I had known Joe since the beginning of my medical training. He stood out among the other interns at Boston General, just as I did. I was the only woman among the budding doctors; Joe was the only black intern.
Our shared singularity gave us each a special awareness for the other; both of us sensed it clearly, though neither mentioned it. We worked together very well, but both of us were wary—for good reason—of exposing ourselves, and the tenuous bond between us, much too nebulous to be called friendship, remained unacknowledged until near the end of our internship.
I had done my first unassisted surgery that day—an uncomplicated appendectomy, done on a teenaged boy in good health. It had gone well, and there was no reason to think there would be postoperative complications. Still, I felt an odd kind of possessiveness about the boy, and didn’t want to go home until he was awake and out of Recovery, even though my shift had ended. I changed clothes and went to the doctors’ lounge on the third floor to wait.
The lounge wasn’t empty. Joseph Abernathy sat in one of the rump-sprung stuffed chairs, apparently absorbed in a copy of U.S. News & World Report. He looked up as I entered, and nodded briefly to me before returning to his reading.
The lounge was equipped with stacks of magazines—salvaged from the waiting rooms—and a number of tattered paperbacks, abandoned by departing patients. Seeking distraction, I thumbed past a six-month-old copy of Studies in Gastroenterology, a ragged copy of Time magazine, and a neat stack of Watchtower tracts. Finally picking up one of the books, I sat down with it.
It had no cover, but the title page read The Impetuous Pirate. “A sensuous, compelling love story, boundless as the Spanish Main!” said the line beneath the title. The Spanish Main, eh? If escape was what I wanted, I couldn’t do much better, I thought, and opened the book at random. It fell open automatically to page 42.
Tipping up her nose scornfully, Tessa tossed her lush blond tresses back, oblivious to the fact that this caused her voluptuous br**sts to become even more prominent in the low-necked dress. Valdez’s eyes widened at the sight, but he gave no outward sign of the effect such wanton beauty had on him.
“I thought that we might become better acquainted, Señorita,” he suggested, in a low, sultry voice that made little shivers of anticipation run up and down Tessa’s back.
“I have no interest in becoming acquainted with a…a…filthy, despicable, underhanded pirate!” she said.
Valdez’s teeth gleamed as he smiled at her, his hand stroking the handle of the dagger at his belt. He was impressed at her fearlessness; so bold, so impetuous…and so beautiful.
I raised an eyebrow, but went on reading, fascinated.
With an air of imperious possession, Valdez swooped an arm about Tessa’s waist.
“You forget, Señorita,” he murmured, the words tickling her sensitive earlobe, “you are a prize of war; and the Captain of a pirate ship has first choice of the booty!”
Tessa struggled in his powerful arms as he bore her to the berth and tossed her lightly onto the jeweled coverlet. She struggled to catch her breath, watching in terror as he undressed, laying aside his azure-blue velvet coat and then the fine ruffled white linen shirt. His chest was magnificent, a smooth expanse of gleaming bronze. Her fingertips ached to touch it, even though her heart pounded deafeningly in her ears as he reached for the waistband of his breeches.
“But no,” he said, pausing. “It is unfair of me to neglect you, Señorita. Allow me.” With an irresistible smile, he bent and gently cupped Tessa’s br**sts in the heated palms of his calloused hands, enjoying the voluptuous weight of them through the thin silken fabric. With a small scream, Tessa shrank away from his probing touch, pressing back against the lace-embroidered feather pillow.
“You resist? What a pity to spoil such fine clothing, Señorita…” He took a firm grasp on her jade-silk bodice and yanked, causing Tessa’s fine white br**sts to leap out of their concealment like a pair of plump partridges taking wing.
I made a sound, causing Dr. Abernathy to look sharply over the top of his U.S. News & World Report. Hastily rearranging my face into a semblance of dignified absorption, I turned the page.
Valdez’s thick black curls swept her chest as he fastened his hot lips on Tessa’s rose-pink ni**les, making waves of anguished desire wash through her being. Weakened by the unaccustomed feelings that his ardor aroused in her, she was unable to move as his hand stealthily sought the hem of her gown and his blazing touch traced tendrils of sensation up the length of her slender thigh.
“Ah, mi amor,” he groaned. “So lovely, so pure. You drive me mad with desire, mi amor. I have wanted you since I first saw you, so proud and cold on the deck of your father’s ship. But not so cold now, my dear, eh?”
In fact, Valdez’s kisses were wreaking havoc on Tessa’s feelings. How, how could she be feeling such things for this man, who had cold-bloodedly sunk her father’s ship, and murdered a hundred men with his own hands? She should be recoiling in horror, but instead she found herself gasping for breath, opening her mouth to receive his burning kisses, arching her body in involuntary abandon beneath the demanding pressure of his burgeoning manhood.
“Ah, mi amor,” he gasped. “I cannot wait. But…I do not wish to hurt you. Gently, mi amor, gently.”
Tessa gasped as she felt the increasing pressure of his desire making its presence known between her legs.
“Oh!” she said. “Oh, please! You can’t! I don’t want you to!”
[Fine time to start making protests, I thought.]
“Don’t worry, mi amor. Trust me.”
Gradually, little by little, she relaxed under the touch of his hypnotic caresses, feeling the warmth in her stomach grow and spread. His lips brushed her breast, and his hot breath, murmuring reassurances, took away all her resistance. As she relaxed, her thighs opened without her willing it. Moving with infinite slowness, his engorged shaft teased aside the membrane of her innocence…
I let out a whoop and lost my grasp on the book, which slid off my lap and fell on the floor with a plop near Dr. Abernathy’s feet.
“Excuse me,” I murmured, and bent to retrieve it, my face flaming. As I came up with The Impetuous Pirate in my sweaty grasp, though, I saw that far from preserving his usual austere mien, Dr. Abernathy was grinning widely.
“Let me guess,” he said. “Valdez just teased aside the membrane of her innocence?”
“Yes,” I said, breaking out into helpless giggling again. “How did you know?”
“Well, you weren’t too far into it,” he said, taking the book from my hand. His short, blunt fingers flicked the pages expertly. “It had to be that one, or maybe the one on page 73, where he laves her pink mounds with his hungry tongue.”
“See for yourself.” He thrust the book back into my hands, pointing to a spot halfway down the page.
Sure enough, “…lifting aside the coverlet, he bent his coal-black head and laved her pink mounds with his hungry tongue. Tessa moaned and…” I gave an unhinged shriek.
“You’ve actually read this?” I demanded, tearing my eyes away from Tessa and Valdez.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, the grin widening. He had a gold tooth, far back on the right side. “Two or three times. It’s not the best one, but it isn’t bad.”
“The best one? There are more like this?”
“Sure. Let’s see…” He rose and began digging through the pile of tattered paperbacks on the table. “You want to look for the ones with no covers,” he explained. “Those are the best.”
“And here I thought you never read anything but Lancet and the Journal of the AMA,”I said.
“What, I spend thirty-six hours up to my elbows in people’s guts, and I want to come up here and read ‘Advances in Gallbladder Resection?’ Hell, no—I’d rather sail the Spanish Main with Valdez.” He eyed me with some interest, the grin still not quite gone. “I didn’t think you read anything but The New England Journal of Medicine, either, Lady Jane,” he said. “Appearances are deceiving, huh?”
“Must be,” I said dryly. “What’s this ‘Lady Jane’?”
“Oh, Hoechstein started that one,” he said, leaning back with his fingers linked around one knee. “It’s the voice, that accent that sounds like you just drank tea with the Queen. That’s what you’ve got, keeps the guys from bein’ worse than they are. See, you sound like Winston Churchill—if Winston Churchill was a lady, that is—and that scares them a little. You’ve got somethin’ else, though”—he viewed me thoughtfully, rocking back in his chair. “You have a way of talking like you expect to get your way, and if you don’t, you’ll know the reason why. Where’d you learn that?”
“In the war,” I said, smiling at his description.
His eyebrows went up. “Korea?”
“No, I was a combat nurse during the Second World War; in France. I saw a lot of Head Matrons who could turn interns and orderlies to jelly with a glance.” And later, I had had a good deal of practice, where that air of inviolate authority—assumed though it might be—had stood me in good stead against people with a great deal more power than the nursing staff and interns of Boston General Hospital.
He nodded, absorbed in my explanation. “Yeah, that makes sense. I used Walter Cronkite, myself.”
“Walter Cronkite?” I goggled at him.
He grinned again, showing his gold tooth. “You can think of somebody better? Besides, I got to hear him for free on the radio or the TV every night. I used to entertain my mama—she wanted me to be a preacher.” He smiled, half ruefully. “If I talked like Walter Cronkite where we lived in those days, I wouldn’t have lived to go to med school.”
I was liking Joe Abernathy more by the second. “I hope your mother wasn’t disappointed that you became a doctor intstead of a preacher.”
“Tell you the truth, I’m not sure,” he said, still grinning. “When I told her, she stared at me for a minute, then heaved a big sigh and said, ‘Well, at least you can get my rheumatism medicine for me cheap.’”
I laughed wryly. “I didn’t get that much enthusiasm when I told my husband I was going to be a doctor. He stared at me, and finally said if I was bored, why didn’t I volunteer to write letters for the inmates of the nursing home.”
Joe’s eyes were a soft golden brown, like toffee drops. There was a glint of humor in them as they fixed on me.
“Yeah, folks still think it’s fine to say to your face that you can’t be doing what you’re doing. ‘Why are you here, little lady, and not home minding your man and child?’” he mimicked.
He grinned wryly, and patted my hand. “Don’t worry, they’ll give it up sooner or later. They mostly don’t ask me to my face anymore why I ain’t cleanin’ the toilets, like God made me to.”