Why? Why today, when she was already running late before she’d even started, did someone have to make it even worse?
She glared at the car reversing neatly into the one remaining doctors’ space—a car she didn’t recognise, and she’d never seen the driver, either. He certainly wasn’t one of their doctors, so whoever he was he had no business parking there.
Didn’t seem to bother him. He either didn’t know, or didn’t care, but he flashed her a smile as he got out of the car, then locked it and headed for the surgery without a backward glance.
Who did he think he was? Cocky, arrogant—argh! There weren’t words for what she felt. The expensive car, the confident stride, the easy charm—not to mention the insanely good looks. Clearly a man for whom everything had always gone his way. Well, not now. Whoever he was—probably a drug rep—he was about to get his comeuppance.
Still fuming, she reversed into the last available space in the car park, not really wide enough but doable—or it would have been, if she hadn’t been so cross.
She heard the scrape, closed her eyes and breathed, then shuffled the car slightly further from the offending wall, squeezed out of the ridiculously narrow gap she’d left herself, slammed the door and headed across the car park.
Seriously, could today get any worse? Well, his could. If he was still in Reception—
He was. He was chatting to the receptionist, leaning forward engagingly as he spoke, and that easy charm was obviously working on Katie, which just infuriated her more. His hands were shoved casually into the pockets of immaculately cut trousers that fitted his neat, strong hips to perfection. Of course they did. They wouldn’t dare do anything else.
She eyed his shoulders, broad and yet not heavy, the legs strong and straight below firm, taut buttocks. He probably worked out in a fancy gym somewhere. You didn’t get a neat, sexy bottom like that by accident.
She dragged her eyes up to head height.
‘You’ve parked in a doctor’s space,’ she said crisply to his back, keeping a lid on her temper with difficulty, and he straightened up and turned towards her, that infuriating smile still on his face.
‘I know parking’s tight, but that is just not on. There was another space, so why not park there yourself? Or anywhere else, frankly! Or was that the only space big enough for your ego? Thanks to you I’ve scraped my car, I’m now ten minutes late and I’ve got patients waiting!’
An eyebrow rose a fraction. Over his shoulder she could see Katie gesturing wildly, but she ignored her and stood her ground, and he shook his head slowly.
‘Maybe you need to get up earlier,’ he murmured, and she stifled the urge to growl at him.
‘And maybe you need to learn to read!’
‘Ellie! Dr Kendal!’ Katie chipped in, getting to her feet and looking even more flustered, and his eyebrow went up a little further, a lazy smile now playing around his aggravatingly beautiful mouth.
‘I think we’d better start again,’ he said, holding out his hand, the smile tugging at his lips. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dr Kendal. I’m Nick Cooper. Dr Nick Cooper.’
The new—and desperately needed—member of their team.
Why didn’t the ground just open up and swallow her?
He had to stifle his laugh.
Her jaw sagged, and for a second she was speechless. Then she shook her head, mumbled what could have been an apology and fled through the staff door as Katie opened it, her face flaming.
He dropped his hand back to his side, shrugged and smiled at the receptionist who was looking horrified and fascinated all at once.
‘So, that’s Dr Kendal,’ he murmured, vaguely intrigued.
‘Yes. Ellie. I’m so sorry, she’s normally lovely. I don’t know what’s got into her.’
He pulled a face and walked through the door into the back of Reception, closing it behind himself. ‘I do. I took the last doctor’s space, and now she’s scraped her car. Oops. If I’d known who she was I would have moved, but I didn’t have a clue.’
‘She’s only part time, so if she wasn’t on duty when you came for your interviews you wouldn’t have met her—and she does normally walk. You weren’t to know.’
He nodded. ‘No. Ah, well. I have no doubt we’ll have time to catch up later.’
Katie gestured towards the other doorway, still looking flustered. ‘Come in and I’ll introduce you to the admin team, and I’m sure Dr Gallagher will be out in a minute to talk to you. I’ve let her know you’re here.’
She led the way, and he followed her into the office and scanned it for any sign of his fiery new colleague, but she’d gone.
Pity. Never mind. He was here all day, there was time, and he could look forward to what was bound to be an interesting conversation…
Why had she done that?
Torn him to pieces without even giving him a chance to speak? And if he’d been a patient, he would have been well within his rights to complain. No, it was even better than that. He was a colleague, her senior, and she’d just hurled abuse at him in their first interaction.
Marvellous. Just marvellous.
Not that he’d been exactly polite himself, telling her to get up earlier. She’d been up before half five as it was to do the laundry, and if Maisie hadn’t been a diva and Evie hadn’t needed her nappy changed again and Oscar hadn’t lost one of his shoes and then had a meltdown, she wouldn’t have been late and then none of this would have happened.
She felt her eyes prickle, and clamped her jaw shut hard, blinking furiously as she closed her consulting room door behind her and leant against it. It could have been worse. There could have been a whole bunch of patients in Reception, so at least she hadn’t had an audience while she’d made a total fool of herself.
‘Breathe,’ she said softly, and closed her eyes, sucking in a long, slow breath through her nose and out through her mouth. In…and out… In…and out—
The quiet tap on the door made her jump, and she leapt away from it and wrenched it open, to find herself face to face with her worst nightmare, no doubt coming to tear her apart in private. Well, it was certainly justified, and he probably hated her already.
Or maybe not…
‘Katie thought you’d want this,’ he said quietly, holding out a mug of tea without a trace of a smile, and she stared at it suspiciously.
Beware of strangers bearing gifts…
‘Why are you bringing me a peace offering? I’m the one who should be apologising—or have you slipped something into it?’
His mouth twitched. ‘Don’t tempt me,’ he murmured, and gave her a wry smile. ‘It’s not a peace offering. Katie was about to bring it to you, and I suggested I do it. I thought we could do with clearing the air.’
She took it from him with fingers that weren’t quite steady, then made herself meet his eyes. He held her gaze, his searching, thoughtful, the smile gone now. She was quite glad she didn’t know what he was thinking…
She felt her shoulders drop in defeat. ‘Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t know who you were, which is no excuse whatsoever, I know that, but—’ She broke off, still mortified and wondering if there was any way she could rescue the situation. ‘I hadn’t realised you were coming in today, I thought you’d be starting on Monday, so I wasn’t expecting you, I didn’t recognise you, and then you took the last reserved space, and as if that wasn’t enough I scraped my car parking by the wall, which was just the icing on the cake—’
‘Ellie, breathe! It’s OK. Forget it. You’re right, I am starting on Monday, I’m just having an induction today, learning the ropes a bit, finding my feet before I start. I guess nobody told you. And I’m sorry I took your parking place, but Lucy told me to park there because you usually walk to work. Obviously not today.’
‘No. I should have been, I nearly always do, but I got—held up,’ she said, for want of a better way of putting it.
‘So it seems. Parking’s tight, isn’t it? Lucy said it’s a regular occurrence with the building work going on.’
She nodded, sighing with relief because he had every right to be unreasonable about this. ‘It is, but they should be finished soon and the builders’ vans will be gone, and not a moment too soon. Look, I’m sorry, can we do this later? I don’t mean to be rude—again—but I do have patients waiting and I’m already on the drag.’
‘Of course. And I’m sorry about the parking—and your car.’
‘Don’t be sorry. You had every right to park there, as it turns out, and I massively overreacted. And thank you for the tea. I haven’t had time for one today.’
His eyes softened at the corners, that flickering smile sending strange little shivers through her body. ‘My pleasure,’ he murmured. ‘We’ll catch up later.’ His lips twitched again. ‘You can teach me to read, and I can teach you to tell the time.’
She rolled her eyes. He might have forgiven her, but he clearly wasn’t going to let it drop.
‘Oh, I can tell the time,’ she told him wryly. ‘I was up at five twenty-seven, for what it’s worth.’
A silent ah, and he backed out, fingers waggling. ‘Better not hold you up any more, then. I’ll see you later.’
She nodded, and the door closed softly behind him.
Shaking her head and wishing she could wind the clock back, she put the tea down, washed her hands and fired up her computer, her mind refusing to let go of that lazy, sexy, fleeting smile.
Stupid. She was nearly twenty minutes late now, and it would have a knock-on effect on the rest of the day. She didn’t have time to daydream, and particularly not about a man who probably practised his smile in the mirror!
‘Get a grip, Ellie,’ she told herself, took a gulp of her tea and pressed the button to call her first patient.