A/N: Just a short (6-chapter) series following the Mona Cross story arc and written around the scenes in canon...then I'll be back to Simple Gifts - for those of you who are STILL waiting, thanks for your patience. Not quite a missing-episode fanfic, but not quite AU, either. Mona could be considered OOC, but the Oakdale characters are not - well, at least they weren't intended to be!

Feedback of all sorts welcome and appreciated.

CAUGHT IN THE CROSS-FIRE Chapter 1

Question: Tell me what you think about me I buy my own diamonds and I buy my own rings...

Mona Cross was in a good mood. During the three-hour drive from Chicago to Oakdale, with Destiny Child's Independent Women blaring on the Bose speakers in her new BMW, the sunroof wide open, she sang cheerfully at the top of her lungs. After ten years of toiling behind the scenes at Invicta, only to see her less-deserving male colleagues get all the credit for her ideas, she was finally going to get her chance.

...Only ring your cell-y when I'm feelin lonely; when it's all over please get up and leave...

She had scoured the country for independent hospitals, ripe for the picking. Much to her surprise, the best candidate was practically right in her own backyard in nearby Oakdale. Oakdale Memorial had been run for decades by local physicians, and for the last umpteen years by one Robert William Hughes – or Bob, as he was more commonly known. Bob appeared to be a competent manager, but an uncreative one – things at Memorial did not appear to have changed for decades – until 2010.

...Question: Tell me how you feel about this: Try to control me boy you get dismissed...

Mona had asked her assistant – not only a hottie, but a technowhiz in his spare time – to put together a search bot to flag news about major developments in the hospital industry...and Memorial's new Snyder Pavilion project had been caught in the snare. Somehow Bob Hughes – dull as dishwater Bob Hughes – had managed not only to raise the funding to build a state-of-the-art surgical facility, but he had somehow convinced prominent neurosurgeon Reid Oliver to leave University Hospital in Dallas to run the new wing.

...Pay my own fun, oh and I pay my own bills, always 50/50 in relationships...

Mona had been aware of Dr Oliver's career for several years now – he was known across medical circles for his medical prowess and she had read with interest about his various groundbreaking procedures.

This combination of Dr Oliver's talent, and sleepy (undervalued) Memorial Hospital was too tempting to resist. As soon as Mona read about the new wing, she had started doing her homework. After two weeks of research and six presentations to her boss, her boss's boss and her boss's boss's boss, she'd managed to convince Invicta management to fork up the cash to purchase Memorial. It would be a perfect addition to their portfolio. And scooped up at a good price, it would provide a steady source of income for decades to come.

As soon as she had received approval from management, she had started to pursue Bob Hughes. At first, he was difficult to convince. Indeed, the first time she had called, he had hung up on her, declaring that "Memorial Hospital is not for sale. Not now, not ever." The next two dozen times she called, his assistant had run interference claiming he was away at a series of events ranging from surgery to an anniversary party to his grandson's wedding. Only after she threatened to show up unannounced, did he take a second call.

By then, first quarter financial results were in, and Mona knew they must have been concerning – the industry as a whole was suffering between the recession and fears of Obama's healthcare reform. Mona took advantage of the situation and presented her "best case" financials, showing how Invicta funding could help ensure no immediate staffing cuts, and allow Memorial to sustain its current level of service without detracting from the Snyder Pavilion project.

This time Bob Hughes listened. The next thing he knew, Mona had invited herself to Oakdale for a visit and he had agreed.

Bob had asked her to meet him and "some colleagues" for a drink at Oakdale's LakeView hotel. One of the few "high-rises" (if you can call 12 stories a high-rise) in downtown Oakdale, it wasn't difficult to find. After asking for directions at the front desk, she had just entered the bar when Bob Hughes stood up to greet her. He must have recognized her from her publicity still.

"Miss Cross?" asked Bob, extending a hand. Standing up at the same time was a sandy-blonde with gorgeous want-to-run-your-fingers-through-them curls, exquisite skin and devastatingly blue eyes.

"Please call me Mona," Mona replied. As she shook Bob's hand, out of the corner of her eye she eyed the sandy blonde, gauging his height. She concluded that if she tilted her head, it would fit perfectly on his shoulder, under the curve of his freshly shaven chin...

"Ah well, it's a pleasure to meet you," Bob was saying. "I'm Bob Hughes, and this is Reid Oliver." Bob gestured to the tall blonde. THE Dr Reid Oliver? Reading all his journal articles, Mona had pictured some geeky guy with buck teeth and a combover. But a genius who's also gorgeous? This project just kept getting better and better.

She beamed broadly, as Dr Oliver shook her hand. She couldn't help but quickly look down, noticing that his black jeans looked as if they'd been painted around his hips. She wondered if the view was as good from behind...

"I am thrilled to meet you," said Reid, glancing oddly towards Bob, as he extended his own hand in greeting. At the word "thrilled" Mona's heart skipped a beat. She noticed he was still holding her hand – perhaps for just a beat longer than appropriate. Mona smiled at him and stole a quick glance at his left hand. No ring. Mona smiled to herself.

"Let's sit down," Bob suggested, pointing to the seat next to him. Damn him. Instead of sitting next to Dr McSexy I'm stuck next to Matlock.

"Ah yes," Mona said politely, placing her briefcase on the bench and then taking her seat next to Bob.

"Dr Oliver came to us from Dallas," Bob explained. "We snagged him about last fall."

"I wouldn't say snagged so much as lured and trapped," Reid corrected, taking his seat across from her. Lured and trapped? I'd like to be trapped with Dr Reid Oliver... "...but that's neither here nor there."

Suddenly both Reid and Bob turned their attention to the bar entrance. A second gorgeous blonde entered the room. What did they put in the water here in Oakdale?

Bob stood up to greet the young man. "Luke," he called him.

"Luke Snyder, Mona Cross," Bob said, making the formal introduction. As Luke leaned across the table to shake her hand she couldn't help but notice the chest hair peeking from the open neckline of his peach-colored shirt. Smexy indeed, but jeez – who the hell chose that godawful color for him? Now put that boy in a black button-up with just a few buttons undone? Then we can talk.

While Reid's expression was unreadable, his gaze never left Luke until he had taken his seat alongside the hot doc. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Luke," Mona said.

"Luke was a major donor to the new wing which Dr Oliver will be supervising," Bob explained.

"Oh, very generous," said Mona. Luke Snyder? I thought that the bastard Stenbeck heir was the major donor.

"Well, the work is what's important," Luke said, as Reid stared oddly at what appeared to be the tip of Luke's nose – almost like he was staring while trying to seem like he wasn't staring. "We're just glad to be in a position to help."

As Luke droned on enthusiastically about the life and times of Memorial Hospital, Mona found herself drawn time and again to Dr Oliver's hands. A surgeon's hands. Long slender fingers. Perfect for holding a scalpel and making intricate cuts...patterns across the flesh...

Mona had been trying to maintain eye contact with Luke while he spoke, only occasionally peeking at Reid out of the corner of her eye. She couldn't remember when she had last said anything, so when Luke paused for breath, she nodded and said what she hoped sounded like an interested, "Um hmm."

Apparently it sounded sufficiently interested, as it encouraged Luke to continue with yet another monologue. Mona snuck a glance at Reid's lips, which seemed to open occasionally as if he were thinking of speaking. She wondered what it would be like to devour those lips...

Focus! Mona told herself. She was the project manager for Invicta's acquisition of Memorial. If she could get that old coot Bob Hughes to sell at a reasonable price, she was in line for a major promotion and a hefty raise. She would have her pick of departments to run, and her pick would be that brand spanking, shiny new surgical wing. So the head of the surgical wing, Dr Oliver, would then of course, report to her. She would be his boss – above him on the organization chart. Above him. On top of him...

Mona shook her head to try to encourage the blood in her body to flow back north.

"I'm sorry Miss Cross," Luke said with surprise. "You disapprove?"

"What?" she asked, trying to remember the last topic of discussion.

"Um, it's not that I disapprove..." she said, trying to buy herself some time. "It's just that I need to have a better grasp of the details before I can make a realistic assessment. Mona hoped that her response was sufficiently generic to actually apply to whatever Luke had just been blathering on about.

"Keeping things in the community, Miss Cross." Luke reiterated. "Memorial always tries to keep things in the community as much as possible. Yes, Memorial will go out of its way to hire talent," Luke said, tilting his head towards Reid, "But Memorial is one of the cornerstones of Oakdale. The hospital is one of Oakdale's biggest employers, and as much as possible we use local suppliers for everything from security services to uniforms."

How quaint. Mona decided this was a good opportunity to segue into the question that had been nagging her since Luke Snyder had arrived this morning. "Why did you choose to build the wing at Memorial?" Mona asked. "Couldn't you serve more patients at a larger, more metropolitan hospital?"

"Well," said Luke. "Other hospitals aren't run by somebody I respect as much as Dr Hughes..." Oh gag, thought Mona. If this boy scout keeps this up, I'm going to hurl.

"...and staffed with some of the best doctors in the country" Luke finally paused for a breath, turning towards Reid, adding. "Dr Oliver?"

As if on cue, Reid jumped in, "Yes, Memorial is the little hospital that could." Reid grinned awkwardly. Oh my god, did he just do a little "go get 'em" fist pump? Oh, who cares, that shy almost-smile is incredible! Mona smiled back encouragingly.

"Dr Oliver came to us from a large hospital in Dallas. He's had to make some adjustments." Bob interjected. To be polite, Mona tore her eyes away from Reid to make eye contact with Bob as he spoke. "May I offer you a drink?"

"That's a great idea," agreed Reid. "Let's get that waiter over here." Reid looked expectantly over towards the bar and then back. "Let me tell you something Mona..." he began. Mona couldn't help but notice the sidelong glance that Luke gave him — almost as if he were worried about what Reid was about to say.

"When I first moved to this town," Reid continued, "It was like taking a thousand steps backwards —" Given Memorial's case file and what she'd seen so far of Oakdale, Mona could easily envision that.

Luke cut him off, "Dr Oliver has had a lot of success here at Memorial."

"There was a client of his..." Luke continued, as Reid nodded his agreement. "...who was told by numerous specialists that he wouldn't be able to see ever again. Now he has his eyesight back, thanks to Dr Oliver." Reid bit his lip modestly and looked down.

Mona recognized the description from her case files. She recalled something about a fireworks accident and ensuing blindness. Dr Oliver had apparently come up with some innovative drug therapy protocols and managed to restore the patient's sight in a single operation, despite encountering an unexpected bleeder during surgery. The man was a miracle worker. Miracle worker. Mona had a brief vision of an old Helen Keller movie where Anne Sullivan had her arms around Helen, teaching her to sign "water" with their hands clasped underneath a running faucet. Mona pictured Reid with his arms around her and their hands being bathed in running water. Bathed... Mona blinked hard to get the image out of her head.

"I've heard about that case," Mona said."I'd like to meet with that patient if I could. I find it helps to talk to —"

"The little people?" Reid interrupted. As Mona processed Reid's comment, Luke shot him a death glare.

Reid seemed to reconsider: "That's not what I meant to say."

Trying to change the subject, Bob turned to Luke and asked, "Were you able to reach Noah?"

"That's the young man?" Mona asked. While she had read all about his case, the medical journals were notorious sticklers for patients' privacy, so she had never previously had a name to associate with the story.

"Um, yes," Luke replied, almost nervously. Reid turned to hear the response with interest. "Yes, but unfortunately, he couldn't be here today." Luke turned and gave Reid another odd death glare.

Mona was watching for Reid's reaction when he looked up towards the bar entrance again. Mona turned her head to follow and was surprised to see yet another gorgeous young man enter – this time a muscular brunette with great arms but with deplorable taste in clothes (Mona detested plaid).

Luke and Reid exchanged quick glances and then Luke quickly got up to bring over a third chair for Noah. Noah Mayer apparently was his full name, and he explained how he had been blinded in a fireworks accident because he was distracted at the time. Luke and Reid gave each other another odd glance.

Noah continued his story. He had given up all hope of seeing again until his research identified Dr Oliver as the only neurosurgeon in the country who had pioneered techniques that might be effective with Noah's particular flavor of blindness. Although even Dr Oliver had given him only a 20% chance of success, Noah found that he could see shapes and colors almost immediately after surgery. He was pleasantly surprised when his full vision unexpectedly returned several days later. "It gave me a chance to see just what I had been missing for the last several months," Noah said, pointedly looking first at Luke and then at Dr Oliver. Their eyes made contact for an extended beat and it struck Mona as an odd expression of gratitude.

As Noah concluded his story, Bob paid the bill and suggested they all adjourn. All five of them made their way to the LakeView lobby together as Mona continued to grill Noah on his experience.

"So, did you enjoy working with Dr Oliver," she asked.

Noah paused for a moment, as if to gather his thoughts before responding. "No," he said.

Mona did a double-take. "And why is that?" she asked.

"There was something I wanted," Noah began. "Something I thought was more important than everything else." Noah glanced briefly over Mona's shoulder in Luke's direction.

"Being able to see?" asked Mona obviously.

"Yeah," Noah nodded. "And Reid could give that back to me." Noah put a strange emphasis on "Reid" and glanced in his direction.

"Or he could take it away," Noah continued. "...and I just didn't like being so...out of control." Huh? Mona bit back the urge to ask Mr Mayer what the hell he was babbling about.

"But Reid gave you what you wanted," Bob redirected.

"He gave me my eyes," Noah said cryptically. Yeah, well duh.

"With Reid Oliver at Memorial," Noah concluded, "I am sure the hospital will have no problems attracting other talented surgeons. But I'm not sure any of them will be able to match his success rate, or his reputation."

"Well, it's been a pleasure and a privilege meeting you, Mr Mayer," Mona said, smiling and shaking Noah's hand. Mona thought Noah looked as if he was so touched by Dr Oliver's gift of sight, that he was about to cry.

"Thank you so much for coming," Mona said as sincerely as she could manage. Noah Mayer's story was just the kind of tearjerking sob story that would convince the few bleeding hearts at Invicta to jump on board with the acquisition.

Noah nodded grimly in reply and turned to leave. As he walked past, Reid extended a hand to him. Mona gasped as Noah suddenly hauled back and popped Reid with a stiff right hook to the jaw, sending him tumbling onto one of the lobby couches, then quickly disappeared out the front door.

Mona's heart rate barely returned to normal as Reid pulled a few faces, trying to determine if his nose was broken.

"You all right?" Bob asked with concern.

"Yeah, I'm used to it," Reid replied. "Getting hit is just part of being me." Huh? Who would want to hit that beautiful face?

Luke had glanced out the exit after Noah's rapidly retreating figure and returned to Reid's side asking, "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Reid shook his head dismissively. "You guys are both scaring the pants of our potential investor." Pants off. I'd like to get his pants off. No, I'd settle for kissing his boo-boo. Mona, get a grip.

"This is astonishing," Mona said, shaking her head.

"I'm sorry about this," Bob said, trying to apologize for the chaos.

"Mr Mayer seemed like such a nice young man," Mona observed.

"Yes he is," Bob confirmed. "There seem to be a lot of suppressed emotions."

Mona tried to angle her way towards Reid, but Bob stepped in between and guided her towards the bar. "Why don't we have a drink."

Damn you, Matlock. It's not going to be easy to get out of this one. Mona smiled politely at Bob and let him lead her back into the bar, leaving Reid with Luke, looking like he could use a good hug.