Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

How do you write a book???

I get asked a lot how great it is writing romance and the immediate answer is: REALLY GREAT. But as you know, a really cracking romance isn’t all first kisses, butterfly tummies and lavish proposals. Within each romance there are profound emotional hurdles each character must surmount before they get that glorious, well-earnt happily ever after. I’ve been enjoying exploring character’s personal journeys in greater depth these past couple of years in the guise of my new writer name: Daisy Tate. They’re more women’s fiction than romance, but never fear – love is pretty good at triumphing over adversity in them. So! I’ve written a new book.

Every book has its ping! moment and, in the spirit of Annie Claydon’s previous post, I had offered myself a bit of cushioning to explore where my latest idea would go. So! This lightbulb moment. It was actually a string of lightbulbs – the first one being the title.

I thought of the title and loved it. That’s often how I start: A Bicycle Built for Sue. And then … who is Sue and what’s she going to do. Ride a bicycle, obviously. But not just round the block…Sue’s going on a charity cycle ride. A hard one. One with hills. Something she never in a million years would have dreamed of doing. She’s not an athlete. She’s not even all that fond of getting sweaty, to be honest. She’s going to have to have gone through something big. Something that blindsided her. Something that turns her into someone who wriggles into a pair of padded lycra shorts and rides. And rides and rides and rides until she can tease away the darkness and begin to see some light.

I’d done a run recently (and by run, I mean put one foot in front of the other, listening to “Defying Gravity” from Wicked on repeat for two and a half hours). (Another sidebar: Debbie Macomber was in town that day to see her beloved Seahawks play and I knew I would be running by her hotel so, as a fellow Seattlite, I wore my Hawks hat in the hopes she was leaning out her window and see me amongst the crowd. #NeedleInAHaystack) Nearly all of the fifteen thousand people participating were running for one charity or another. I spent the bulk of the event weeping as I read everyone’s t-shirts, imagining why and for whom they were putting themselves through the horrendous ordeal.

It was pouring with rain, cold, and very long. And yet…there were literally thousands of people running for every sorrow under the (not entirely visible) sun. Amongst the scores of organisations represented, there were a preponderance of mental health charities, loneliness charities, depression, addiction, bi-polar, and, of course, suicide prevention charities. And then it hit me. Sue lost her husband to suicide. I’ve known far too many people who took their lives and, a few months later, as I rode the route Sue would ride along Hadrian’s Wall, I met far too many people who also knew people who had taken theirs. It was a six degrees of Kevin Bacon I would’ve much rather ended with Kevin Bacon.

Writing about life in the vacuum of a loved one’s suicide is not easy. Finding a way to make it uplifting was even harder. I actually went out and did Sue’s cycle ride. Again, it was pouring with rain and utterly miserable, and also unbelievably helpful in terms of really being able to tap into what she experienced. It’s a lot of alone time. But I was reminded again and again that I wasn’t alone. There was the B&B woman who stuffed newspapers in my sodden shoes and made me the best bowl of porridge I’ve ever had. The cycling group that kept passing me, making sure I was okay every time I appeared from a hedgerow (read: outdoor loo). The woman who made me a cuppa at a tourist centre when I was ready to call it a day and encouraged me to keep on going, let my bum blisters heal (I know, TMI|) and sit down at the end of it all to write about Sue, Flo, Raven and Kath. Which I did.

I also wrote four Mills & Boon last year so prepare yourself for some of those! The first is a duet I wrote with the fabulous Scarlett Wilson and it’s set in ROME (OMG – ROME!!!!! Just thinking the word makes me hungry).

Okay – I’ll leave you be, but with a question. Is there something you’ve done that you never in a million years thought you’d do? That was me with the cycle rides and the runs. Let me assure you – I am no athlete – I’m like the Little Tortoise That Could. I’m slow, not very graceful, but persistent. I actively seek silver linings. I hope you do, too. xoxoxo Annie O’

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Origin Stories

‘You Better Learn How to Type’

How a touch typist temp became a romance novelist…

My typewriter at home…

These were the wise, wise words of my grandmother when I told her I was going to be an actress when I grew up. ‘You better learn how to type.’ I did. And she was right. More than she ever could have known.

The original plan, of course, was to be an immensely famous actress for half of the year. By the age of twenty-one I had planned to be swanning around the world like Meryl Streep and only doing roles with exotic and hard to tackle accents. Natch. The other half of the year I was going to teach literature at America’s Gaulladet University – a centre of learning for deaf and hard of hearing student as its youngest and most passionate professor of English Literature. (I had learned sign language in a play and was DETERMINED to use it to spread my love of books. That should’ve been the first clue that I was destined to become a writer.

The second should’ve been the ten years I spent working for Associated Press as a news producer, writer and cameraman. Where, it should be noted, I was originally hired because of my very speedy typing. I transcribed a gazillion soundbites from the raw footage our crews sent in before graduating to the more glamorous job of inserting them into scripts and, eventually, going out into the field and filming stories.

Then, one day it hit me. I didn’t want to film the story. I wanted to WRITE the story. Luckily for me, I had a friend who dared me to try and write a Mills & Boon in a weekend. (We both wrote very quickly, had just written a play that had done well at the Edinburgh Fringe Theatre Festival and thought we were so WONDROUSLY TALENTED, surely we could each write a book in a weekend.


You can imagine how that went. (cue: wannnh-wonnnnh!)

Time passed. More jobs came and went. I filmed animals AND children. I worked for MTV for a spell and felt very, very old even though I was only thirty-five. My going away present there was a gorgeous stack of books. Everyone protested. ‘What? Books!?!?’ They cried. ‘Yes,’ said my dear friend Steven. ‘Have you not met her?’

I couldn’t let the writing bug go. I don’t like to fail. I also love to write. And then I found my magic ingredient. I fell head over heels in love with romance. I was taking inspiration from everything everywhere. (See above). And then…I actually fell in love with a tall blonde Scotsman. I didn’t even like blondes and I fell in love with him, dear reader! And in two weeks, I wrote my very first Mills & Boon. Which they rejected. But they also wrote an incredibly detailed and very encouraging letter back. So I tried again. And one more time. And then, after I’d taken a couple of years off and learned how to raise pigs and cows and bees…I tried one more time. And Lo and behold! The Surgeon’s Christmas Wish was born.

Is my first book my best? Who knows? It’s definitely one of my favourites. It’s definitely one of my favourite covers. I LOVE IT! My favourite favourite is probably The Nightshift Before Christmas. No. My ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE is whichever one I’m writing. Right now I’m writing one set in Hawaii with the working title, Aloha to Amour. I love it the most, too. And before that I loved the one with dogs the most. (Are you sensing a trend?)

So that’s it my little munchkins. The very, very long and winding road that finally led me to become a published author. And what a joyous arrival it has been. Tell me, what’s inspired you to do something you love?

xx Annie O’

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Christmas is coming….!!!!

Okay – it may be a wee way off, sixty days in fact (ack!!!!) – but this year I am particularly excited for the holidays. I don’t know if it’s the yo-yo ride of lockdown, or the fact last year’s Christmas was a bit weird (we were ‘in between’ dogs and I HATED it), or the fact that I have not one, but TWO Christmas books coming out, both of which I wrote this year, so my head’s pretty much been in a snow globe all year long. Thoughts?

The first book I wrote was for Mills & Boon/Harlequin and has the gorgeously evocative title Christmas Under the Northern Lights. It’s a journey up to a North Sea Scottish Island and is, I hope, a celebration of all of the medical professionals who offer home care. It’s an incredible service and let me be the one to tell you, Scotland was amazing at providing the service.

You see, another reason last Christmas wasn’t entirely wonderful, was that my beloved father-in-law wasn’t in the best of health. He was dead set against going into hospital and we were pretty keen to keep him out of it because…Christmas in the hospital? Probably a lot more magical in a M&B Medical Romance. The Scottish district nurses came to our rescue IN SPADES. They were absolutely amazing. There, morning and afternoon, like clockwork. Even on Christmas Day. And I couldn’t have been more impressed. They were cheery, kind, thoughtful and, above all, helped us keep my father-in-law home for Christmas. This book, is without reservation, for them.

Has there ever been a better time for a…

The second book I wrote (pretty much exactly when lockdown began) was as close to swan-diving into a snow globe as possible. I had SO MUCH FUN writing this book. To my husband’s horror, I involved our new hounds in my merriment.

The premise of Miracle on Christmas Street comes from a real life event I heard about in Australia – a living advent calendar. One in which a street with twenty-four homes (or thereabouts) turned each of their homes into an advent calendar with either a little celebration or a display in the window. The idea has been replicated around the globe (well, from the top to the bottom anyway!) and it seems the perfect way to truly emulate the spirit of Christmas which, to me, is the ultimate celebration of love, peace and joy. In other words, the ingredients that can make being part of a community amazing. It’s had some wonderfully kind feedback from some great authors and I’m just over the moon to join the tinsel-laden squadron of authors who write an annual Christmas book.

Not having any children of my own, I love to borrow other people’s children to decorate cookies. What sorts of traditions do you have for the holidays and, like me, do you find yourself getting ready for this year’s holidays even easier?

Big kiss everyone! xoxo Annie O’ho ho ho!!!

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels


Oof! What a year we’ve all had. One in which I have been proactively seeking the silver linings, because if you can’t find the joy? It all gets a bit tough.

This year, along with the gloriously talented Amy Ruttan and Susan Carlisle, I hit my twenty-fifth Mills & Boon milestone.

It was particularly thrilling to have it be the duet I’d written alongside Annie Claydon who was the very first Mills & Boon author I met in real life. She is EVERYTHING you could hope for in an author. Kind, generous, creative, insightful, tactful and with a wonderfully warm giggle. We wrote the duet about veterinarians and it was such fun taking the intensity of a human operating theatre and transferring it to a veterinary clinic. If you haven’t yet had a peek at it, please click on this and have a look. It was SUCH fun to write and never mentions The Infectious Disease That Shall Not Be Named. NOT EVEN ONCE!!

Whilst the past six years of writing have passed in a blur…getting here took a long time, several drafts of novels (that are still sitting in a drawer somewhere, crying themselves to sleep at night) and, of course, a lot of hard work.

But that hard work has also been my saviour these past six or seven months of such a nutty year. Every day I get to slip into a magical world and take the readers on a journey through some ups and downs, but knowing all along that the pay-off is going to be tremendously rewarding.

I’m going to keep this post super short because we’ve all got a whole lot of life-wrangling to do, but I would love to hear from you and discover what sort of silver linings What are things you’ve been proud of achieving? I grew tomatoes, beetroot and my first ever aubergine! I have also grown this exceedingly large courgette!!! I did not grow the toad or the gorgeous flowers my editors sent to celebrate my 25th book. What have you been up to to keep your spirits bright? xx Annie O’

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt! The Vet’s Secret Son

We tried to whet your palate for our veterinarians in Cornwall with this weekend’s blog by letting our characters introduce each other…now here’s a taste of the real thing along with some pictures of my pets (who have definitely met the vet)! I hope you enjoy this opening scene from The Vet’s Secret Son xxx Annie O’

ELLIE LIFTED THE small ball of fluff up in front of her face and gave it a nuzzle. Puppy time after a difficult surgery was always curative. ‘Who’s the best little-bitty puppy?’
The pitch-black Labrador put its paw on her nose then gave her a tiny pink-tongued lick on the cheek. Even though she’d had a million puppy moments like it, Ellie’s heart strained at the seams.
‘You’re definitely the cutest.’
As if in protest, the other puppies—a mad mix of golden, red, black and a solitary chocolate one—began tumbling up and over her legs, vying for cuddles.
Four weeks old and full of life. A perfect litter of ten, spanning every colour of the Labrador spectrum. It was the last litter Esmerelda, Ellie’s beloved Lab, would have, and even though she knew she wasn’t entirely objective, she was certain it was the best.

“She picked up another one and breathed in the sweet, scrummy puppy scent. Mmm… Perfect. She couldn’t wait for Mav to get back from surf school. Her son’s giggles of delight combined with puppy cuddles…sheer heaven.
‘Having a bit of puppy therapy, are we?’
Ellie looked up and saw her long-term mentor smiling down at her. ‘Ha! You caught me, Henry.’
‘Tough surgery?’
‘Very.’ She told him about the golden retriever who’d been injured when he’d tripped whilst carrying a big stick.
‘And the oropharynx?’
‘There was a truckload of splinters in his tongue and his mouth. A huge one was lodged in his throat, the poor lad. He’s in Recovery now. I don’t know who’s feeling worse. Him or his owner.’
Henry gave a sympathetic shrug. ‘It’s a tough call sometimes. I just had a woman sob the entire time I clipped her cat’s nails!’
Ellie made an empathetic noise. ‘Mrs Coutts?’
Henry grinned. ‘You clearly know your patients’ owners well.’
‘One of the keys to our success here in Dolphin Cove.’ She patted the newspaper-covered play area where she was stretched out, puppies using her like a climbing frame. ‘Join me?”

Henry, who’d valiantly stepped in to be her emergency locum vet over the last few months, grinned and sat down opposite her. ‘How could I resist?’
The puppies climbed and tumbled over him, vying for cuddles. For someone with a puppy tucked in the crook of each arm, her mentor didn’t look all that chirpy.
‘You’re looking serious. Got a new surgery you need to brainstorm?’
Henry shook his head, his white hair flopping across his forehead as he did so. He looked every bit the mad professor. Semi-retired and as smart as a whip, he was also her hero. Who else in the whole of the UK would’ve given up their summer holidays to come down to Cornwall and take over the roster of complicated surgeries her business partner had lined up?”

“She shoved aside the niggle of discomfort the question elicited and smiled at him. Just about no one, that’s who. No one she cared to lay eyes on, anyway.
‘It’s not that,’ he said, easing yet another puppy into his arms.
Ah. So there was something.
Ellie gently extracted her insanely curly ponytail from one of the puppy’s mouths. One day she’d get her hair under control. She snorted. And one day pigs would fly. ‘Not a pull toy, little one,’ she cooed, easing a final golden coil out of its gummy mouth.
She inspected Henry as the pup he was holding scampered away and he pulled one of her favourite pups, the only chocolate Lab in the litter, into his lap. He was looking awfully serious.
The chocolate pup put both of its paws on Henry’s beard then slid back down into the nook of his arm and instantly fell asleep.
Ellie laughed. ‘I guess that was enough playtime for him.”

“Guess so.’ Henry cupped the little pup’s head in one of his big old hands. His tone was much more reflective than a vet with over forty years of experience might be. He must have seen thousands of puppies curl up into sleepy little balls of fur and puppy snorts over the years.
‘C’mon, Henry. Out with it. There’s something playing on your mind. You rescued me in my hour of need. If I can do anything to help you in yours, just say the word.’
She wasn’t kidding. When Drew, her business partner and her bestie, was in a horrific car accident, Henry came right down. Drew’s long stint in hospital was coming to an end, but there was still ample rehab and healing to keep him away from the surgery for at least the next eight to ten weeks. More if there were any setbacks.
Uh-oh. Drew hadn’t had a setback had he?
Henry readjusted the puppy and something about the look in his eyes made her scoop one up into her own arms. She gave it a nuzzle as Henry began to speak. When he’d finished, she could hardly hear for the buzzing in her ears.”

It wasn’t Drew. It was a favour. And not just any old favour. He was asking her to do the one thing she’d promised she would never do. Let Lucas Williams work at Dolphin Cove.”

Excerpt From: Annie O’Neil. “The Vet’s Secret Son”.

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

The New Silver Linings Playbook

Hello dear friends! I write to you in my usual pre-dawn post at the computer. Sleep has never been my gift and today is no different, but after a properly rainy, miserable, hot chocolate and RomCom on the sofa kind of day (Hitch, if you’re asking)…the sun is out and I suspect my pumpkins will be growing a bit more. At risk of repeating myself, I will say the one thing I am most grateful to lockdown for is introducing me to audio books. They have lured me into the grossly neglected vegetable patch and for the first time in actual YEARS…we have produce! (I let at least one artichoke go to seed because I think they’re pretty and will definitely report back at Halloween with my pumpkin patch pile).

I won’t show you my actual To Read Pile because it is humiliating…but here’s a taster.

So those are, of course, actual books and I’ve read some great ones lately. In the audio book department I have listened to these fabulous delights:

Have you read or listened to any of these? They were all great, but the last two, The Cactus and My Sister, The Serial Killer were GREAT. It’s been interesting because I have discovered there are books I would actually rather read in an actual book and books I quite happily listen and work to. Have you listened to any amazing books?

I am just in the middle of writing a duet with the wonderful Scarlet Wilson. By the time I turn it in, the duet I wrote about veterinarians in love on England’s gorgeous SouthWest coast with the fabulous Annie Claydon will be out. Really looking forward to that one. I hope you’re all well and managing to find the silver linings in your lockdown world. Share them with me and we’ll see if we can grow some more joy in this very peculiar world where (and I know this is cheesy) love really does seem to be the best medicine. xx Annie O’

(These are my books that are out now plus a teaser for the duet with Annie Claydon).

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels


Beware: This post is a not so humble brag…Or is it?????

Et voila!!! Behold the cover of my alter ego’s first paperback!

As some of you may know…I’ve branched out a bit in the writing terrain. Yes…there was a very dodgy spell when I thought “modern” poetry was the route to pursue. I was totally wrong about that. There was the country music lyrics phase (“Guitars, Guns and Girls” was the apex of creativity on that front) and, of course…there was the phase where I thought…I know! I love telling stories so much, it’d be fun to see how I went writing longer ones with sub plots and secondary characters. That’s the one that bore fruit. It turns out it is epically fun. And also massively distracting in the best possible way. There was the marshmallow countdown to ebook publication….

There were the very first reviews to get all misty eyed over…

There was the glamping research to do, the tent to sleep in, the marshmallows to toast and, of course, eat.

And then, high on a marshmallow sugar rush…I got to write another one!

For this book…

I rode my bicycle across the UK – namely, along Hadrian’s Wall. It was really, really, really hard. This book is out on eBook on June 11th as well (same date as the Glampers paperback release). AND THEN….this August in partnership with the glorious Annie Claydon, I am looking forward to the release of our Vets in Love duet set in sunny Cornwall.

I have two books coming out this Christmas. One a deliciously Scottish Medical romance and the other? It isn’t a medical romance, but I can’t tell you about it just yet. But I will. I promise.

I hope you’re all safe and well and finding ways to make lockdown a silver lining scenario. I am managing to tackle my To Read pile a bit more voraciously and FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER have weeded the entire veg patch. Turns out listening to audio books helps me get through that. What sorts of things have you been doing to get through the ‘lockdown blues?’ Or maybe you’re happy. I hope you’re happy. Sending love. xoxoxoxoxoxo Annie O’

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

In sickness and in health….

Wow. Ne’er were more apt words spoken and what a PERFECT time to get lost in the world of medical romances – a place where our health workers not only save lives, but find their own happily ever after.

I know a lot of folk are struggling now and my heart goes out to them. In a strange way, it’s a lucky time to be a romance writer. We’re used to a LOT of alone time. We get lost in magical worlds in pursuit of a happy ending…and love is at the heart of what we write.

So…pursuing a ‘let’s look at this whole Covid-19 situation through a Glass Half Full lens – I thought I’d give you a wee list of things I absolutely adore and hope you all can follow suit. Yes – these are funky times – but there is also good and joy and happiness within all the murk. Let the rays of light shine in. For me, just a few of the things that burst with sunshine are:

My pooches. They bring me great joy and I think this picture is cute.

Generous, kind, amazing, wonderful authors.

Finding a tulip amidst your forget-me-nots.

Discovering you can do the splits upside down!

CAKE!! (This doesn’t need explaining, right?)

A butterfly on a cornflower. (Thank you iPhone)

That magic moment when your cows stand in just the perfect place…

The long and short of it is, good things can be found anywhere…we just have to have the right lenses on to see them. Right here and now I cross my fingers that all of you are safe, in good health and able to enjoy splashes if not entire swathes of the bright side. It’s out there…but something you have to squint to see it. xoxoxo Be safe everyone xoxo Annie O’

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Who’s Really Getting Rescued???

A rescued heroine is an age old trope. Who will be our heroine’s Prince Charming, prepared to scale thorny palace walls to give us the kiss of life. *Screeeech!* It doesn’t really work like that anymore, does it? We want to be responsible for our own achievements, but have our gorgeous Prince close to hand to love and support us along the way. Which is why when we picked up our ‘rescue’ dog…I realised he was actually bringing more to our lives than the other way round.

This is Harris. He was born and abandoned in Turkey. I won’t put the video on of him first getting a check up from the vet’s as it is quite distressing, but suffice it to say, he was quite keen to be fed regularly! An incredible charity called Happy Paws just down the road from us rescues over 350 Golden Retriever/crosses A YEAR from Turkey. Abandoned, abused, neglected. They are all reprehensible ways to treat any animal. It got me thinking. Many of our heroes and heroines come from complicated pasts. They carry dark pain along with them and use it as a shield to keep their heart’s “safe”. It’s only when they meet someone who they think might penetrate that emotional fortress, that things become tricky…much like a rescue dog trying to figure out its new place in its new world.

My next book – a duet with the gorgeous Susan Carlisle – is about two people who are quite against the idea of finding that special someone to and trust their heart with…they’re both frightened. Just as Harris was when some friends came over to meet him and he thought they were here to take him away! Lots of cuddles and reassurances (and maybe a little sofa time later), he was convinced otherwise. It all took about ten minutes. We’re lucky because Harris is a big ol’ love bug and fell in love with us straight away (and with our very exuberant border collie with whom he is currently wrestling on the floor). It takes Kirri and Ty a bit longer…you’ll have to wait until it comes out in March to find out what really happens, but I’d be interested to know who you think is rescuing who…or is it really a mutually beneficial situation like ours is with Harris?

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Making Christmas Special Again

One of the best things about writing for Mills and Boon readers, is their VORACIOUS appetite for Christmas books. Suits me to a T. I love them and I love Christmas. Two years ago a couple of weeks before the big Yulefest, I lost my beloved Bernese Mountain Dog. I was absolutely devastated. We weren’t lucky enough to have children so our pooches really were our children (No, they didn’t have their own bedrooms or anything, but they were family). The next Christmas we were down to one and it was tough. Then, a few months later, we lost our gorgeous chocolate lab. Time whipped forward at its usual frenzied pace and VOILA! Father Christmas came and visited us with this gorgeous little minx. I actually wrote the first few chapters of Making Christmas Special Again before we got this little one, but Skye has definitely made my Christmas special again. This year will be our first with her (she was only two days old last Christmas so was still with her mummy). I can’t wait.

Below is the opening chapter for Make Christmas Special Again. It is part of a quartet with the gorgeous Susan Carlisle, the wonderful Annie Claydon and the super divine Karin Baine. We love making up wonderful worlds we all want to move to. Immediately! And this time was no different. I hope you enjoy the teaser! Happy Holidays to one and all. xx Annie O’

Here are my gorgeous hero and heroine….I prayed to the cover gods but didn’t get a puppy, but rest assured – there are LOADS inside!!

HELL’S TEETH, IT was cold.
For once the all-consuming distraction of lungs vs arctic winds hurtling in

from the Highlands was welcome. Physical pain outweighed Max Kirkpatrick’s rage just long enough to remember that for every problem there was a solution. This time, though…

Trust the festive season to send him another blunt reminder that, no matter how hard he tried, the universe simply wasn’t going to let him put some good back into the world.

He’d genuinely thought he’d done it this time. He really had.

His eyes travelled the length of the scrubby inner-city hospital then scanned the former vacant plot. There’d been snow on and off for weeks and yet there were still patients wandering around with pets and still more in the greenhouse, fostering their plants as if they were their own flesh and blood.

He traced his finger along a frost-singed rose. The parents of a little boy who’d lost his struggle with cancer had planted it three years earlier when Max had only just started Plants to Paws. The lad had loved coming out here to play with the family mongrel. Golden moments, his parents had called them. Golden moments. They still came and tended it as if their son were still with them. In a way, he supposed, he was.

This week.

Max’s disbelief that someone was going to destroy the garden shunted through him afresh. Gone were the piles of rubbish, the burnt-out car, the thick layers of tagging on the side of the Clydebank Hospital walls. In their place were raised vegetable patches, benches with the names of loved ones on shining brass plaques dappled about the small wildflower meadow and, of course, the greenhouse and extra-large garden shed he’d built with a handful of other doctors. They’d recently installed a wood stove for added comfort. That would go, too. Along with the bow-laden wreath someone had hung on the door, despite his protestations that it was too early.

He crouched down to pop a couple of stones back onto the rock garden one of the Clyde’s long-term leukaemia patients had helped build. Her first ever garden, she’d crowed. She’d be gutted when she found out it was going to be demolished, all to help some fat-cat property developer.

As he nestled another rock back into place, a young Border collie ran up to

him with the tell-tale wriggle of a happy dog. She rolled onto her back for a tummy rub. He took a quick glance around and couldn’t place her with anyone within sight.

He gave her soft white belly a rub. ‘Hey, there, little one. You’re a pretty girl. Now, who do you belong to?’

‘Some would say they don’t belong to anyone.’

The female voice slipped down his spine like warm honey. Low and husky, it was the type of voice that could talk a man into anything if he didn’t watch himself. Good job he’d put the emotional armour on years back.

Max was about to say he was very familiar with the way canine-human relationships worked, thank you very much, when a pair of very expensive boots appeared on the woodchip path. Expensive boots attached to a public school accent. Still Scottish, but he would put money on the fact their schools had had a mixer dance. The military school his stepfather had deposited him in strongly encouraged shoulder rubbing with the ‘power makers’, as the school head had liked to call them.

‘Deal breakers’ would’ve been a better moniker if today’s news was anything to go by. He still couldn’t wrap his head round the hospital reneging on their word. Sure, they needed the money, but obliterating Plants to Paws to let a developer build a car park?

Bam! There went three years of hard work. Not to mention the slice of peace that came from knowing he’d finally made good on a years’ old vow to do what he hadn’t done for his mother: offer a refuge from a life that wasn’t as kind as it should have been. All for a bit of money they’d never see on the wards. Hello, cement trucks, sayonara Plants to Paws.

The puppy nuzzled against his hand.
‘What’s her name?’ He had yet to look up.
‘Skye,’ the voice said.
She sounded like a Christmas ornament. Angel? Whatever. Too damned nice was what she sounded.
Her leather boots moved in a bit closer. Italian? They looked handmade.
‘I think you’ll find her “love me tender” routine is an act. Skye’s always got an ulterior motive and, from the looks of things, you’re playing right into her paws.’

He didn’t even want to know what that meant.

‘Is she a working collie or one of those therapy dogs?’ They’d been trying to introduce the therapy dogs into the hospital but, as ever, stretched resources meant the lovable fur balls weren’t seen much on the wards.

‘Working. Though she’s still in training. Precocious. Just like her mother.’

Damn. This woman’s voice was like butter. Better. Butter and honey mixed together. If he was to add a shot of whisky and heat it up it’d be the perfect drink on a day like this.

‘What type of training?’ he asked, to stop his brain from going places it shouldn’t.

‘Search and rescue.’

That got his attention. He had been expecting agility. Maybe sheep herding. A voice like that usually came attached to some land. Land managed by someone else. As he tilted his head up, the sun got in his eyes and all he could make out was a halo of blonde hair atop a stretch of legs and a cashmere winter coat that definitely wasn’t from the kind of stores he shopped in.

Miss Boots squatted down to his level and the second their eyes met he stood straight back up.

Piercing blue eyes. A tousle of short curls the colour of summer wheat. A face so beautiful it looked as though it had been sculpted out of marble. For every bit of wrong she elicited in his gut, there was an equal measure of good.

‘Are you a patient?’ It was the only thing he could think to ask, though he knew the answer would be—

‘No.’ She put her leather-gloved hand out to shake his. ‘Esme Ross-Wylde.’

He kept his facial features on their usual setting: neutral. Though society papers weren’t his thing, even he’d heard of the Ross-Wyldes. Scottish landed gentry of the highest order. The Ross-Wylde estate came with about five thousand acres, if memory served. A couple of hours north of Glasgow. Before his mum had married The Dictator, as Max liked to think of his stepfather, she’d taken him there for one of their famous Christmas carnivals. Huge old house. A castle actually. Expansive grounds. Extensive stables. Skating rink. Toffee apples and gingerbread men. It’d been the last Christmas he hadn’t been made to ‘earn his keep’.

‘So.’ He clapped his hands together and looked around the sparsely populated garden. ‘Have you brought Skye along to meet someone?’

She unleashed a smile that could’ve easily lit him up from the inside out. Good thing she’d met him on a bad day. On a good one? He might have had to break some rules.

‘I was looking for you.’ She held up a familiar-looking scarf.

‘How’d you get that?’ He knew he sounded terse, but with his luck she was the developer. If she was trying to sprinkle some sugar in advance of telling him when the wrecking ball would swing, she may as well get on with it.

Esme was unfazed by his cranky response. She tipped her head towards the garden shed as she handed him his scarf. ‘A member of your fan club gave me this to give Skye a go at “search”.’
He glanced over at the shed and, sure enough, there were a couple of patients from the oncology ward waving at him. Cheeky so-and-sos. They’d been trying to blow some oxygen onto the all but dead embers of his social life ever since they’d found out the nurses not so discreetly called him The Monk. He rolled his eyes and returned his attention to Esme Ross-Wylde. ‘I presume that means you’re here for the “rescue” part?’

She shrugged nonchalantly. ‘If you’re interested.’
Skye’s tail started waving double time.
If he wasn’t mistaken, the corners of her rather inviting lips were twitching with the hint of a smile.
Something about this whole scenario felt like flirting. He didn’t do flirting. He did A and E medicine in Glasgow’s most financially deprived hospital. Then he slept, woke up and did it all over again. Sometimes he came out here and dug over a veg patch. There definitely wasn’t time for flirting.

When he said nothing she asked, ‘How do you fancy keeping Plants to Paws the way it is?’

His eyes snapped to hers, and something flashed hard and bright in his chest that had nothing to do with gratitude. It ricocheted straight past his belt buckle and all the way up again. By the look on her face, she was feeling exactly the same thing he was. An unwelcome animal attraction.

Oh, hell. If life had taught him anything, it was the old adage that if something seemed too good to be true, it usually was.

The Dictator had taught him that everything came with a price. Best to rip off the plaster and get it over with. ‘What’s the catch?’