WANTED: A New Year

Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, and I make no money from this work of fiction.

Catherine poured herself a cup of coffee in the doctor's lounge and, taking a tentative sip, grimaced then walked to the window and stared out the window, registering that it was snowing again, but not really seeing what was outside. Instead, her mind was back at the small cabin ... with Robert. She still found it hard to believe that he had actually BOUGHT the place two weeks before Christmas, and had spent hours working on it. When they had arrived at the cabin yesterday morning, Christmas morning, rather than unlocking the door as a 'normal' person would have, Robert had kept her in the dark as to his ownership, and instead, had re-created their first visit and had broken a window at the back to get in.

After she had realized that this cabin was the holiday home he had said he had purchased, Robert had taken her in his arms and asked if she believed in second chances. He had felt so good — so warm, so strong – then he had kissed her with an intensity that had shaken her. Kissing him was heaven. Unambiguous heaven. There had not been simple friendship in that kiss. It was mostly want, and need ... and belonging. She allowed herself to relive those first moments in her mind.

Catherine felt the hard planes and surfaces of Robert's body, his heart thundering in his chest, the heat of his skin through his shirt. For once in her life, she didn't hit the brakes and stop.

Robert dragged his mouth from hers, then breathed huskily in her ear, "Stay, Catherine. Stay with me for Christmas."

"There are a thousand reasons I shouldn't ..." but Catherine was having trouble coming up with even one. She was being seduced by his warmth and strength ... and by the passion of his kisses.

"I laid in a supply of peanut butter and jelly," he tried bribery next, kissing his way along her jawbone then capturing her lips with his once more.

When she could speak again, Catherine asked breathlessly, "Peanut butter and jelly for Christmas dinner?"

"Mmm. Your specialty. I fell in love with it on Thanksgiving Day ... not to mention the wonderful woman who introduced me to that delectable treat."

Catherine trembled. "You ... fell in love?" She couldn't believe he was actually saying it. Oh, she had thought it, hoped it, dreamed it ... but never really had thought it would ever happen after that horrible Sunday when he had not shown up for their pre-arranged breakfast at Murray's.

"Mmmhmmm. But I didn't want to admit it. I COULDN'T admit it, then, even to myself."

"Robert, I ..." his lips covered hers again, making it impossible for her to speak, let alone think.

"Say you'll stay with me, Catherine. Say you'll spend Christmas Day here with me." His caressing lips seduced her into compliance.

"I should call ... my answering service ..." she managed to murmur.

He pulled back briefly, his eyes serious. "You called before leaving the hospital ... they said there was nothing pending, and wished you a Merry Christmas. I'm sorry, but the phone here isn't hooked back up yet ... and, as you know, cell phones don't work here. Wouldn't you have been informed if there WAS a situation pending?"

"Well, yes ... and technically, I'm not on call anyway ..."

"Well, then ..." When she did not resist him, he urged her forward into his arms again and kissed her once more. "You are delicious, Catherine! I could live on your kisses alone ... Oh, I knew you would feel like this!"

Robert pinned her against the wall by the door, his body pressing insistently against hers. Catherine stifled a low moan at the sensations rapidly spreading through her body. The encounter was deliciously aggressive and unlike anything she had ever experienced before. It had been so long since she had been with a man this way, so long since she had been the sole focus of a man's lust, and the force of Robert's desire thrilled her. She found it hard to believe that her feelings were so strong now. Was it just because she had not been kissed in months or was it something about Robert himself? Her heart raced and her mind spun and she returned his kisses passioinately. At last Robert ended the kiss and looked at her, his face reflecting the same incredulity she felt.

"Oh, God," Catherine muttered, ducking her head down, both amazed and embarrassed at her uncontrolled response to his kisses.

"I hope you mean that in a GOOD way," he quipped. Then, with a fast change of topic that caught her off-guard, Robert said, "Catherine, I have a surprise for you."

"Another surprise? I ... I'm not sure I can take it ..." She wasn't even sure of her own name at the moment!

He grinned boyishly, leading her to the back door where he frowned at the glass on the floor. "Damn. I'll have to fix that window soon or we'll freeze in here. Now, Catherine, look out there ..."

She obediently looked out, then a smile broke over her face. "It's a hot tub!" she exclaimed, delightedly. "Oh, Robert, you put in a hot tub!"

"Lori and Jaclyn insisted," he grinned. "Now, if you fall flat on your face in the snow again, you can warm up out there instead of having a shower ... then we won't even have to think of the movie Psycho!"

Catherine chuckled, but the mention of his daughters had brought a shadow to her eyes. "Robert, we have to talk," she said.

"I know, but I don't want to do it yet. Let me get this glass swept up and the board put back over this window ... then we can talk in the hot tub. You ARE staying, aren't you?"

Shrugging helplessly, Catherine smiled crookedly. "Since your truck is in the ditch, I guess I have no choice. I can't WALK out of here, can I?"

"That's my girl!" he pressed another hard kiss on her lips, then got the broom and dustpan leaning on the wall by the broken window. "See? I was prepared."

"Must have been a Boy Scout in your youth," Catherine commented lightly. "Robert, I STILL don't know why you didn't use the key if you own the place now."

"More fun this way. Tradition, and all that. Especially on Christmas Day, tradition is important, don't you think? I'm sure I have some mistletoe hanging about here somewhere ..."

"CATHERINE!" William's voice brought her out of her reverie, and she spun around to see her friend, her face on fire as she frantically wondered if he could read her thoughts. What Robert had done to her under the mistletoe was far too personal and delightful to share! But William's glare made it obvious he wasn't concerned with her thoughts. "Where have you been? Marina kept supper for you last night ... we tried to phone ... we even drove over to your place to see if you were unconscious in the house or along the river path where you normally walk! I didn't see a vehicle in your parking spot ..."

"Oh, William, I'm so sorry!" Catherine didn't want to say she had completely forgotten her invitation to her friends' place for Christmas dinner, but the truth was that she had. "Ro ... ah, a friend dropped me off ..."

"Something wrong with your SUV?"

"No. At least, I don't think so. But it SHOULD have been in the parking lot. I left it there yesterday morning. What could have happened to it?"

"I heard this morning that it was towed away yesterday."

"What?"

"Any vehicle abandoned in the parking lot is towed after two a.m., especially when it's snowing and they need to clear the lot. I understand no one could get in touch with you from here, either, since they phoned ME in the night. There was an emergency. You should have left your number, or at least checked in, Catherine. A baby died last night, you know. YOU might have been able to save him."

Catherine paled. "Oh, God, no!"

"Where WERE you?" William asked again. "Wait, don't tell me. Let me guess. You were with HIM, weren't you? Woodward? Robert Woodward? Wasn't it him who called you in for his daughter on Christmas Eve?"

"What baby died?" Catherine forced herself to ask through stiff lips, ignoring William's questions. If a baby had died because she had given into her own selfish desires for her own pleasure, she would never forgive herself!

William made a dismissive gesture. "It doesn't matter. Catherine ..."

"Doesn't MATTER? What do you mean? Of course it matters! We're doctors!"

"He came way too early. They tried calling you, even though you weren't on call, because they knew he'd be having heart and lung problems. I don't think even YOU could have saved him. No one is blaming you. I'm sorry I even mentioned it." Now William looked sheepish.

"But you did, William. Why?"

"Catherine, we were concerned about you! Especially after hearing that the last time you were seen was with Woodworth! He might have been an axe murderer, for all we knew!"

"Robert WOODWARD," she corrected quietly. "I don't understand."

"His daughters said you were with him yesterday morning. You both went down to his truck for a few minutes because he had something to show you. His son-in-law was looking out the window, and saw you both get into his vehicle and leave ... and you both disappeared without a word to anyone as to your destination! No one could find either one of you! Then you walk unconcernedly back into work this morning, and expect us not to be WORRIED?" His voice rose in his agitation. Speaking in a low, intense voice, he leaned closer to her. "His daughters told me you spent the night with that man at Thanksgiving ... how could you betray Tom like that? Just one short year after his death! Then, from what I gather, this fellow's son-in-law brought you home the next morning and you were waving money in the air – moonlighting?" Catherine gasped and jerked back in outrage, but William gripped her upper arms to hold her still and continued talking rapidly. "I'm sorry, Catherine, but this needs to be said. His wife died that weekend, did you realize THAT? Did you even CARE? What hold does he have over you? When his daughter and son-in-law called you Christmas Eve, you came right away, even though you were not on call! Not only that, but yesterday, CHRISTMAS MORNING, you again disappear with that man for yet another day and night! I don't like it, Catherine. Not one bit. No wonder you were asking me all those strange questions at the Christmas party here about women and how they look interested in a man, or on the make! Well, if you've decided to play the loose woman, and your scruples are low enough that you'll spend the night with a man while his wife is dying, that's your business, but don't you have any respect for TOM'S memory? Really, Catherine, how COULD you have just toddled off with that man? You have only known him for one MONTH! Unless you met other times, you've only seen the man three times at the most! I thought better of you than ..."

Just then the door opened, and a nurse came in, stopping abruptly when she saw the two of them standing so close together. "Dr. Howard ... OH! Sorry!" and she left hurriedly, slamming the door after herself.

Catherine belatedly snapped out of her stunned, disbelieving trance and tore herself out of William's grasp. "How DARE you, William? What right have you ...?" Inwardly she raged at the fact that the nurse would surely be gossiping about her and William. If she hadn't been so furious with him already for his insinuations, she'd have blown her top at him putting her in such a position with their colleagues at the hospital.

"The right of an old friend. Catherine, this isn't like you. It's too fast! How well do you know each other, after all? You're both being caught on the rebound. I'm sure if you think about this ..."

"William," Catherine put up her hand to stop him, speaking slowly and deliberately, trying not to scream hysterically and fighting the urge to scratch his eyes out. "No more about this, please. This is none of your business, not even as a friend. I must say, I do not appreciate your comments." She felt almost proud of her calm exterior. "I am very sorry I did not let Marina and you know that I couldn't come for supper last night, but I did not have access to a telephone or a vehicle until this morning. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do." She walked past him, throwing out her coffee and leaving the cup in the sink before heading out the door, shaking internally but showing outward poise and control.

Inwardly, her thoughts were spinning ... how could she have forgotten her invitation to Marina and William's? Could she have saved the baby last night? What must Robert's girls have thought of his defection, and on Christmas Day? How could William have said such things about Robert, not to mention about HER? Worst of all, the things William had said were all now coming back to her, questions she had asked herself during the last month. WAS she on the rebound from Tom's death, searching for any relationship to get back to the happiness she used to know? Was Robert? It was barely a month since Mary Beth had died ... was Robert using her to assuage his pain?

Catherine ducked into the ladies' room and splashed cold water on her face. Staring into the mirror, seeing the drops of water sliding down her face, she was drawn reluctantly back to yesterday afternoon which she had spent 'cavorting' with Robert in the hot tub. They never HAD gotten around to talking about the future of their relationship, not once in those long, lovely hours both in the hot tub and later on the couch in front of the fire ...

"Oh, Robert," she whispered now, staring at her pale face in the mirror. "What have we done?"

"Dr. Howard, O.R. Dr. Howard, O.R., please,"

She was being paged. Resolutely turning her thoughts from her personal life, Catherine strode out of the washroom and down the hall, once again fully professional.

X x X x ... To be continued ...