NINETEEN

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Virginia was feeling some degree of satisfaction with what she had accomplished so far. Sitting up and dangling her feet over the edge of the bed on her own was both painful and exhilarating at the same time.

A sound at the door brought her eyes up. Her breath caught at the sight of Spinelli's large frame filling the doorway. "Hi," she said as he entered the room.

"Thought I'd stop by and see how they've been treating you. If they're not being attentive enough, I could send someone in, rough up a few doctors." An impish grin spread across his face.

Wow. A sense of humor. She didn't see that one coming. "No worries, they're great. I'm just chugging along, following orders like a good girl."

"You look a little better."

She knew he'd meant it as a compliment, but all it did was remind her of the fact that she looked like a descendant of Frankenstein. Feeling self-conscious, her eyes drifted down to the bed. "I'm sure anything is an improvement from two days ago."

The head nurse on her floor walked in. She was a sweet, older woman who ran the place with an iron fist, a cross between General Patton and Florence Nightingale. "Okay, Lieutenant, it's your exercise time."

"Nurse Campbell, this is my friend, Mark Spinelli."

It just slipped out. Friend? That wasn't something she would have said three days ago.

"I know who he is, love. All the nurses know who he is. That's all I've been hearing about over the last few days."

"Ahh," Virginia said. Of course all the red-blooded, young nurses knew who Mark Spinelli was.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Nurse Campbell." He bowed slightly in the woman's direction.

"That was a very nice thing you did the other day, young man, finding the lieutenant's little girl for her."

"Glad to help," he said, glancing at Virginia.

Nurse Campbell started working on her robe, pulling it up and over her shoulders. "Well, since you're here, being a big strapping man and all, you can help her on her walk this morning."

Virginia's insecurity was exposed by her meek laugh. "I don't think Mr. Spinelli has time for—"

"I'll take her."

Virginia's eyes shot to his to catch his grin. Protesting was futile—being outnumbered—and he knew it.

"Okay, come on over here." Nurse Campbell grabbed Spinelli by the arm and pulled him over to stand at Virginia's right side. "You've got to put your arm around her and help her up. Be careful not to knock the cast, she needs to keep that collarbone still."

Spinelli leaned down and put his arm around her waist. She had no choice but to do the same to him.

"Okay, Lieutenant, up you get," Nurse Campbell ordered, and with his help, she was on her feet, exhaling in short puffs through the pain.

"You okay?" Spinelli asked, his forehead lined with concern.

"Yeah." She leaned into him, his solid warmth her only grounding point while she waited for the room to stop spinning. "It takes me a second to get my balance."

"She has a couple of fractured ribs we figure, hard to detect those in x-rays. Walking will be slow for the next few days, but she needs to do it. Remind her every fifteen minutes or so to stop and take a deep breath. It's going to hurt like hell, but it keeps those lungs clear. You're going to support a lot of her weight right now until she gets a bit stronger . . . Can you manage?"

He smiled. "I've got her."

"That's what I thought." The woman wagged a finger at Virginia. "Okay, love, I want to see two passes around the floor."

"Yes, ma'am." She looked up at Spinelli. "Ready when you are."

) l (

Mark was careful with her as they started walking. Touching her, even in this detached setting, filled him with an unexpected exhilaration. And although he was bearing most of her weight, he could have walked for hours with her tucked into his side as she was.

Their progress was slow, but time passed quickly while he gave her an insider's view of the unique, sometimes freaky, personalities of the famous people he knew. She entertained him with stories of the one-upmanship antics that took place on a daily basis at the station.

Before he knew it, they were back in her room. He eased her down on the bed, propping up pillows and pulling up blankets.

"Thank you for the walk," she said, sounding tired.

"My pleasure, Ginny," he murmured, noticing her eyes starting to close. "Rest now." He smoothed hair back from her forehead, his fingers lingering in its silky softness. Once realizing she was asleep, he smiled for no reason at all, then turned and left the room.

He spoke to Nurse Campbell on the way out. "How is she doing . . . really?"

"She's great, never complains, doing everything she's told, taking her pain medication. She is one tough cookie. She'll be out of here in no time."

"Good . . . that's very good," he said, knowing his face was plastered with a sappy grin. "Thank you." He lifted his hand in a wave.

"Anytime." Those shrewd eyes stayed on him. "See you tomorrow."

"Oh . . . I won't . . ." Uncertain as to what exactly it was he wanted to say, he decided on a stiff nod instead and started walking.

He felt her watching him all the way to the elevators.

END OF CHAPTER NINETEEN

Nurse Campbell has him pegged, doesn't she? Do you agree? Do you think he'll be back?


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