that moment she had been thinking how much she would like to photograph that trauma surgeon. "Something like that. Am I imagining it, or is that actually a basketball hoop on the side of the parking ramp over there?"
"That's what it is, all right," Sax confirmed, taking the lid off her coffee cup and tossing it into a nearby trashcan.
"Is that for Deb's benefit?"
Sax grinned. "Nope. It's mine."
"Ah, that's right. Aaron said you liked games."
"Some of them," Sax replied casually.
For no good reason, Jude's heart skipped a beat. Forget it. That is not what she meant. You have got to get your hormones under control around her. But she couldn't prevent a brief image of the other woman in her motorcycle jacket from flickering into her mind. And that image did nothing to still the surge of blood into places she really didn't want it to be going. Not at seven o'clock in the morning at the beginning of a very long day.
"So, are you actually planning on taking call with Deb?" Sax asked as they leaned against the cement wall that encircled the rooftop.
"Yes. I want to be there when something happens, and you said yourself how unpredictable it can be," Jude responded, grateful for a conversation to take her mind off her body.
"For twenty-four hour stretches?"
"Whenever she's here, yes." As she spoke, Jude took in the huge white X stenciled on the rooftop, and the windsock snapping in the breeze nearby, and almost salivated at the thought of filming the helicopter's descent while a crowd of gowned medical personnel waited, bent low to avoid the swirling rotors. It brought to mind all those old clips from the sixties of choppers twisting wildly over the scorched earth of a far-away land, olive-garbed men racing madly forward with their wounded on makeshift litters. God, what a shot.
"What about your crew-the photographers and sound people. Them, too?"
"What?" Jude asked, still focused on the faint images in her mind. Battlefields and blood and Sinclair in black leather. "Oh-Mel is the main camera operator, and she'll work nights when Deb's on call. I figure that's when we're most likely to get a hit. Since I'll be here around the clock, I'll handle the cameras if she's not available. I'm not as good as she is, but I can manage."
"For how long?"
"Indefinitely," Jude said with a shrug. "Until I get what I need."
"That's a significant commitment," Sax observed neutrally, wondering if the filmmaker had any idea how disruptive that kind of schedule was going to be. "In time and energy. Every third night, sometimes all night, can wear you down pretty fast."
"You do it," Jude pointed out neutrally.
"It's my job."
Sax studied her, then grinned. "Point taken. Forgive my professional chauvinism."
"It's hard to be angry at someone who so readily admits it when they're being a jerk."
For a moment, Sax simply stared at her. Green eyes, sparkling with challenge, met hers, and she wondered what it was about the redhead that was so damn appealing. She decided it might be the fact that she had yet to back down over anything. "Aren't you afraid that you'll offend me and I'll be uncooperative?"
Jude laughed. "I missed the part where you've been cooperating so far."
"I'll try to be more obvious then," Sax replied dryly, but her tone was playful.
"Tell me something, Doctor Sinclair," Jude asked, still thinking about the battlefield images. "Tell me about the enemy."
"Yes-what is the enemy you face when a patient is delivered into your trauma bay?"
"Time," Sax answered immediately, not even stopping to consider where the question had come from. "A true trauma emergency is a race against time-blood seeps away, organs die, damage becomes irreversible."
"How much time do you have? To make decisions, to make a difference?" Jude asked softly, watching something in Sinclair's face change. The surgeon was looking past her, her gaze slightly distant, as if she were reliving something in her mind. Jude did not want to distract her; she did not want to let her know how much her expression revealed.
"Seconds. Sometimes not even that-you act unconsciously, instinctively."
"And if you're wrong?" Softer still.
Sax's blue eyes snapped into sharp focus and met Jude's. "We have a saying in surgery, Ms. Castle. Better wrong than uncertain. Hesitation, for a surgeon, can be deadly. If you can't live with your decisions, you need to find another line of work." She turned to leave, saying, "I have trauma rounds in thirty minutes."
"What about Deb Stein?" Jude called after her, not wanting to let the moment pass. She needed to understand what went on beneath the surface so she could hunt it out and capture it with her lens. "How will you know if she can make those kinds of decisions?"
Sax stopped and faced her. "You're interviewing me again."
"Is this year some kind of test for her?" Jude persisted, ignoring the comment.
Mildly exasperated at the other woman's tenacity, Sax shook her head. "No. Deb has proved herself already. She's completed six years of general surgery training-six years of a system designed to wear down and wear out anyone not physically and psychologically fit for the specialty. The attrition rate is high in the first two years of a surgery residency for a reason."
"Sounds abusive," Jude observed, still probing.
"Some people would call it that," Sax agreed. "But better to find out before someone is set loose with a knife in their hand whether they can take it or not."
"So what is the purpose of this year, if Deb is already a competent surgeon?"
"I need to teach her to trust her judgment, to think on her feet, to act without all the information, to make the right decisions. If anyone is tested this year, it will be me."
Sax stopped abruptly. Where in hell did that come from? Why is it every time I talk to this woman I end up saying things I don't mean to? She's downright dangerous.
"I'm sorry. I'll be late," Sax said curtly, and walked briskly away.
Jude watched her go, feeling slightly breathless. She tried to tell herself it wasn't because of the passion she had glimpsed in the depths of Saxon Sinclair's eyes, or how very attractive she found it.
Personal Project Log - Castle
July 2, 7:40 a.m.
I'm starting to get the picture now. Surgery is the medical equivalent of the Special Forces or the Green Berets or something. At least that's the way Sinclair sees it. She's the commanding officer, the residents are her troops, and the war is against death. Jesus. I never thought about that before. It takes some kind of ego to take that on. She's got it, that's for sure, but I wonder how that happens. Where does that confidence, that absolute certainty, come from? [Note: need more background on Sinclair. She and Deb are the brackets of this frame, the beginning and the end.] That's the point of this year, I guess-to take Deb, the green recruit, and turn her into a leader, a warrior. [Note: Entitle second episode 'Boot Camp']. This is the angle-the hook. This is the analogy that will get people excited, that will keep them coming back week after week. That and the human-interest aspect of following Deb through the process. She's perfect for it because she's so girl-next-door. They loved her during the Olympics, and the up close and personal interviews with her were a big hit. [Note: call Sinclair's secretary for her C. V. Arrange an on-camera interview with Sinclair regarding the necessary personality traits of a trauma surgeon. How did she choose Deb?]
July 2- 8:15 PM
"If I have to eat cafeteria food every third night for the next six months, I want hazard pay," Melissa Cooper groused. "It's bad enough that my social life is going to go to hell, but at this rate so will the rest of me."
"I told you to take a few hours off for dinner…or we could have ordered take out," Jude pointed out, leafing through a surgical journal she had found under a stack of file folders on the counter. The article titles were mostly indecipherable to her, but the pictures were fascinating. She was sitting in the trauma bay in one of the ubiquitous swivel chairs, her feet propped up on the wastepaper basket. Nearby, Mel fiddled with her equipment. "Problems?"
"No, I ran a video-sound synch check earlier, and it was fine. I just wanted to make sure we had the microphone settings optimized to capture everything we could. It would be better if we had off-camera mikes, too."
"I agree, but I don't think it's technically possible in the space that we have here. Besides, it will add to the immediacy and the atmosphere if our sound is a little rough. We want this to come across like a front line, in-the-trenches kind of documentary."
Melissa straightened and stretched. "That's what you're going to get if I have to rely on only two cameras, and wear one of them on top of it." She pulled a chair out from under the long counter and regarded Jude contemplatively. "How are things with Lori?"
Surprised, Jude responded automatically. "Fine. Why?"
"Just wondering," Melissa said with a shrug. "You've been seeing her, what? Four or five months?"
Melissa whistled. "Sounds serious."
"No," Jude said slowly, realizing that she rarely gave her relationship with Lori much thought. It just was...what it was. "Not really."
"Is she seeing anyone else?"
"Not that I know of, but she might be. We never made any exclusivity agreements."
Jude eyed her friend and colleague suspiciously. "No. I barely have time to keep up the one relationship I have as it is. So why the twenty questions, Mel? Are you planning on asking her out?"
"God, no," Melissa said laughing. "She's hot, but she's way too establishment for me. Just curious as to what's going on with you. If I were going to ask anyone out, it would be Sinclair. She's got a look about her that says she could be interesting."
"Interesting?" Jude asked carefully, trying to ignore the sudden twist of jealousy she felt at Melissa's announcement. You've got absolutely nothing to be jealous about. What's it to you if Melissa goes after Sinclair or anyone else for that matter? You already have a girlfriend and even seeing her every few weeks is work. Besides, Sinclair is definitely not your type. She's secretive and edgy and just plain difficult.
Oblivious to her friend's reaction, Melissa continued blithely, "In case you haven't noticed, she's got a thing about control. I bet she's the same way in bed."
Jude definitely did not want to spend any time at all considering what Sinclair would be like in bed. She had to work around her for days at a time for the foreseeable future, and she needed to concentrate on work while they were together, nothing else. "Well, good luck finding out."
"Is she available, do you know?"
"No idea." Come to think of it, she didn't know much about her at all. I really need to get her in an interview.
"Should I give you a detailed report?" Melissa teased.
"No thanks," Jude responded more sharply then she intended. She hoped the photographer didn't notice.
Before Melissa could comment on Jude's reply, Deb and Aaron walked in together. "Hey," they both said in way of greeting.
"Evening," Jude answered, disappointed to see that Sinclair was not with them. "What's happening?"
Deb joined them as Aaron began restocking the crash cart with drugs after unlocking the multi-drawered rolling cart with his key. "Nothing at the moment," the trauma fellow replied. "Sinclair told me to tell you she's arranging an on-call room for you. Maintenance is putting a couple of beds and a desk in a small office down the hall where you can sleep and set up some of your equipment if you need to." She handed Jude several keys. "You might as well try to get some sleep while you're hanging around with us if nothing's happening at night."
"I don't want to miss anything," Jude said uncertainly.
"I'll bang on your door if anything comes in," Deb assured her. "We always have some warning when a trauma is on the way, because either the EMTs radio us or the chopper calls ahead."
"Sounds fine then," the filmmaker agreed. "If it gets to be late and it's still quiet, I'll definitely take you up on it."
"I'll second that," Melissa added. She considered briefly that it might be handy in the coming months to have a room nearby with a bed available. She'd learned from experience the a little romantic diversion on an extended shoot could help pass the time quite nicely, and from what she'd seen so far, there was more than one possibility she wouldn't mind exploring.
It felt like Jude had barely closed her eyes when a sharp rap on the door brought her upright in the narrow bed. Across the tiny space from her, Mel turned over with a mumble and buried her head under the pillow. Heart pounding, it took Jude a few moments to realize where she was and that someone was at the door. Crossing quickly to open it, she inquired, "Yes?"
Sinclair stood in the empty hallway looking wide-awake. "Five minutes, Ms. Castle. We have three coming by ambulance from a pileup on the bridge. There could be more--I don't know yet."
Sax was already moving off down the hall towards the trauma admitting area as Jude called over her shoulder, "Let's go, Mel. We're on."
The next five minutes passed in what felt like seconds. By the time Jude and Melissa reached the trauma bay, Aaron and two other nurses she didn't recognize were already waiting, garbed in protective gowns and gloves and pulling out instrument packs from tall steel cabinets. Sinclair and Deb were in scrubs, also pulling on latex gloves. On the long counter lay the remnants of someone's late dinner, scattered sections of the daily newspaper, and a chessboard, clearly abandoned in mid-game. Jude averted her eyes, but not before she had instantaneously absorbed the position of the pieces. White was about to be checkmated.
From across the room where she leaned against the edge of one of the treatment tables, Sax watched the filmmaker and her photographer prepare. In their own way, they were very much like her own team, working together with practiced efficiency, almost wordlessly. Castle was speaking rapidly into her dictaphone, apparently noting the date, time, and specific circumstances of the upcoming shoot. Melissa Cooper was shrugging into a body harness that was clearly meant to support the heavy handheld video camera. As she helped to secure the DVCam, Jude affixed the microphone to it for simultaneous sound and video synchronization. Once that was accomplished, Melissa took up a position where she could record the entrance and the arrival of the patients and checked the angle of view on the built in monitor. Jude stood just behind her, where, Sax presumed, she could direct her photographer to concentrate on whatever aspects of the upcoming resuscitation interested her. Smooth. Impressive.
Jude glanced over at Sinclair. "Are we okay here?"
"I think so. Go for what you want-if you get in the way, I'll let you know."
"Sounds good," Jude said with a grin. She didn't doubt for second that even in the midst of fury, Sinclair would have no problem making her wishes known. Her last act before the doors slid open and the first of three stretchers careened into the room was to wonder if the surgeon ever relinquished control to anyone - ever.
Chapter Eight contains a graphic trauma scene that might conceivably be distressing to read. If you would prefer to skip that section, scroll down to the Heading July 3- 6:29 a.m. and read from there.
It started out as a fairly routine trauma situation, or so Jude surmised. EMTs and paramedics from two separate divisions had responded to a multi-vehicle crash, and the first victims to arrive were a family of three.
"Try to get something on all of them, but concentrate on Deb and the little girl," Jude directed Melissa as medical personnel converged on the gurneys.
Efficiently, team members moved each patient to a treatment table with the effortless choreography of long practice. As far as Jude could tell, all three family members were conscious, although both the mother and father were strapped to backboards with restraining cervical collars around their necks. A blond child who appeared to be about five lay on the third stretcher, looking small and vulnerable surrounded by the monitors clustered around her. A large laceration extended from her scalp onto her forehead, and from where she was standing, Jude could make out the stark gleaming surface of white bone. Miraculously, the child appeared comfortable and not particularly frightened--she didn't even seem to be crying, although there were tear tracks smudged on her smooth flawless cheeks.
From beside her, Jude heard Sinclair directing the activity even as the surgeon began assessing the male member of the trio.
"Fisher, check the mother. Stein, get the girl." She bent over the man, automatically performing the standard initial evaluation to confirm that he was breathing properly and that his pulse and blood pressure were adequate. "What was the status in the field? Extrication times? Any hemodynamic instability or loss of consciousness?" she asked of the paramedics who had lingered to watch the resuscitation.
It sounded to Jude like the handful of emergency personnel answered at once, and she couldn't fathom how the trauma chief could possibly sort out the plethora of facts and numbers bombarding her.
Sax never took her eyes off the patient, her face intent as her hands rapidly moved over his body. "Were they restrained?"
"Yep. Seatbelts and car seat," one of the paramedics standing by the door finishing his paperwork called out.
Sax straightened and glanced to her right where Keith Fisher, an upper-level surgery resident, was performing the exact same maneuvers she had just completed on the mother. "Dr. Fisher," she said, not loudly, but with a degree of authority that got his attention immediately. His hands stopped moving as he looked at her expectantly. "This patient is complaining of abdominal pain and he's got guarding in the lower abdomen. What do you recommend we do?"
The young man, clearly charged with excitement by the tense atmosphere, answered with a note of hope in his voice, "Open peritoneal lavage?"
Jude watched Saxon Sinclair. She couldn't seem not to. Of all the figures in the room, the dark-haired surgeon seemed to be the epicenter, the focal point. Despite the air of controlled pandemonium permeating the room, Sinclair's expression was calm and her attitude collected. Her movements were precise and economical, and in just the few moments that Jude had been observing her, she had clearly appraised the condition of each patient and given directives to orchestrate their care. As Jude listened to the young surgeon-in-training suggest what she presumed was some sort of operation, for a fleeting second, she thought she saw Sinclair grin. She made a note in the log she was quietly dictating to ask her why.
"I'd agree with you," Sax said as she moved to the woman Fisher was examining, "if he were hemodynamically unstable and I suspected a major intra-abdominal bleed. But his pulse and blood pressure are normal so we have time to get a non-invasive test before we resort to a surgical procedure." Glancing over her shoulder, she ordered, "Aaron, get him down for a CT of the chest and abdomen. Tell them he's a possible seatbelt injury and to check his spleen and retroperitoneum carefully."
Surprisingly, Sax stopped at the foot of the stretcher where the female patient lay and turned to Jude. As if she had all the time in the world, she said conversationally, "It's not uncommon to sustain an internal injury in high-speed decelerations when a person is restrained by a seatbelt. Internal organs, particularly those that are very vascular or fragile, can rupture and bleed. We could make a small incision in his abdomen right now and look, but I think a CT scan is a better choice for him."
"Thanks," Jude said quietly but Sinclair had already turned her back and was leaning over the wife. She heard the surgeon introduce herself and ask the woman if she were having any pain. She couldn't hear the woman's faint reply, but she could hear the anxiety in her tone.
"We haven't finished examining the three of you yet," Sax said calmly, "but everyone seems stable. Your husband will need some tests and I'll let you know about your little girl in a few seconds. Now, I want to take care of you."
There was something familiar in the surgeon's compassionate tone that struck a chord in Jude, and as she struggled with the half-memory, her pulse accelerated and her ears buzzed faintly. God, not now! She forced her attention back to the scene before her and, thankfully, her head cleared.
"Pull back a little bit to catch both the mother and daughter," Jude instructed Melissa hoarsely. She just needed to focus on the work and she'd be fine.
The photographer, who had been moving back and forth between the three stretchers trying to record the various stages of treatment, grunted her assent. Just as Jude spoke, the little girl called for her mother and mother and child each reached out a hand, joining their fingers across the narrow space between the two beds.
"Are you getting this?" Jude whispered excitedly, practically climbing onto Mel's shoulder to check her angle of view.
"Yeah, yeah, I've got it. Don't worry," Melissa said distractedly while trying to keep one eye on the scene at large so as not to miss some developing event, and at the same time concentrating on the intimate details that made the proceedings so very human. "You could give me an inch or two to move, Jude," she muttered as she followed behind Deb, working to keep the heavy camera steady against her chest. Even with the body rig to help support the weight, her arms would be shaking before too much longer.
Next to them, Sax gave one of the nurses detailed instructions about lab tests and x-rays for the mother and finally joined Deb beside the little girl. Both Jude and Melissa moved in close behind her, but she seemed not to notice them.
"Anything?" Sax asked, studying the small patient.
"Neurologic exam is intact. No evidence of airway or hemodynamic instability. She has the obvious laceration but I can't palpate a skull fracture. No bruising on the chest or abdomen to suggest blunt trauma, and she's moving all four extremities to command. She'll need a head CT to rule out a fracture or any associated intracranial injury, and then she's going to need that laceration repaired."
As Deb reported, Sax bent close and murmured something that Jude couldn't quite make out, but she hoped the mic on the camera would pick it up. Then, Sax began her own assessment--listening to the little girl's heart and lungs, probing her abdomen, running her hands over each extremity. She checked the child's pupils and ears, nodded agreement with Deb's evaluation, and murmured, "Nothing to suggest evidence of bleeding or increased intracranial pressure. Looks like her only significant injury is that fairly straightforward soft tissue injury on the scalp. Do you want to repair it yourself after the CT or call plastics?"
"It looks pretty routine," Deb remarked. "As long as nothing else is going on, I might as well do it."
Sax appeared about to answer when a heavyset policeman, flushed and breathing heavily, barged into the trauma admitting area. He skidded to a halt and stared at Sax, struggling to get his words out.
"There's an ambulance pulling in right now with a guy who crashed his motorcycle in the pile up. He was underneath one of the cars and we just found him." He held out a large black trash bag, which he had secured under one arm. "This...this is...his."
Jude wasn't certain what she was watching but she tapped Mel on the shoulder and said urgently, "Get this."
"Put it down on this," Sax said, rolling a steel cart forward. As the policeman deposited his package, she looked at Jude and Melissa pointedly. "This may be... difficult."
"It's okay," Jude said, trying to ignore the escalating roaring in her head. The shape of the package gave her a pretty good idea of what was inside, but she was certain she must be wrong. Her heart was hammering as she continued, "Go ahead."
Sax peeled back the edges of the black plastic.
"Oh fuck," Melissa Cooper murmured, struggling to hold the camera steady, and it wasn't because her arms were tired.
Jude put her hand on Mel's shoulder and fought a dizzying wave of nausea.
"Stein," Sax said curtly as she surveyed the perfectly preserved leg lying in the bag surrounded by ice. It had been severed at the hip and a portion of the pelvic bone was visible, still attached to the cut end. The rest of it looked perfectly normal, including the lower leg and foot. "Call the OR and tell them we have a level one coming up. Notify vascular surgery and orthopedics that we have a possible limb replantation."
Even as she was speaking, the doors slid open yet again and four paramedics came crashing through with the owner of the severed limb. For the next few moments it seemed to Jude that Sinclair was everywhere at once. Nurses and residents descended upon the motorcyclist, cutting off clothes, inserting tubes into his nose and into his arms and down his throat. Sax and Stein removed a large pressure bandage that covered his lower body, at which point Jude commanded hoarsely, "Stop the camera, Mel."
Melissa was about to protest, and then she got a clear look at the gaping wound and realized that it was far too personal and private a thing to reveal to anyone. "Yeah."
"Do you want to look at the dailies now?" Melissa Cooper asked, trying valiantly to hide her weariness. She hadn't thought anything could bother her anymore. She'd filmed children starving in African nations so impoverished it was impossible to believe such conditions existed in the modern world, and she'd documented the last moments of young men and women dying of AIDS in the most technologically advanced society ever known. She'd witnessed the gamut of human emotions from grief and horror to joyous celebration, and with the filter of her camera between her and the event, she'd been able to maintain her psychological equilibrium. Tonight, she'd almost lost it.
"Let's do it tomorrow," Jude said dully, glancing at the round, institutional-appearing clock, amazed at how much time she had lost. Four hours had passed in a blur of noise and motion and blood. She glanced around at the littered floor, the aftermath of battle strewn everywhere-wads of gauze soaked with blood and other fluids, discarded surgical gloves, clear plastic wrappers that had encased sterile tubing and intravenous catheters-a portion of a pair of denim pants. "God."
"We're not going to be able to show much of that," Melissa commented hoarsely. Her throat was so dry it almost hurt to speak. She methodically stowed her equipment without looking at Jude, needing to restore order and sanity by repeating familiar tasks. "Are we?"
Jude twisted in the swivel chair in front of the counter and stared at the chessboard. Miraculously, it had remained undisrupted throughout what felt to her now like a tornado of barely contained chaos. Absently, she replayed Black's last six moves. Nicely done.
"We can't show him," she said at last. "The network censors would never let it pass. Besides, I don't want this to be about satisfying morbid curiosity. We've got great shots of Deb and Sinclair, though. There's still a lot there."
She pressed her fingers to her aching temples. "Go home, Mel."
She didn't need to review the videotape to know what she wanted to use from what they had just witnessed. Her heart was still racing with the aftermath of tension, but what left her nerve endings so raw that her skin felt hot were her memories of Saxon Sinclair.
Sax walked into the trauma admitting area and stared in surprise at Jude Castle. "What are you still doing here? I saw your photographer leaving just before I started making rounds a couple of hours ago."
"I sent her home," Jude replied quietly. "I think she earned her salary last night."
"So did you," Sax observed, pulling out a chair and sitting down opposite the filmmaker. She had expected Jude to want to get away for a while after the previous night's events. An injury like that was tough on all of them, even the most seasoned trauma veteran, but it must be nearly incomprehensible for a civilian to assimilate. She had to work at not thinking too much about it herself. It hadn't escaped her notice that the redhead had looked like she was about to faint when the severed leg had been uncovered, not that she could blame her. She had a feeling, though, that it wasn't because Jude was squeamish. Jude's reaction had looked very much like the one she'd had when she'd first walked into the trauma admitting area-a purely involuntary, autonomic response to a stressful event. Or the memory of one. The director still looked pale and shaky. "Are you okay? It was a long night."
Jude flushed, embarrassed, wishing that the surgeon wasn't quite so astute. "Yes, thanks." She knew where the unwelcome physical reactions were coming from, and she knew that she actually was fine, but it was troubling nonetheless. It was uncomfortable and disconcerting and damned inconvenient to be suddenly awash with terror - no, the memory of terror, when she least expected it. She shook her head, because thinking about it only made it more of an issue. "How is…the boy. God, I don't even know his name. I don't even remember what his face looks like. I don't think I ever looked at him."
Jude leaned back and closed her eyes, wondering at the rapidity with which she had distanced herself from the horrors of human frailty. If it happened to her in barely two days, how could anyone seeing it day after day possibly feel anything and still remain sane?
"His name is Stephen Jones, and he's twenty years old. He has a lovely girlfriend and a very devoted family. At the moment, he is still alive-against all odds-and he's going to need them if he's going to make it in the long run."
"You met with the family?" Jude asked. How did you find the time? How did you find the strength?
"Briefly," Sax replied. "Deb is with them now explaining what they can expect over the next few days. A big part of her training is learning to coordinate the various specialties that are involved in a trauma patient's care. Just as important as orchestrating the medical care is keeping the family informed and putting them in touch with support staff who can help them with finances, insurance, and things like that."
Jude sighed. "Damn. I should have gotten that." She smiled wanly. "To tell you the truth, I needed a break."
"Understandable," Sax said in a tone that said she meant it. She studied the other woman, concerned by the faint tremor she noted in Jude's hands. She leaned forward, and asked again, "Are you sure you're all right?"
"I'm not as fragile as you might think, Dr. Sinclair," Jude said more harshly than she intended. It bothered her for the seemingly undauntable surgeon to think that she couldn't handle the intensity of the trauma unit.
"Would you like to tell me now what's causing the flashbacks?" Sax asked mildly. "Or would you rather out I find out when you finally faint and end up with a laceration on your forehead that I have to close?"
Jude stood up suddenly, not the least bit dizzy any longer. She was too angry at the other woman's presumption to have even a faint memory of how ill she had felt just moments before. "You needn't worry that I'll be requiring your services in any fashion, Dr. Sinclair. I assure you, I'll have no problem doing my job."
No, I'm sure you won't, Sax thought to herself as she watched Jude angrily leave the room. But is there any reason that you have to suffer so much while you're doing it?
It disturbed her to think of Jude struggling in silence, and it disturbed her even more to realize that she was breaking one of her own rules by caring.
The quietly elegant woman in the expensively tailored slacks and plain cotton blouse stood on the porch in the bright summer sunlight and listened to the sound of the motorcycle approaching. The unpaved lane that wended its way through the quiet countryside in front of her 19th century farmhouse was lined on either side by wildflowers, and the stone path leading from it to her front door was edged with a collection of vividly colored petunias and marigolds. As she watched, a figure clad from head to toe in black-T-shirt, jeans, and boots-pulled up on a huge Harley-Davidson and dismounted by her front gate.
Sax removed her helmet and propped it on the seat of her Harley. She ran both hands through her dark hair and started up the walk, grinning faintly at the woman waiting for her. "Hey, Maddy," she said by way of greeting, taking the stairs up to the wide wooden porch two at a time. She slipped her arms around the other woman's waist and hugged her, bestowing a light kiss on her cheek. "You look splendid as always."
It was said lightly, but it was true. The older woman was possessed of a timeless beauty born of good bones and fine skin and a figure that artists had attempted to render on canvas and carve from stone for centuries. She would have been beautiful at any age, in any time.
"You might have called to tell me you were coming," the other woman admonished fondly, ignoring a compliment that had long since lost all meaning to her. "I would have gotten a list of chores together. Are you staying?"
"Until tomorrow," Sax said, one arm still loosely around Maddy's waist. "I don't suppose there's breakfast?"
"It's noon, Saxon."
Sax grinned charmingly. "I came straight from the hospital, but you always tell me not to speed so it took me a while."
Madeleine Lane regarded her granddaughter with a critical eye. She knew very well that Saxon's unpredictable visits were usually prompted by her need to escape from something-too much work, too much horror, too much of life's disappointments. There were faint shadows under her eyes now, and she looked thinner and more drawn than the last time Maddy had seen her. It had been nearly two months, and then it had been in the middle of the night and her granddaughter had arrived in a driving rain, drenched and shaking from far more than the cold. As had so often been the case, they had talked until dawn about nothing of consequence, and when Saxon had pulled away on her motorcycle, Maddy still had had no idea what had made her come. Saxon's silences didn't matter to her. They never had. All that mattered was that she always returned.
"Have you been to bed?" Maddy asked as they walked arm-in-arm through the dimly lit living room. Lace curtains were pulled across the windows to filter the sunshine and keep the room cool. The house was not air-conditioned, because Maddy had never liked the way it felt.
"I'm not tired," Sax said, avoiding a direct answer. She was seething with too much restless energy to sleep, and she hadn't been able to face the thought of returning to her expensively appointed but undeniably cold apartment. It wasn't for lack of a good decorator that her apartment lacked warmth; it was just because there was nothing of herself in the place. She hadn't even thought about her destination when she'd climbed onto her bike and headed north out of the city. The humid air had blown cool around her face at sixty miles an hour, and she had soon shed the lingering pall of sadness and death that had seeped past her defenses. In less than an hour and a half, she had reached home. She hadn't grown up on the out of the way farm, but it was home nevertheless-because it was where Maddy lived.
"Did you work all night?" Maddy tried again.
"Hmm?" Sax asked. God, what a night. I can't remember the last time we had one so bad. She caught herself just as she began thinking about Stephen Jones and his missing leg and his ruined life. She couldn't afford to remember the look on his parents' face when she told them of his injuries or to imagine what the future would be like for him. Treat them. Don't live with them. Keep your sanity.
But sometimes the utter madness of it all crept up on you, and you went a little mad yourself.
"Oh, yes, I did," she answered off-handedly. "We were a little busy."
They had reached the large kitchen that ran almost the entire length of the rear of the farmhouse. Two years before, Sax had replaced the small rear porch and adjoining mudroom with a large glass-enclosed solarium that connected to the kitchen through double French doors. She had built it after Maddy had admitted that the nagging arthritis in her right hip bothered her less when she could sit in the sun. There, Sax had declared, you can sit in the sun all winter long and still be warm.
"Sit down while I make you some breakfast. Waffles okay?"
"Waffles are always okay," Sax said as she stretched her legs out under the broad oak tabletop.
Maddy set a cup of coffee by her granddaughter's right hand. As she removed items from the refrigerator and cupboards, she asked casually, "How are things at the hospital?"
Sax cradled the coffee mug in her hands and shrugged. "As crazy as they always are in July. New residents to keep an eye on, more people on the streets to get shot or mugged, more cars on the road to run into each other. It's the busy season."
"Uh huh," Maddy responded noncommittally as she dropped a bit of batter on the griddle to test the temperature.
"There's a film crew doing a documentary in the trauma unit."
Maddy glanced over, trying to read Saxon's feelings from her expression because her voice rarely revealed anything, but she hadn't really expected to be able to. Her granddaughter, she knew, had learned as a child to hide her feelings. That distance probably served her well in the highly volatile environment of the trauma unit, but it was very frustrating for anyone who wanted to know her. "That's rather unusual, isn't it? It seems like it would be a terribly difficult place to film. How on earth could you have any kind of order on the set?"
"It's not like what you were used to," Sax said with a laugh. "No elaborate scenes, no retakes, and no spoiled starlets to cater to."
"I'll have you know that I was never spoiled," Maddy said haughtily. "I was always the picture of refinement."
"That's not what it says about you in the stories I've read."
Placing a plate full of steaming waffles in front of Sax, Maddy said curtly, but with a laugh in her voice, "Those reports were greatly exaggerated."
"At any rate," Sax said, turning her attention with anticipation to the home-cooked meal, "this is more what you would call cinema verité."
Maddy carried a cup of coffee with her and sat down opposite Sax. "Must make things pretty hectic if they're filming while you're working," she observed.
"I thought it would be, but the director has been good about keeping her crew out from underfoot."
"A woman director?" Maddy remarked in surprise. "I've always wished I had been able to do that rather than act. Or maybe along with it."
"Really?" Sax said, finally feeling the pressure in her chest begin to ease with the familiar rhythm of their banter. "I never knew that."
"It just wasn't possible then-or maybe it was, and we just didn't know to try."
Sax reached across the table and touched her grandmother's hand. "I'm sorry."
Maddy laughed. "No need to be. I haven't been pining about it all these years, but I'll look forward to seeing what she does with you."
"It's not about me," Sax hurried to clarify. "She's focusing on my new trauma fellow, Deb Stein."
"Hmm, and I imagine you just fade into the background."
Sax caught the end of a fleeting smile and chuckled, her heart suddenly lighter than it had been in weeks. No one had ever been able to make her laugh at herself the way Maddy had. Maybe because no one had ever made her feel so…loved. "I don't think Jude Castle would agree with that. I've given her a hard time, I guess."
"Why?" Maddy asked seriously, wondering if this was the reason Saxon had come. It had been her experience that eventually her solitary granddaughter would work her way around to what was bothering her, even if she didn't realize it herself.
Sax turned in her chair to look out the window, noting that one of the double doors on the garage was hanging askew. "I'll have to replace that hinge," she remarked absently.
Maddy waited silently.
"Photography is a treacherous thing," Sax said softly, almost to herself. "It's merciless and unkind in the way it captures the moment, exposing-no-revealing the truth without the benefit of pretense or masks. You can't hide from it, not forever."
"Yet there is no judgment in simply recording events," Maddy pointed out. "It's a neutral process."
"No," Sax responded vehemently, shaking her head. "It would be neutral if it weren't selective - but it is. Jude Castle directs the camera- she determines what the film will reveal, what moments will be emphasized, what story will be told. She has all the power."
"Ah," the older woman said, thinking of how many years it had taken Saxon to feel she was in control of her own life, and safe. "She frightens you."
It wasn't a question.
Sax looked at her in astonishment, ready to protest once again. She met those blue eyes so like her own and felt the words die on her tongue. It was true, and it wasn't just her fear of what Jude Castle might see when she looked at her through the eyes of Melissa Cooper's camera. It was realizing how badly she wanted to be seen.
"Saxon," Maddy called, pulling the shawl tighter around her shoulders as she peered up into the night at the shadow moving on her rooftop. "You have to stop. That lantern is not enough light-you're going to fall off and break your neck. Besides that, it's the middle of the night."
Sax pounded another nail into the flashing around the chimney and called down, "I'll be done in a minute."
She hadn't been able to sleep. Or rather, she'd fallen asleep soon after dinner and had awakened in a sweat around midnight. She'd been dreaming. It had been a very vivid dream. Her body was still tingling with a combination of arousal and fear as she sat up in bed, breathing hard, trembling. She'd dreamed of a woman leaning over her, holding her down with the barest of touches while she turned her blood to fire with a kiss. She's awakened still aching with the memory of that kiss. When she couldn't get the image of the red-haired woman with the emerald eyes from her mind, she'd vaulted from the bed, pulled on her jeans, and sought some chore to distract her from the insistent throbbing in her belly.
It hadn't worked, but at least she didn't feel like she was going to explode. Resolutely, she climbed down the ladder and headed back upstairs. She hated to admit it, but part of her hoped that Jude Castle would visit her dreams again.
"Are you sure you can't stay longer?"
"I need to get back," Sax said as she straddled her motorcycle, cradling her helmet under one arm. "I'm on call again tomorrow."
"I know very well that you don't have to take call so often, not since you're the boss," Maddy pointed out, leaning against the picket fence and shading her eyes from the morning sun with one hand. She'd heard her granddaughter prowling the house half the night and wondered if she'd slept at all. It had been years since she'd seen her this restless and agitated-not since those first few months right after Saxon had come to live with her, back when she'd still had her Manhattan apartment. There had been a time then that she wasn't sure either of them would ever sleep again. "You could let some of the others fill in for you."
Sax shrugged, but didn't argue. "Sometimes there's more work if I'm not there, just piling up and waiting for me."
And you wouldn't know what to do with yourself if you weren't working, Maddy thought as she stepped forward and stroked Sax's arm. "Come back sooner next time."
"I will," Sax replied, pulling on her helmet. "Call me if you need anything. And make that list of things that need repairing." She leaned to kiss the other woman's cheek. "I love you," she murmured.
"And I you," Maddy replied. "I'll work on that list." She would, too, although she could easily afford to hire a handyman to keep the place in working order. But she knew that her granddaughter needed the excuse to pull herself away from the demands, and the repercussions, of her work.
"Why don't you bring that film director with you sometime? I'd like to hear what things are like in the industry these days," Maddy added conversationally. She couldn't see the surprise in her granddaughter's eyes, because Sax had already lowered the smoke gray visor over her face.
"Sure," Sax responded automatically, almost laughing at the absurdity of that thought. She couldn't imagine that a busy, cosmopolitan woman like Jude Castle would have any interest in spending an afternoon with her and a reclusive aging movie queen out in the middle of nowhere, sitting on the porch watching the corn grow.
"It's good, Jude," Melissa said, leaning back in her chair with a sigh. The two of them had been sitting shoulder to shoulder in front of the desk that Sax had arranged for them in their on call room for a good part of the afternoon and evening. They'd set up a computer to screen the videotapes from Mel's cameras and had been reviewing the first footage from the trauma alert two nights before. "I was there, and I was still holding my breath in places today."
"Yeah," Jude murmured absently, consulting her log and keying in the digital markers to find a scene she wanted to see again. She muted the sound on the computer and watched Deborah Stein and Sinclair leaning over the small blond child, comforting her while simultaneously examining her, quickly and proficiently. "Do you see that?" she asked intently. "Watch the difference from here…to here…"
Melissa moved closer, following Jude's instructions. "Yeah?"
"Everything changes when they start examining her-even their expressions. Something clicks in-or clicks off."
"They're working, Jude. What do you expect," Melissa responded, not sure she understood what the director was getting at. "They're just focused."
"I know that," Jude said with a hint of frustration, "but that's the whole point. In order to do the work, they have to turn something off-shut something down inside. They have to sever the emotional connection, the…the empathy that most people would feel-are compelled to feel-just because that's what makes us human. What did you feel while you were watching?"
"I was working, too," Melissa pointed out adamantly. She didn't want to admit how relieved she'd been when Jude had told her to take off as soon as the trauma team had transported the motorcycle victim up to the OR the previous day. She'd needed some air, and that had shaken her.
Jude fixed her with an unyielding stare. "So was I, and it was still hard to take. Stop avoiding the question."
"We've seen horror before, Jude," Melissa insisted, shifting uncomfortably in her chair. "Come on-tanks on fire, buildings crumbling on top of us-not to mention twenty-five year old guys who looked eighty taping their final moments. What's the difference?"
"The difference is that in Eastern Europe there was physical distance between us and the events, and from the victims, too. When we did the AIDS feature, we knew going in what we would be filming. We had time to prepare."
"There's an immediacy, an uncertainty, to what happens in the trauma unit. You don't know what to expect, so you can't ever be ready."
"And I got that on tape," Melissa said emphatically. "Just look at the way we've got the wide angle arrival-boom, through the doors, a whole crowd of people and somewhere in there is the patient. Then we zoom in, cutting back and forth from patient to patient and from doc to patient. It's all there-the motion, the energy, the frantic pace. For crying out loud, the camera movement alone tells the story."
It was clear by her tone that the photographer was very happy with the way things had gone.
"Exactly," Jude agreed. "And next time I want you to slow it down."
Jude grinned. They'd been at this place before, where what Melissa saw, and what she captured on film, wasn't precisely what Jude wanted to emphasize. The director's role, as Jude saw it, was to shape the bits and pieces of events into a cohesive whole with a clear message, thereby leading the viewer unconsciously to the same conclusion. That happened by virtue of what she included, and very often, by what she excluded from the hours and hours of footage they accumulated during the course of a long project. It would make her job easier if she and Melissa were looking for the same thing right from the start. "Mel, what's the purpose of this project?"
"I can't do this on an empty stomach," Melissa growled, abruptly rising and starting to pace in the twelve-foot square space between their beds. She refrained from pulling her hair, but she was getting close.
"Do this goddamned mind-melding thing you always insist we do at the beginning of a shoot. I should have known that's why you got me over here this afternoon. Need I remind you that tomorrow Deb is on call again and we're going to be here for another thirty hours or so?" She flopped onto the small bed which she had a feeling she would not be spending much time in and grumbled, "I was hoping to get out of here in time to go home, shower, climb into something irresistibly hot and go out cruising for someone wild and wanton."
"You can still do that. I just want to get us on the same page before we get too far into this and discover we're missing the shots we need."
"I always get the shots!"
"You do, I know," Jude responded soothingly. "But it will be simpler, don't you think, if you had some insight…"
"Oh, God, I hate that word. I hate it. You're going to make me process next, aren't you?" Melissa pulled the pillow over her head and shouted obscenities into it.
"Is there any chance we can avoid the part where you say you can't work with me again, and where you tell me to find another fucking photographer because I'm too controlling?" Jude asked when her associate had finished screaming, smiling her most charming smile. For almost four years Melissa Cooper had been her DP on every major project she'd done, and she couldn't imagine doing something of this magnitude without her on board. The photographer's skill and vision were second to none. Plus she was a lesbian, and her friend, and there had been a time, a long time past, when for a few fevered weeks, she'd come close to being more. "And how can you manage to stay in shape when you eat as many times a day as you do?"
"Sex. Sex burns calories, especially if you do it a lot," Melissa answered, turning on her side on the bed and facing Jude across the tiny space. "If I do this, will you buy me dinner?"
"Yes. Yes, anywhere."
"Will you go out clubbing with me?"
"Mel," Jude said hesitantly. They'd had this debate for weeks. Mel wanted her to go barhopping, and she had resisted. She'd used her relationship with Lori as an excuse, saying that she didn't need to go out looking for other women, she already had one. In reality, she was a little bit worried that if she accompanied Mel to one of her favorite hangouts, she might just be tempted to experiment. And she simply didn't have the time. She hadn't not been working on one project or another for almost two years. Her production company was young-she was young-and she needed to establish herself in a competitive market where, unfortunately, men still ruled. Lori was perfect for her for a lot of practical reasons, and she didn't want anything to upset that image in her mind.
"I won't take you to any place grungy, just a little edgy, okay? I promise," Melissa said matter-of-factly. "Other wise-no deal. I'm outta here."
Jude worked at looking affronted, but she was trying not to grin. The woman had always been irresistible. "I don't think the ink is even dry on your contract yet and you're making me regret it."
"All right. Deal," Jude relented with a sigh. "Now sit down over here and watch this. Then I'll buy you dinner."
Melissa pulled her chair close to the monitor again and waited while Jude found the section she was looking for. All business now, she narrowed her eyes and put herself back in the moment. Her vision tunneled down to the view she'd had through her lens, and she murmured, "Go ahead."
"Watch her face," Jude said softly. The camera had caught Saxon Sinclair in a three-quarter profile as she leaned close to the innocent, vulnerable young girl peering up at her through tear-softened eyes. The surgeon's full lips moved silently as she spoke to the child, but no sound was needed to convey the tenderness in her expression. There was a world of feeling in the depth of her eyes. "God, she's beautiful," Jude whispered, without realizing she had spoken aloud.
Melissa glanced at her quickly, stunned by her tone, and even more astonished by her expression. The way Jude was looking at the image of Sinclair made her instantly hot. She'd always wanted to see that look directed at her, but even second hand it was doing the trick. She definitely needed to find a date later.
"Jude…" she began tentatively.
"There! Right there…" Jude exclaimed, pointing at a frame she had frozen on the screen. "She stands up to begin her exam and, bam-look at her now."
Melissa looked. Cool, calm, completely composed. Sinclair was glacially removed from any part of the human drama raging around her. "Wow."
"Yes," Jude agreed softly. "Wow. Instant transformation-all emotion just-gone. Don't you see the contradiction in that? She's supposed to be the healer, only she also has to be-I don't know, detached and dispassionate. That's what makes her so good, but god, at what cost?"
Melissa thought about Sinclair and her obvious capability and her perfect control and wondered what she was like when that restraint broke. "I bet there's a powder keg behind those cool blue eyes," she muttered.
Jude chose to ignore that remark, but something inside her twisted as she thought about the glimpses of fire she'd seen in Sinclair's gaze. Clearing her throat, she instructed, "Now-go back and find Deb somewhere."
Into it now, excited, Melissa searched the footage. "Okay, here's where I got her when she first evaluated the little girl."
"Watch for that change."
After a few minutes, Melissa remarked, "It never happens."
"No," Jude agreed, "I didn't think it would. But it will-sometime this year. That's what Sinclair is going to teach her-how to do what needs to be done no matter the cost, to herself or anyone else. That's the critical lesson."
"And that's the angle," Melissa said almost reverently.
"Find me that moment, Mel. That's the story."
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