Home > Surprise Delivery(7)

Surprise Delivery(7)
Author: R.R. Banks

“As do you, my dear,” I reply.

She laughs as we walk up the red carpet, our fancy ball gowns swishing around us. I'm wearing a dark green backless dress, with a plunging neckline and bedecked with plenty of lace. Sabrina is wearing a very similar dress, but hers is purple. My mask is a shade of green so dark, it's almost black. It’s festooned with purple and gold jewels and feathers – befitting the masked Mardi Gras theme.

I feel like a fairy tale princess. I've never worn a gown as fancy – or beautiful – as this one and I can't stop looking at myself in every reflective surface we pass. I just can't stop staring, feeling more beautiful than I think I ever have in my life.

I'm Sabrina's date to a fundraising gala her hospital is having. Her boyfriend also works at the hospital, so she had an extra ticket and wanted to give me a special night out. To that end, we spent the day together having brunch, then got our hair done, then got ourselves all dressed and ready. A car was sent to bring us to the gala, which only added to the whole fantasy feel of the day for me.

“Thank you for this, Bri,” I say. “This – I just can't get over it. It's amazing.”

“You deserve a little fun in your life,” she tells me. “And you are absolutely gorgeous, Lex.”

I hold my skirt out and spin around, giggling, feeling lighter in the heart than I have in seemingly forever.

“I have a feeling your dance card is going to be extremely full tonight,” Bri giggles, winking at me from behind her mask.

“Oh, is that why you brought me along?” I say and laugh. “Trying to hook me up with some hot doctor, huh?”

She shrugs. “Or a rich donor,” she replies, joining my laughter. “You just never know when or where you're going to find a love connection.”

“You're terrible,” I chide.

“You won't be saying that if you get to hook up with some of the doctors we have on staff.”

“With some of the doctors on staff? Some?” I grin.

“As they say, variety is the spice of life.”

“You are incorrigible.”

“That's what Dominic likes about me,” she smirks.

Dominic is her boyfriend – a resident at the hospital. They met during a procedure about three months ago and have been inseparable ever since. Those two are practically glued at the hip. Or, as much as they can be given the crazy schedule the two of them have. But, they're really sweet together and I'm happy Bri has found somebody who treats her so well.

She plucks two glasses of champagne off the tray of a passing waiter and hands me one, then we wander around the ballroom. It's decorated in shades of purple, green, and gold, and there's a Cajun Zydeco band playing on stage. The ballroom is filled with the sound of music and the loud buzz of conversation, and people are already dancing out on the floor.

On the side of the stage is a giant digital thermometer that's tracking the level of donations. At the moment, it's about halfway up the thermometer to their goal – not bad for the party having just started a little while ago. Clearly, they have some pretty wealthy donors.

“What are all of the donations for, anyway?” I ask.

“I dunno for sure,” Bri replies. “I think they want to build a new wing and bring in some new, more advanced equipment or something.”

“Ladies,” he says smoothly, his Georgia accent dripping like Southern honey. “You both look ravishing this evening.”

“You're not looking so bad yourself, Dom,” I say. “You clean up pretty good.”

He holds open his purple tuxedo jacket, flashing the gold cummerbund he's wearing, and spins around for us, drawing a laugh from both Bri and I. He pulls his girlfriend to him and plants a soft kiss on her cheek. Sabrina melts into him, wrapping her arms around his waist and I feel a momentary flash of jealousy. Not jealous of what she has with Dominic, just jealous that she has somebody she feels so comfortable with and connected to.

I can't recall the last time I felt that way towards a man. I kind of miss it. The men at work have turned me off to the idea of dating. At least for a while. They represent the worst in men to me and it's really made me hesitant to get close to anybody, let alone open up to them. I just don't trust anybody right now – which makes for some very lonely evenings. And that loneliness is sometimes overwhelming to me.

But until I can make some positive changes in my life – until I am able to get out of the toxicity of that office – I'm not entertaining the notion of being with anybody. It's just not worth it to me.

“So, Lexi,” Dom says. “See anything you like at the buffet?”

“I haven't been just yet,” I respond. “But, if you two would like some time alone –”

Bri laughs and shakes her head. “He's not talking about food,” she says.

I look at him and his smile is wide and charming. Then, I realize what he's talking about and I feel my cheeks flare with color – which makes me glad my mask hides most of my face. I can be so gullible and naive sometimes.

“So, you're in on this with her?” I ask.

He shrugs his broad shoulders. “We both just want to see you happy, Lex,” he says. “You deserve to be pampered and spoiled.”

“I'd settle for respect and genuine care,” I reply.

“Well, that's a given,” Bri says.

“Seriously though, some of the doctors around here are really good guys,” he tells me.

“Yeah, I'm not really in the market right now, but thanks,” I say.

“Maybe not,” he replies. “But, there's nothing wrong with doing a little window shopping, is there?”

I laugh. “I suppose not.”

Somebody calls his name and he gives them a wave, then turns back to me. “Mind if I borrow your date for a minu –”

“Go,” I encourage. “You two lovebirds have fun. I'll be just fine.”

They both give me a smile, then head over toward an older man who's smiling wide at them. I'm genuinely happy for Sabrina. Dominic seems like a really good guy – which gives me some small measure of solace and hope that maybe, one day when I'm ready, I can find one too.

It's only a small measure though.

Carrying my champagne flute with me like some protective talisman, I wander over to the food tables, doing my best to stifle the discomfort I'm feeling. As I look around and see so many distinguished, accomplished people – in a field I want to be a part of in the most desperate way – I not only feel sorry for myself, but I also feel like a fish out of water. I catch snippets of conversations going on all around me – doctors and nurses talking about this medical procedure or that one – and wish I could join them, if for no other reason than to learn.

I don't, simply because I don't want to appear uneducated or ignorant. I mean, I know I am. I'm smart, I'll never say that I'm not. My brains are something I take pride in. But, when it comes to practicing medicine, I just haven’t finished my education. I’d never be able to keep up. For that, I feel a sense of shame stealing through me and I suddenly start to question why I even came tonight at all.

Not finding anything on the table that interests me, I turn – and run smack dab into a tall man. My champagne sloshes all over his tuxedo jacket and I am instantly horrified.

“Oh God, I'm so sorry,” I say. “I didn't –”

“No, it was my fault. I wasn't paying attention to where I was going,” he jumps in, his voice deep and rumbling – like thunder rolling in over the desert.

“Your jacket,” I say. “I can pay for the dry cleaning.”

As he dabs at it with a napkin and gives me a small smile, I let my eyes roam, taking all of him in. He’s a gorgeous man. Tall – maybe six-foot-two or so – and judging by the rock-hard feel of his body when I ran into him, he's tight and toned. He's got an athlete's body, though he's not nearly as bulky as a football player – a swimmer perhaps. His dark brown hair is stylishly cut, he's got that sexy stubble that's always fashionable on his face, and his brown eyes are like two bottomless pools of the richest, most decadent chocolate around.

I give myself a little shake, surprised and dismayed at my reaction to him. My body is humming with an electricity I've never felt before and my thoughts are spinning a thousand miles a minute – and most of them are disturbingly wanton. Kicking myself inwardly, I try to rein my thoughts – and hormones – in. This isn't like me. It's not like me at all.

“Oh, sorry, I'm Duncan,” he says, looking up at me. “Duncan Clyburne.”

“Alexis Martin,” I tell him. “You can call me Lex or Lexi. Most of my friends do.”

A sly grin touches his lips. “So, we're friends already?”

“Oh, well, no, I just meant –”

His laughter is deep, and I can feel the rumble of it in my bones. There's a churning in my stomach and a flutter in my heart that makes it hard for me to focus on what he's saying, let alone formulate a coherent reply. I feel like I'm standing there sounding like a bumbling idiot.

“I'm only teasing you,” he chuckles. “And you can call me Duncan.”

I clear my throat and look up at him – and being only five-foot-four myself, I have to look up at him. His eyes latch onto mine and I feel my breath catch in my throat.

“You're not wearing a mask,” I murmur, trying to gather my wits about me again. “And you're not decked out for Mardi Gras. I thought this was a Mardi Gras ball.”

A small flash of annoyance crosses his features, though I get the feeling that it's not directed at me. It makes me wonder what's going on inside that head of his.

“Yeah, I'm not big on themes,” he says, then laughs. “They're lucky I showed up for this little soiree at all.”

“Oh, are you a donor?”

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