By Pat


As he shaded his eyes from the bright afternoon sunlight, Dr. Luka Kovac, attending physician in the ER at Cook County, asked himself again, for the about the tenth time, how he had gotten talked into this.    Here he was sitting in the back of a parked ambulance with an over-eager young EMT, providing medical coverage at this horse show.    It had been interesting at first and Luka had enjoyed watching the horses and riders maneuver the formidable looking jumps on the cross country course, and he was glad there had been no injuries, but now he was more interested in just getting back to his apartment, a hot shower and perhaps some sleep.  


“Hey doc”, the young EMT said with a grin, nudging Luka, “at least there’s one fringe benefit for being here!” 


“And what might that be?” Luka questioned.


“Babes, doc!  Look at all those babes in those skintight pants!  Don’t leave nothing to the imagination, if you get my drift!” 


Shaking his head, Luka was about to make a rather scathing comment to the young man, when he noticed a sudden commotion over by one of the rings.   As he watched, a rearing, kicking horse lunged out between two trailers, kicking at anyone in range.  Luka quickly jumped down and headed in that direction, knowing that in that crowd of people this was not a good situation. 


Just as quickly from out of the crowd, a slender young woman with flaming red hair was quietly approaching the frightened, angry animal.   Fearing for her safety, Luka hurried towards her.


“Get back you idiot!” she snapped at him, “Do you want to get killed!”


Luka froze, somewhat in anger.  No one had called him an idiot, at least to his face, for quite some time!  He watched as the woman approached the frightened horse, speaking quietly and gently to the animal.   Luka waited, expecting the worst.  He was certain that the large beast was going to knock her flat.    Much to his surprise and a bit of amazement, he watched as she grabbed reins, momentarily halting the animal as she stepped up and swung into the saddle.   After what seemed like an eternity to Luka, the woman calmed the animal and dismounted.    The horse’s owner, a spoiled-looking young man walked up to take the animal from her.


“Take those damn spurs off until you learn how to use them!”  she snarled at him.  “Look at the blood on the side of your horse where you gouged him - no wonder he went crazy!  I’d like to take spurs to you except you’d probably enjoy it!”   The watching crowd burst into laughter and applauded the young woman’s words.   Silent and red-faced the man took the reins and led the horse away. 


As Luka stood there, a man next to him said,  “Hey buddy, do you know who that is? “   Luka just shook his head no.    “That’s Jennifer MacLeod - she’s an Olympic gold medalist.   You musn’t follow the eventing scene much.” 


“No I don’t,” Luka replied, and started to walk away.   He allowed himself a grin, thinking how that one’s temper certainly matched the color of her hair, as he walked towards his perch in the back of the ambulance.  


“Hey Mister, wait a minute.”  Luka heard a feminine voice behind him, and turned around to see if this had been directed at him.   It had.  The same red-haired woman was quickly walking towards him.   Luka wondered what she was planning to call him this time!


“Can I help you?”  he asked, somewhat warily.  As she got closer, Luka could see she was very beautiful, with large green eyes that at the moment looked a bit uncertain as she approached him.    He was surprised by her next words. 


“I wanted to apologize to you,” she softly murmured, “I realize you were just trying to help, I shouldn’t have called you an idiot. “ 


“Apology accepted.  You certainly didn’t need my help, that’s for sure!  That was very impressive.”  


As she looked up at him, Jennifer couldn’t believe how incredibly tall and handsome this man was.   He made her feel like an awkward schoolgirl again! 


“I’m Jennifer MacLeod,” she said, offering her hand to Luka. 


As he took her hand, he felt his pulse rate jump.   He stood there for a moment in silence until he realized she was still looking expectantly up at him, and that he still had a grip on her hand.   Blushing slightly, he replied, “Dr. Luka Kovac.”  With regret he let go of her hand, suddenly feeling a sense of loss.   This had to stop.   “Get a grip on yourself, Kovac.”  he mentally chided himself. 


“Oh gosh, “ Jennifer said with a grin, “I insulted a doctor no less!   I better make sure I don’t fall off this afternoon,”  she laughed,  “I couldn’t expect you to patch up someone who called you an idiot.”  


Luka found himself smiling back at her, “Oh, I’d patch you up,” he said with a touch of humor in his voice, “but I might find it necessary to place a bandage over your mouth.”  


Jennifer’s clear, infectious laughter surrounded him, and for the first time in a very long time, Luka found himself genuinely laughing.    Before he even realized what he was saying, he asked “How would you like to sweeten that apology, by having dinner with me this evening, if you’re free. “   He smiled down at her.   Her head barely reached his shoulder.   “I’ve never met an Olympic gold medalist before. “ 


Now it was her turn to blush.  “I’d like that very much,” she replied.    After asking for a piece of paper, Jennifer quickly wrote down her address and directions, handing it to Luka.   “Its almost my turn on course, I have to run now,” she said, “but I’ll see you this evening, right?”


“Right”, Luka replied, “this evening.  And by the way, don’t bring the spurs!”


He could hear her laughing as she quickly turned and hurried off.  Watching her go, all his doubts, fears, and feelings of guilt came rushing back and Luka berated himself, how he could have been so foolish.   How he could have forgotten his lost wife and children, wasn’t he betraying them?   But, yet, at the same time, he could still feel the warmth of her hand in his.  And it had been four years, maybe; just maybe, he could allow himself to start to live again.   At any rate, he had opened his mouth and invited the woman, his old-world European manners wouldn’t allow him to be be rude and back out now.   “Who are you kidding?  he heard the voice inside his head, “You don’t really want to back out!”


As she paced the floor of her house, waiting for Luka to arrive, Jennifer thought about changing clothes once again, as she looked at herself in the mirror, even though she had already tried everything in her closet finally settling on a blue silk shirt, tartan skirt, black pumps, she fretted maybe that was all wrong, perhaps something else...”Jennifer, YOU are being an idiot,” she scolded the person looking back at her from the mirror, “You’ve been on dates before.  You handle this one like all the rest, keep it friendly, and don’t let down your guard.”    But there was something different about this man that had awakened feelings she thought she had successfully locked away behind the walls she had built around herself.   Her eyes softened and turned a misty shade of green as she remembered the way he had held her hand, the dark hair that fell over his forehead, and those beautiful, soulful, deep dark eyes, eyes that seemed to have held so much sadness and pain behind the smile.  Having lived with her own for so long, it was easy to recognize it in another.   Deep in thought, her memories were suddenly interrupted by a knock on the door.  


“Hi,” Jennifer greeted Luka, “I see you found the place.” 


“Your directions were perfect,” he replied, as he handed her a single red rose.  “You look lovely,” he said, watching her blush again. 


“Thank you,” she replied, “So do you.”   As she realized what she said, Jennifer felt herself go red all over her.   As he started to laugh, Luka replied, “Thank you for the compliment, I can’t really remember the last time I was called lovely.”   Jennifer’s embarrassment faded as she joined in his laughter.   As he led her to his car she thought, no, not lovely, just drop dead gorgeous in the dark clothes it seemed he favored. 


They had talked for hours over dinner, and as they shared a glass of wine after the meal, Jennifer remarked, “I love your accent, but I can’t place it.  Where are you originally from, Luka?”    As she watched the traces of anger and sadness cross his face, Jennifer immediately regretted the question, and tried to make amends.  “I’m sorry I asked that,” her voice suddenly husky, “I can see I’ve stirred up some sad memories.   Please forgive me?”  She laid her hand softly on top of his clenched fist on the table.


For a moment, Luka had felt anger flare up.   Why did she have to ask that question?  Why bring up those memories that were never far from the surface.   But then, his mind told him, she didn’t know, it was only a simple question.   Summoning all of his control, he quietly replied “Its all right.  I’m from Croatia, and yes, some memories are better left alone. “   Luka was surprised by the flatness in her voice as she replied, “Yes, some memories should never be resurrected.”   Reaching across the table he took her hand in his.  “Then lets leave them behind,” he said.  


Luka awoke slowly; it had been a good dream.   In fact, it had been so real; he thought he could smell the coffee his wife had made him every morning.    Suddenly his eyes flew open, that was coffee he smelled!   As he looked around the room, this was not his bedroom either.   Then he remembered, and relaxed back on the pillows.


“Good morning, sleepyhead,”  he heard a voice from the bedroom door.  “I’ve brought you some coffee.”  Jennifer said, as she came towards him carrying two steaming cups.  


Luka sat up, pulling the sheets along wth him as he realized he was rather under dressed, or she was over dressed in jeans and an old shirt, and he had only the sheet!


“What time is it?”  he asked.   “Why didn’t you wake me?”


“Almost 10,” Jennifer replied, handing him the coffee.   “I didn’t wake you because you looked tired and I figured you could use the sleep.   I had the hungry horde in the barn waiting to be fed, so to avoid a riot I knew I had better hustle on out there.   And speaking of hungry, how about some breakfast?”


Luka nodded yes.   He didn’t want to tell her he normally never ate breakfast, usually just grabbing a quick cup of coffee during his shift.   As she stood there drinking her coffee, Jennifer wandered what had she done wrong, Luka acted so distant from her this morning.  Nothing like the passionate man of the night just past.    Looking at the emotions that touched her expressive face, Luka quickly realized the mistake he was making.   As Jennifer reached to take the empty cup from him, he set it down on the nightstand, capturing her hand instead.    Gently pulling her down on the bed along side him, he reached up to place his hand behind her head, burying his fingers in her hair as he softly pulled her to him, placing a gentle kiss on her lips.  “Now thats a better way to say good morning,” he whispered, nibbling on her soft bottom lip, as her arms wrapped around his neck.   He felt her relax against him as she returned the kiss in full.   “Much better.”  Jennifer whispered back, when he finally released her mouth and her breath returned.   She gave him a bright, bubbly smile, as she stood up, picked up the cups and turned to walk out of the room.  “I’ll be in the kitchen, join me when you’re decent - or not!”


As Luka stood under the hot shower, his mind played back over the events of the day before.   It had been a day from hell in the ER.   The schoolyard shooting, the confrontation with Benton, and then he had to stand by and let that baby die because its mother didn’t want it.   He thought how he would have moved heaven or hell to save his children, and that woman had thrown her’s away.   The events of that terrible Valentine’s Day had also come crashing back on him - Carter critically injured, now battling drug addiction, Lucy dead.   As he stood there, once again the weight of guilt and anguish almost overwhelmed him, and he had to lean against the shower wall for support.  How could he have let that happen?   Perhaps Kerry Weaver was right in blaming him.    Last night it had become too much, and as he sat alone on the El platform, he had contemplated putting an end to the pain.   Instead, he had found himself turning to the one person he felt he could trust.   He had shown up at her door, just wanting to hear her voice, feel her touch, needing to lose himself within her.   Even though they had formed a friendly, casual relationship, Luka had kept his walls in place, not allowing himself to get too close.    Until last night.    The images replayed again in his mind  - how he had sat next to her on her sofa while he had poured out the traumas of the day, and how she had then taken his hand and led him down the hallway to her bedroom.   She had held him as she slipped the clothes from his body, as he had hers.  He had taken her passionately and furiously, reveling in the feel of her hands touching him, her body moving under his and melding together into one.   He had wanted to be gentle with her the first time, but it had been too long since he had been with a woman and his body had taken over.   He just hoped he hadn’t been too rough, or hurt her too much. 


The soft words she had whispered against his skin in a language he didn’t recognize, had somehow soothed and comforted him.   At least for last night, but now the memories were crowding in on him again, his wife, his children, Carter, Lucy, the blame that Kerry had spat out at him, the reproachful looks from Mark Greene.    He quickly turned off the shower, grabbed a towel.   He found his clothes and dressed auickly.   In the midst of the pain, a part of his being told him to find his Jennifer, she’d help him chase away the demons again.    As he walked into the kitchen, Luka pondered the twist of fate that had brought him here, and was grateful for it. 


To part 2

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