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Desert Heat and Starlight

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“ROXANNA PLEASE, YOU know I can’t just take two weeks off at a moment’s notice.” Henrik pushed the brochure back over his desk.

“I’m not asking you to drop everything. I’m saying you should consider it. Henrik, you’re running on empty. If you don’t have a real break soon, you’re going to burn out. Even now you’re making silly mistakes…”

“When?”

“Sending Mr. Pratt down for a CT scan when he was in for a ruptured appendix yesterday?”

“I was being thorough,” Henrik muttered.

“What about putting Reverend Doyle’s notes in Mrs. Boyle’s folder? He was nearly given a proctoscopy by mistake. Good job Sacha picked that one up.”

“You heard about that?”

She sighed deeply. “Everyone heard about that, apart from the patient, thank goodness. And that’s even before I mention how ghastly you’ve been at home. I feel as if I’m walking on eggshells most of the time. Your temper…”

“There’s nothing wrong with my temper!”

Roxanna didn’t reply. She didn’t have to. He had proved her point right then.

“Look, I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you. Somehow. I don’t …” He looked up, but she had left the room.

 

“IS EVERYTHING ALL right?” Ric asked later. Henrik was in the staff room, making himself a cup of tea as Ric grabbed lunch. Roxanna had come in, wordlessly taken her salad out of the fridge, slammed the fridge door with unnecessary force and walked out again, leaving Henrik watching after her stiff back.

“Not really. I’m new to this romance game. Seems I keep putting my foot in it.” Henrik sat at the table and opened his lunchbox. Inside, Roxanna had left a note that morning, saying I LOVE YOU X. He hastily whipped out the note and shoved it in his pocket before Ric could see.

“I’m not sure I’m the best person to advise you,” Ric said, smiling wryly.

“She wants us to go away. Says I need a break.”

“Well, I don’t think you’ve had any time off since Frederik…”

“No. I’ve always thought keeping busy was the best thing.” Henrik picked up his chopsticks and began to eat the carefully prepared sushi.

“What about spending time with Roxanna? Have you two been away together yet?”

Henrik shifted a glance at him. “Not yet.”

“Maybe you should.”

“She wants to go away for two weeks. South Africa.”

Ric cleared away the remains of his lunch. “Think yourself lucky. I’m not sure any woman has actively wanted to spend two solid weeks in my company.”

“She should have consulted me at least.”

“Consulted you?” Ric laughed. “Henrik, Roxanna is a highly intelligent and determined woman. If she says you need some time out, I would listen to her, believe me.”

“I thought you’d be on my side.”

“It isn’t about sides, man! She deals with people burning out every week! If you don’t want to listen to her as your lover, at least listen to her as a doctor. And there’s one more thing. It’s something I’ve learned to my cost in my chequered love life.”

Henrik glared at him. “And what is that?”

“Once a woman makes up her mind, any resistance is futile. You’re never going to win this, Henrik, so I’d give in now.” He flashed another grin before leaving the room.

Henrik thought about what Ric had said as he took his tea back to his office. The brochure was still there on his desk.

He opened it and looked through the pictures of savannah plains, vivid blue skies, exotic animals. The trip would include a luxurious train ride from Pretoria to Victoria Falls, before flying back to Durban and going on a four day safari near the Drakensberg. It all looked wonderful, and spending time with Roxanna would be a dream come true.

As he turned the next page, a piece of paper fell out. The writing was Roxanna’s.

I’ve already booked this. If you don’t want to come, I know I can find someone else who will.

There were no prizes for guessing who. John had been extremely put out when Henrik said he was officially seeing Roxanna. He would take his place in a heartbeat, given half a chance.

Glancing up, he saw the calendar marked with thick red pen. It said SOUTH AFRICA in capital letters. A wave of anger swept over him. It was time to give Roxanna a piece of his mind. He would NOT be bullied into doing something way out of his comfort zone.

  

“YOU COULD HAVE at least asked me first!” He was a hairs breadth away from losing his temper completely, his voice rising in Roxanna’s small kitchen.

“I did! Several times. I need a break even if you don’t. All I’ve done is work since David’s death and I’ve had enough! Henrik, I want to spend time with you but if you don’t feel the same then maybe we aren’t as compatable as I thought.”

“What does that mean?”

“You know what that means! I love you, Henrik, I really do, but you insist on keeping me at arms length. This is our chance to get to know each other more, to have some real quality time together without work getting in the way. And you need it. You need to switch off because I can’t bear to see you struggling under a mountain of work…

“I’m not struggling, Roxanna. I believe I’m coping very well.”

"The proctoscopy?" She reminded him.

"I'm not superhuman! It was hardly a certifiable offence."

"The Reverend would probably think differently if it had gone ahead. All right, put this another way. I want your attention. Undivided. I want us to spend time doing nice things, not looking at brains or going to the bloody garden centre at weekends! I know this is all new to you but this is what couples do, Henrik. They go away, and do things together. Walking, travelling, eating out. We’re just too immersed in our jobs to do anything else. What's the point of earning good salaries if we don't ever get to spend it!”

He could see the sense in what she was saying, but the fact she had booked the holiday without telling him rankled deeply.

“Did you mean what you said, about someone else going with you?”

She took a deep breath. “Yes.”

“And that person would be John, I presume?”

She flushed and didn’t answer.

“I resent the fact you are trying to blackmail me, Roxanna. This is totally out of order.”

“God, Henrik, I want to go on holiday, not steal the Crown Jewels! You need shaking up but if you insist on staying behind, that’s fine. At least I know where I stand. You don’t want to spend time with me so why are you even here?” She sobbed the last word out. “I hate it when you make me feel like this!” She grabbed the kitchen roll and tore off a square, dabbing her eyes.

Henrik was truly alarmed. Roxanna never cried. Not since David died had she shed any tears. Yes, she had been grieving, unhappy at times, her pain at losing her husband plain to see, but tears? No.

Now she was crying openly, and it was his fault.

He felt like the worst man in the world.

“Roxanna, please don’t cry.” He gathered her up in his arms. As he held her, she sobbed harder.

“I’m sorry, I really thought you’d want to go,” she wailed. “I feel like a fool, forcing your hand like that.” She grabbed another sheet of kitchen roll and blew her nose. “I’m not the sort of woman who turns on the tears to manipulate you into doing something you don’t want to do, but I care about you, Henrik! I can see how close to the edge you are and it worries the hell out of me.”

Henrik kissed the top of her neat blonde head. “I feel a complete fool, as I’m the luckiest man on the planet and keep forgetting it.” He held her tightly. Everything she had said to him was true. He was working too hard. He needed a break, and it would be good to be together without real life intruding.

As for John, he wouldn’t like it, but that was too bad. You lose, he thought, with some satisfaction.

But only some. A small, confusing part of him wished John was going to be there as well. He didn’t understand it, but right then was not the time to dwell on complicated feelings. He held Roxanna away and smiled down at her.

“We’re going, and we’ll have a wonderful time.”

She looked up at him, her eyes wet. “Are you sure?”

He stroked the tears away from her cheek. “Yes, my love. I’m rather glad you’ve taken control. In fact, I could get used to it.”

She sniffed and laughed. “Make sure your passport is up to date. We’re leaving in four weeks and nothing is going to stop us.”