Not Just a Cowboy(3)

By: Caro Carson

“Listen, I can’t stay until Friday, after all. Something’s come up.”

“Is that right?” Patricia very deliberately tucked the clipboard under her arm, then lifted her chin and gave Dr. Hodge her full attention. “Explain.”

Dr. Hodge frowned immediately. Doctors, as a species, gave orders. They didn’t take commands well. Patricia knew when to be gracious, and she knew how to persuade someone powerful that her idea was their idea. But Patricia was also a Cargill, a descendant of pioneers who’d made millions on deals sealed with handshakes, and that meant she didn’t give a damn about tact when a person was about to welch on a deal. Dr. Hodge was trying to do just that.

The doctor raised her chin, as well, clearly unused to having her authority challenged. “I have a prior commitment.” Unspoken, her tone said, And that’s all you need to know.

Patricia kept her voice cool and her countenance cooler. “Your contract specifies ninety-six hours of service. I haven’t got any extra physicians to take your place if you leave.”

“I’m needed back at West Central.”

Patricia had recruited as many physicians as she could from West Central Texas Hospital. The hospital had been founded by Quinn MacDowell’s father, and his brother Braden served as CEO. She knew the hospital well. It had just been one more item on the list of reasons why Quinn had been her best candidate for marriage.

Her familiarity with West Central gave her an advantage right now. “West Central is perfectly aware that you are here until Friday. If you went back this evening, people might wonder why you returned ahead of schedule.”

The woman started to object. Patricia held up a hand in a calming gesture. It was time to pretend to be tactful, at least. “You have a prior commitment, of course, but some people could jump to the conclusion that you just didn’t like the inconvenience of working at a natural disaster site. Wouldn’t that be a terrible reputation to have in a hospital where so many doctors somehow find the time to volunteer with Texas Rescue? I do hope you’ll be able to reschedule your commitment, just to avoid any damage to your professional reputation.”

The threat was delivered in Patricia’s most gracious tone of voice. Dr. Hodge bit out something about rescheduling her other commitment at great inconvenience to herself. “But I’m out of here Friday morning.”

“After ten, yes.” Patricia set Dr. Hodge’s departure time as she unflinchingly met the woman’s glare.

Dr. Hodge stalked away, back toward the high-tech, inflatable white surgical tent where she was supposed to be stitching the deep cuts and patching up the kinds of wounds that were common when locals started digging through rubble for their belongings. Patricia didn’t care if Hodge was angry; that was Hodge’s personal problem, not Patricia’s.

No, her personal problem had nothing to do with this field hospital, and everything to do with her plans for the future. Every moment that Texas Rescue didn’t demand her attention, she found her mind circling futilely around the central problem of her life: How am I going to save the Cargill fortune from my own father?

The radio in her hand squawked for her attention. Thankfully. Patricia raised it to her mouth and pressed the side button. “Go ahead.”

“This is Mike in pharmacy. We’re going through the sublingual nitro fast.”

Of course they were. After any natural disaster, the number of chest pain cases reported in the population increased. It was one of the reasons she’d recruited Quinn to Texas Rescue; she’d needed a cardiologist to sort the everyday angina from the heart attacks. The initial treatment for both conditions was a nitroglycerin tablet. The pharmacists she’d recruited always kept their nitro well stocked, but a new pharmacy tech had freely dispensed a month’s worth to each patient instead of a week’s worth, and the hospital had nearly run out before anyone had noticed.

Patricia had recruited that pharmacy tech, too. She accepted that the shortage was therefore partly her fault. Even if it hadn’t been, Patricia would’ve been the one to fix it.

She pressed the talk button on her radio again. “You’ll need to make what you’ve got last for several more hours. I’m going to have to reach quite a bit farther out of town to source more.”

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