Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, New Releases

Pregnant With his Royal Twins

thumbnail_IMG_1112Freya surreptitiously slipped the packet from her locker and into her uniform pocket, hiding it under her notepad. The lack of her period and the increasing nausea she was experiencing each morning seemed obvious signs enough, but Freya wanted proof. Scientific proof.

Night shift it might be, but to her this was morning, and walking into the staff room and smelling the strong coffee that had been put on to brew had almost made her share with everyone the ginger biscuits she had forced down for breakfast. It had taken a gargantuan effort to control her stomach, and a sheen of sweat had prickled her brow and top lip as she’d fumbled with her locker. Her fingers had almost tripped over themselves in her haste.

Heading to the ladies’ loo, she told Mona she’d just be five minutes and that she’d catch up to her at the staff briefing in a moment.

‘Okay, hun, see you in five.’ Mona smiled and headed off, her hand clutched around a mug of that nausea-inducing coffee.

The toilets were right next door to the hub, so Freya slipped in and locked the door behind her, leaning back against it, letting out a long, slow breath of relief. She took a moment to stand there and see if her stomach settled.

There didn’t seem any doubt about what was happening to her, but she needed to do this just the same. She pulled the pregnancy test from her pocket and stared hard at it, not quite believing that she was actually going to.

She’d always hoped that one day she would become a mother. But the actual chances of that ever happening to her had—she believed—become very slim the day she had been scarred for life. Because who would want her now?

‘Come on, Freya…you’re better than this,’ she whispered to herself, trying to drum up the courage to get herself through the next few minutes.

Freya loved the nightshift, working on Maternity here at Queen’s Hospital. There was something extra-special about working nights. The quiet. The solitude. The intimate joy of bringing a new life into the world and being with that family as they watched their first sunrise together. A new day. A new family. Life changing. Getting better. New hopes. New dreams. There weren’t the distractions of daytime—telephones constantly ringing, visiting families all over the place. It was secluded. Fewer busybodies.

It was the perfect hiding place for her, the hospital at night time, and those nights afforded Freya the anonymity that she craved. Lights were kept low. There were shadows to stay in, no harsh fluorescent lighting to reveal to her patients the true extent of her scarring.

It was better now than it had been. She had some smooth skin now, over her cheeks and forehead, where just two years before she’d had angry red pits and lines, her face constantly set and immovable, like a horrific Halloween mask.

Not now. Not now she’d had her many, many reconstructive surgeries. Thirty-three times under the skilled scalpel of her plastic surgeon.

And yet she was still hiding—even more so—in a bathroom. Her hands sweating and fidgety as she kept glancing down at the testing kit.

‘Only one thing to do, really,’ she told herself aloud, shaking her head at the absolute silliness of giving herself a pep talk.

She peed on the stick and laid it on the back of the sink as she washed her hands and then took a step back. She stared at her reflection in the mirror, refusing to look down and see the result. She saw the fear in her eyes, but she also recognised something she hadn’t seen for years—hope.

‘This is what you’ve always wanted,’ she whispered.

But wanting something and actually achieving it, when you believed it to be impossible, was another thing altogether. If it were possible then she’d finally get her childhood dream. To hold her own child in her arms and not just other people’s. To have her own baby and be a mum. Even if that meant she’d have to revert back to living in sunlight. With all those other people.

Even if they didn’t stare at her, or do that second glance thing, she still felt that they were looking. It was human nature to look at someone different and pretend that you weren’t. And your face was the hardest thing to hide.

Still…this wasn’t exactly how she’d imagined it happening. As a little girl she’d dreamt of marrying a handsome man, having his babies and being in a settled relationship.

She had no one. Even ‘the guy’ had been a mad, terrific impulse, when her body had been thrumming with joy about the fact that she was out amongst people, having fun, enjoying a party behind the veil of her fancy dress costume.

It had been so long since she’d last been to a social event. Too long. Years since she’d stood in a room full of people, chatting, laughing at poor jokes, being normal.

Mike had taken that away from her. That joy and freedom. His jealous actions had imprisoned her in a world of night and pain, surgeries and hiding. Feeling unable to show her face to the world without fearing people’s reactions. A frightened child turning away as if to clutch her mother’s skirts when a stranger did a double-take and tried not to look appalled or disgusted or worse.

The veil she’d worn that night had hidden everything. The high-necked Victorian steam punk outfit had hidden the scars on her neck that had not yet been tackled, and the veil had added a note of mystery.

That night people had looked at her with intrigue and with delight. They’d smiled…they’d complimented her on how wonderful she looked. Their words had made her giddy with happiness. She’d been normal there. Like them.

And then he’d been there. The guy. The pirate. He’d seemed uncomfortable. Had appeared to be waiting for enough time to pass so he could make his escape.

She knew how that felt. She’d felt a kind of companionship with him, despite their not having exchanged a word.

It had helped, of course, that he had seductively dark eyes and a wickedly tempting mouth, and she’d almost stopped herself. She’d taken a moment to register the fact that she was attracted to a man when the very idea of that had been anathema to her for so many years.

But not that night. The costume, the veil, had given her a sense of bravery she hadn’t felt for a long time.

‘I’m Freya. Pleased to meet you.’

‘Jamie.’

‘I saw you eyeing up the exit. Getting ready to make a break for it?’

‘I’ve been thinking about it.’

‘Please don’t. Stay for a little while longer. Let me get you a drink.’

It had been crazy how emboldened she’d felt. Her entire body had been thrumming with adrenaline and serotonin, her heart pounding like a revved-up engine. She’d felt alive, happy, normal again—having a conversation with an attractive man, feeling the thrill of first attraction.

Silly. Childish, maybe, when she really ought to have known better, but it had just felt so good!

He had made her feel that way. The way he’d looked at her, his eyes sparkling with inky delight, his full lips curved in a wicked smile. He’d laughed with joy at her anecdotes, had genuinely seemed happy to stay.

She’d felt warm and wanted again. Desire had filled her the second he’d let go of the stem of his glass and let his fingers trail delicately over the back of her hand. She’d focused on that movement, watched his fingertips on her skin—her very sensitive skin. She’d looked up and met his eyes, and the most extraordinary question had left her lips.

‘Are you married?’

‘No.’

‘With someone?’

‘No.’

‘Do you want to be?’

She’d startled herself with the sheer audacity of her question. That wasn’t her! Freya MacFadden did not proposition strange men!

She’d pulled her hand away then, retreating into the shell she was so accustomed to being inside. But then he’d reached for her hand again. Not to stop her from running away. Not to try and possess her or control her. But just to get her to make eye contact with him.

‘I’m guessing you didn’t mean to say that?’

‘No.’

‘Then we can both forget it. Don’t worry.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t ever be.’

He’d been so kind. So understanding. So she hadn’t bolted and neither had he.

They’d continued to sit with each other and talk about what the other guests were wearing and why the charity they were there to support was so important. They’d laughed and had a good time, enjoying each other’s company.

He’d offered to walk her out at the end, and she’d let him, intending to say goodbye at the door. To fetch her coat and leave. For ever to remain an enigmatic stranger at a party that he would remember with fondness. Like Cinderella leaving the ball at midnight, only without the glass slipper.

Freya let out a deep breath. She couldn’t stay here in the bathroom for too long. There was a hand-over from the day shift.

Freya loved her daytime colleagues, and they her, but she was happy when they went home. Because then she could begin to craft the intimacy that the night shift brought. Lowering the lights. Softening the voices.

It was time.

She couldn’t wait any longer.

It was now or never.

She looked down.

And sucked in a breath.

‘I’m pregnant.’

Pregnant With His Royal Twins is available from :

(Kindle, Amazon UK) January 2018

(Paperback, Amazon US) December 19th, 2017!

(Paperback, Barnes and Noble US) December 19th, 2017!

(Ebook, Nook US) January 1, 2018

 

 

Advertisements
Excerpts

Excerpt – A Firefighter in her Stocking by Janice Lynn

CHAPTER ONE

IT WASN’T EVERY morning that Dr. Sarah Grayson stepped out of her apartment and saw a couple making out.

It had happened, though.

Same man, different woman.

Nausea churned in Sarah’s belly. She ordered her eyes away, but since a nice, but somewhat bland apartment building corridor offered nothing to snag her attention, her gaze stayed put.

Making out in her hallway might be a bit of a stretch. Still, the couple stood in her rather hunky neighbor’s apartment doorway, sharing a far from innocent kiss.

Even if the kiss had been a mere lip peck, her neighbor’s lean hips wrapped in only a towel knocked innocent right out of the ball park. Home run.

Grand slam.

Sarah ran her gaze over his chiseled torso. He rated pin-up-worthy—centerfold, for sure. Part of her couldn’t blame the busty brunette for clinging to his broad shoulders. Or for totally ignoring the fact Sarah had stepped into the hallway. Common decency said they should pull apart and look a little embarrassed, right?

When Sarah’s gaze collided with piercing blue ones, her breath caught. No embarrassment in those magnificent eyes. Just pure unadulterated sexual temptation.

Good grief. He probably was a grand slam.

What eyes. A color so intense they pulled you in and made you feel as if you were drowning, made you want to drown in everything promised in the enticing blue depths.

Not Sarah, of course.

She was immune to playboys like this guy. She’d built up her defenses years ago while listening to her mother harp about the blight of good-looking, fast-talking men.

Adulthood had fortified her defenses.

Still, she wasn’t blind. Her neighbor was hot. She knew it and so did he.

Even as his lips lingered on the brunette’s, those eyes crinkled with bad-boy amusement. Probably laughing at the fact Sarah had taken up full-fledged voyeurism.

Gaze locked with hers, he pulled back from the kiss.

“Baby,” the brunette protested, still not noticing Sarah as she tugged downward on her cocktail dress skirt.

Good, the skimpy material barely covered her perfectly shaped bottom. A sticking plaster would cover more than the clingy sparkling spandex. Then again, if Sarah had curves like the brunette maybe she’d wear shrink-wrapped clothes, too.

She doubted it, but who knew? Sarah dressed to avoid drawing attention so she could focus on more important things than meaningless ogling. Either way, she’d never know because her stick-straight slender body lacked the brunette’s hourglass shape.

“Brandy, we have company,” her neighbor said, much in the way a parent would to a petulant child.

The brunette turned, flashing big almond eyes, raked her gaze over Sarah’s shapeless body beneath her heavy jacket, scarf, and hat. She dismissed Sarah’s importance and quickly turned back to towel boy.

He was better to look at than a ready-to-face-the-chill-of-a-Manhattan-November-early-morning Sarah.

Or Sarah on any morning, really.

“Jude,” the woman practically cooed.

So that was his name. Jude.

He’d tried talking to her a few times when they’d bumped into each other in the hallway, but she’d ignored him. What would be the point? She wasn’t interested in going through his revolving front door and he didn’t seem the type to want to just be friends with a woman. Plus, he made her feel uncomfortable. Not a creepy uncomfortable, just a very aware of how male he was uncomfortable.

Realizing she was standing in the apartment hallway, gawking still, Sarah turned from the couple, locked her deadbolt, and pretended she couldn’t hear Brandy begging to do anything he’d like her to do. Had the woman no pride?

Go home, girl. He used you.

Too bad Brandy’s mother hadn’t warned about men like him as Sarah’s mother had repeatedly done.

At the woman’s next words, Sarah’s cheeks caught fire. Nope, no pride whatsoever.

Sarah turned and her gaze collided with Jude’s amazing blue one again. She’d swear those eyes could see straight into her very being, knew her thoughts. Maybe they even had some type of superpower because her stomach fluttered as if it had grown thousands of tiny wings.

Nausea, she told herself. Men like him made her sick. Out all hours of the night, never seeming to work, always with a different woman. Sick. Sick. Sick.

Maybe he was a gigolo or some kind of male escort.

Her nose curled in disgust to go along with her flaming cheeks.

“I think you’ve embarrassed my neighbor.”

His voice was full of humor, which truly did embarrass Sarah. What was wrong with her? Standing in her hallway, as if frozen in place, ogling the man as if she’d never seen a bare chest.

She’d never seen one like his outside magazines and television, but that was beside the point.

She needed to get her voyeuristic self to work.

She couldn’t make out most of what Brandy replied but caught the words “prude” and “dumpy”. Ouch.

Refusing to look that way again, Sarah dropped her keys into the oversized bag she carried to work, and got out of Dodge before she had to listen to Jude’s reply.

She hurried down the stairs, through the apartment complex foyer, and out onto the sidewalk to walk the few blocks to the hospital. The cold November wind bit at her face, but her jacket shielded her from the worst.

Too bad she’d not had a shield against what she’d just witnessed. That image was going to be hard to erase.

No doubt her neighbor had dismissed her as unimportant just as the brunette had. Sarah didn’t care what he thought. Or what any man thought. She knew her strengths, her weaknesses. She preferred to be known for her brain and her heart rather than for outward appearances.

She was quite proud of who Sarah Grayson’s brain and heart was. A dedicated emergency room doctor whom she believed made a difference in her patients’ lives.

She wouldn’t let her revolving bedroom door neighbor make her feel badly about herself. After all, what did he do?

He never seemed to do anything.

Except beautiful women.

On that, the man was an over-achiever.

A neighbor from the floor below said she thought he came from old money. Either Sarah was onto something with her paid male escort theory, or he was nothing more than a carefree, lecherous playboy using his family to fund his depraved lifestyle.

Maybe she would get lucky and he’d move.

* * *

Adrenaline drove firefighter Jude Davenport as he pushed his way through the flame-filled building. Or maybe it was the heat that kept him moving. Sweat dripped down the back of his neck and his ears burned beneath his Nomex hood.

First checking temperature with his thermal imaging camera, Jude opened a door and thick black smoke billowed out, banking low.

“Engine Seven to command. We are entering structure and making a left-hand search.”

“Command copies Engine Seven is entering structure, making a left-hand search.”

As lead man, Jude crawled to the left-hand wall and, staying in contact with him, his partner made his way around the room, using his axe to search. Visibility was next to nil thanks to the rolling black smoke.

They had to find her.

A four-year-old little girl was trapped in this hellish inferno.

Somewhere.

Along with more than a dozen tenants, they’d already rescued her mother and sister. Jude did not want to have to look that woman in the eyes and say he’d not been able to find her daughter.

He knew first-hand the pain of losing someone you loved and that drove him as he crawled toward a closed door he could barely make out.

A child was in there, was alive. Every instinct said she was.

He just had to get there, get to her, and pray that when he did find her, that she was still alive and he’d be able to get himself and her out of the fire.

Finally, he reached the door.

Then what he’d been dreading happened, what he’d known was coming because of how long they’d been searching in the burning building.

The air horn on the truck blew.

Once. Twice. Three long times.

“Command to all units. Evacuate the building. Repeat, evacuate the building.”

He hadn’t needed the sound of the horn or command coming over the radio speakers in his air pack to know things were bad and the building was lost.

Things were bad.

Somewhere in this hellhole was a terrified four-year-old.

“Command says part of the stairs has collapsed,” his partner, Roger Woods, yelled. “We gotta go.”

Jude had to check the room. They were too close to turn back without doing so.

“Seriously, Davenport,” his partner called from behind Jude. “Don’t make me drag your butt out.”

“As if you could.”

Roger was one of his best friends and Jude trusted the man implicitly. There was a reason Roger was his partner. Because they had similar life philosophies. They valued others’ lives much more than their own. Roger wouldn’t turn back any more than Jude would. Not when they were so close to where the girl was supposed to be.

Finally Jude got to the door. Using the back of his wrist and his thermal imaging camera, he checked the door for heat.

Hot, but not unbearable.

He reached up, grabbed the handle with his gloved hand, and opened the door.

The room wasn’t quite as smoke-filled as the one he was leaving, but visibility was still barely above zero.

Reaching again for the camera hooked to the strap of his breathing apparatus, Jude scanned the room. The left and right walls glowed white, indicating that there was fire on both sides of the room. Jude was pretty sure the wall not lighting up, the opposite wall from him, was an exterior wall, which was good, because he was also pretty sure they weren’t going out the way they’d come in.

Then, with the aid of the TIC cutting through the smoke and steam, the image of a little body not moving made his heart pound.

“Davenport? Do you hear me? Get out now,” Command screamed in his ear.

It wasn’t the first time Command had screamed at him.

He prayed it wasn’t the last.

He didn’t answer his boss. What was the point? He wasn’t going anywhere. Not without the girl. He wouldn’t leave her. He couldn’t walk out of a burning building when the child’s thermal image was in his sight. Reality was that Command wouldn’t want him to. None of their crew would exit when a fire victim was within sight.

“There she is.”

“Thank God,” Roger called from behind him.

“Engine Seven to Command—we need a ladder to fourth division A-side window for rescue.” God, he hoped there was a window on the exterior wall because he couldn’t see a thing. “We have one victim.”

Command acknowledged, repeating the call.

“Keeley?” Jude yelled, hoping the girl could hear him above the fire’s loud roar. Hoping that she’d answer, that she’d move.

She didn’t.

Please, don’t let us be too late.

He couldn’t see her with his bare eyes, but used the camera to guide himself toward her. The room was a sweltering hot box.

Then the thermal image on his TIC moved and Jude wanted to cry out in relief. She was alive. Who knew how much smoke she’d inhaled, what kind of burns she might have endured, but she’d moved so there was hope.

“Keeley,” he called again, crawling toward her. “We’re here to get you out of this place.”

He had no idea if she could hear him over the deafening sound of the fire destroying the building. If she could, he wanted her to know he was on his way.

Finally, he reached the far corner of the room where she was huddled beneath her mother’s bed.

Coughing, the little girl stared at him with watery eyes, but didn’t make any move toward him or respond to his motioning for her to come to him. Was she asphyxiated?

In his gear, he couldn’t fit under the huge low-rise bed she was hidden beneath and wasn’t quite sure how he’d move the massive bed with her beneath it without risking hurting her, but he had to get to her fast. They had to get out of the building pronto.

“Keeley, we have to go.” He tried again, tugging on the corner post of the solid wood monstrosity without any success. Was the thing nailed down? “Come to me, honey. Let me carry you out of this place.”

“Don’t leave me.”

He could barely make out her words. Maybe he even lip-read them more than heard them, but they rang loudly through his very soul.

As did the terror in her big puffy eyes as she coughed again.

“I won’t leave you, Keeley. I promise. Crawl to me, Keeley.” He purposely said her name over and over, hoping to get through to her, to let her know to come to him. He stretched his arms as far beneath the bed as he could. “Just move close enough that I can pull you to safety, Keeley, so we can get out of this building.”

He heard a crash and knew another section of the structure had given way.

Any moment the building could come collapsing down.

They had to go now.

“Keeley, come to me,” he pleaded, pushing against the bedpost again to see if it would move. Nope. The piece was solid, low to the floor, and heavy as hell.

He and Roger could stand, use their weight against the frame to see if they could shift it, and pray Keeley got out of the way if they did manage to move the massive piece of furniture.

She was crying, but she scooted forward a little, then back to where she’d been against the exterior wall.

Precious seconds were ticking by. Despite his protective gear, Jude could feel the worsening heat.

Instincts kicking in that said bad was about to get a whole lot worse if he didn’t get her and get her now.

“I know it’s scary, Keeley, but you’re going to have to crawl to me so I can pull you to safety.”

That was when she moved.

Finally.

“Just a little closer, Keeley.” He reached as far as he could beneath the bed. “Just a little closer.”

Then her hand touched his glove.

“That’s it, Keeley. Just a little more.”

His hand closed around her wrist and he pulled her to him.

“I’ve got her.”

He wrapped his arms around her, just as a window burst out on the exterior wall.

Thank God. An exit.

No doubt the aerial truck platform was just outside the window and some of his guys were waiting to pull Roger, Keeley, and him through to safety.

Thank God.

“Don’t leave me,” the girl repeated, clinging tightly to him and then going limp in his arms.

“Never,” he promised again, praying he’d not been too late.

 

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Holiday Celebrations, Hot Docs!, New Releases

Christmas with the Best Man

By Susan Carlisle

I hope this is a little early Christmas cheer.

This is an taste of my last book Christmas with the Best Man which is out on December 1. It is a part of the Manhattan Mercy continuity that joins my fellow medical authors: Amy Ruttan, Robin Gianna, Janice Lynn, Alison Roberts, Amalie Berlin. You don’t want to miss theirs either. 

Christmas with the Best man 300

Dr. Helena Tate knew what a mad house the ER could be like during and after a major nor’eastern but to experience it first hand was always a draining experience. Not only was snow piled everywhere, the wind was howling and the temperature teeth clatteringly cold.

Injured people filled the chairs and any extra space in Manhattan Mercy Hospital’s Emergency Department in New York City. Even though the department might be the most modern and efficient ER in the world, it had still been all-hands-on deck for the last couple of days. Inside was at least warm and cheerful. Being a week before Christmas and the nurses had banded together to decorate the department. Garland hung around the unit desk, wreaths adorned each trauma room door, and there was even a Christmas tree in the corner of the waiting room.

Despite the festive time of the year the sick and injured just kept coming. Thankfully the flow had started to ease. She must be out of here in an hour if she had any hope of making Grace and Charles’s wedding on time. A must, since she was the maid of honor.

Grace and she had been friends and roommates during medical school and had stayed in touch. When Grace had mentioned needing a change from her overseas work, Helena had told Grace about a position becoming available in the ER and had offered her the extra bedroom. Grace soon learned Charles Davenport would be her boss and talked of cancelling the interview. Helena had encouraged her to come on anyway having no idea there had been something between Grace and Charles during their medical school years.

Helena smiled then sighed. Now, they were getting married just a couple of weeks before Christmas. She was thrilled for them.

Finishing with her latest patient, Helena headed to the ER doctor’s on-call room to shower and change. It wasn’t the perfect place to dress for a formal event but unusual circumstances called for flexibility. If anything, she’d learned long ago as an unwed pregnant teen to adjust to what life threw her and move on.

The pain of finding out that her boyfriend wanted nothing more to do with her, and especially the baby, had been horrible. More devastating had been the loss of the child. Seventeen was too young to become a mother, but the guilt she carried over not wanting the baby was what had stayed with her all these years.

She had survived with the love and support of her family. That’s what mattered now. The part of her personality that made her think positive had made being a ER doctor a good fit professionally for her. Days like the last few only proved it. How she was holding her love close. She wanted a man who wanted her forever. Some might think she was too old to believe in happily ever after but she was still going to hold out for it. Grace and Charles were proving it could be had and Helena had to believe Prince Charming was somewhere out there for her as well.

She stepped out of the examination room and was sideswiped by a blur of white. “Ho.”

Dr. Elijah Davenport, Charles’ twin, glanced over his shoulder. “Hey Helena, can you give me a hand in Trauma Four? A kid just came in with a broken leg and the father’s having trouble breathing.”

She hurried to keep up with him. “Is Jim seeing them? I saw him coming in a few minutes ago. You’re off the clock. Shouldn’t you be thinking about getting ready for the wedding? After all you’re the best man.”

“Yeah, but there’re also patients to see. When Charles left me in charge I promised not to let the place fall apart.”

Like Elijah would ever do that. He might be the quintessential playboy doctor but Helena never doubted he was a dedicated physician. Truth be known, she thought him the best doctor in the department. But no way would she tell him that. His head was already big enough where women were concerned. It would only add to his already over-the-top ego.

Still he had earned it. Elijah was beyond good-looking. From his dark brown hair, charmingly out of place most of the time, to his tall, buff beach boy physique and his ‘Davenport blues’ that sparkled when he laughed, Helena easily understood why women were agog over him. She might be as well but she wasn’t interested in anyone who worked their way through the nurses. Nor in the heartache he would cause if she lost her heart to him. She wouldn’t accept anything but true love.

Helena’s attention went to Elijah who had paused at the door to the patient’s room. “I’ll take the kid and you see the father.”

“Okay.”

She covered it well but no matter how much time had passed since she’d lost her baby the young patients still got to her on occasion. Sometimes a look or a laugh from a child triggered something in her that sent her emotions spinning out of control. During those moments, the pain was so harsh her chest felt like it might explode. The what questions came flooding in. What would she have looked like? Would her child be acting the same as this one? The list and the pain went on. Thank goodness it didn’t happen often. But when it did…

“Done.” Elijah walked into the room.

A boy of about eight lay on the exam table with his face contorted in pain while a tight-lipped father holding his side paced beside him.

“Mr.,” Elijah looked at the clipboard he held, “Kakasides, I’m Dr. Davenport and this,” he nodded his head toward her, “is Dr. Tate. Why don’t you have a seat and tell us what happened.”

“I’d rather stand. It hurts worse when I sit. We were sledding in the park. Like an idiot, I tried to catch Louis when he came by me going too fast. I fell on him. I think I’ve broken his leg. I hit the edge of the sled and messed up my side.”

Elijah glanced at her with a ‘are you believing this look’ and then said to the father, “I’m going to check out your son while Dr. Tate does the same for you, okay?”

“Why don’t we step right over here?” Helena indicated an area off to the side.

The father glanced at his son, nodded. “Louis, I’m not going far. Hang in there, buddy.”

“Before I have a look at your side I need to listen to your heart and check a few more things.”

Again, the father dipped his head but his attention remained on his son.

With vitals completed she said, “I know this is going to hurt but I need for you to take a deep breath.”

The father winced but did as she asked.

“Now Mr. Kakasides, I have to look under your shirt. Can you raise your arm?”

He hissed as he brought his arm up. Moving the shirt away Helena could see a dark blue hematoma spreading out along his left side. The fall had defiantly been hard.

“I’m going to need to step out and have a look at your chest X-ray,” she announced. “At the least you’ve broken a few ribs but I need to make sure there isn’t more. Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do for broken ribs. They’ll have to heal on their own. You can take an anti-inflammatory for the pain.”

They rejoined Elijah as he was saying, “Okay Louis, I need to have a look at your leg. I see the nurse has already done her worse with your pants.”

The material had been cut away so that it flapped back exposing the leg. There was a large bump with redness and bluing around it.

“Yep, that looks like a broken leg. You and your father sure know how to have a good time in the snow.”

The boy gave Elijah a weak smile. “He fell on me but I know he didn’t mean to.”

Elijah patted him on the shoulder and a wink. “I’m sure he didn’t. Maybe next time you can save him.”

The boys smile was brighter this time.

Good with kids, Elijah would make a great father. But he was also ‘good’ with women which would not make him a great husband. Fortunately, that wasn’t an issue. He’d never approached her and that suited her fine. Just watching him in action with the other female staff was enough for her to know he wasn’t what she was looking for in a man.

Elijah gave a reassuring smile to the boy’s father. “Radiology should have sent the pictures over by now. Let us review them. Dr. Tate and I’ll be back in soon.”

“Thanks.” The father looked at her and then at Elijah. “To both of you.”

On their way back to the ER desk Elijah was stopped by one of the nurses with a question. Helena didn’t wait on him. At the desk, she pulled up the X-ray for Mr. Kakasides. His eight, nine and tenth ribs were cracked. He would be in pain for a few weeks but would recover. She had the x-ray Elijah needed to review up on the screen by the time he arrived. He slid into the chair beside her.

“Thanks Helena.”

“No problem. As Maid of Honor, I think it’s part of my duty to remind the best man he needs to get out of here as soon as possible.”

He studied the computer screen. “Well, Joe has a break to his femur.”

“His father is going to take it hard. He feels bad enough as it is.” Helena stood and checked her watch. “I’m going to give him instructions about his ribs and get ready for a wedding. You need to do the same.”

Elijah rolled back his chair. “Yes, doctor. I’m right behind you. First, I need to call Lloyd up in ped ortho and have him come in on the case. The boy will need surgery to put a rod in.”

“Then I’ll let the father know you’ll be in to speak to him. I’ll see you in the Park.”

“Yeah, in the Park.” There was a dry note in Elijah voice.

“Don’t sound so excited.” Helena grinned back at him as she circled the desk and headed down the hall. “Remember weddings aren’t contagious.”

 

Elijah sure hope they weren’t. He wanted nothing to do with one.

Forty-five minutes later, he left the ER station desk and headed down the hall toward the doctor-on-call room. There a shower and his tux waited. He had plenty of time to get dressed and make it to the park. At least the hospital was just across the street, but Central Park was a huge space. Just to walk to the Shakespeare Garden would take time.

Charles would never let him forget it if he was late to the ceremony. Grace would be in tears and nothing Elijah said would make that okay in Charles’s eyes. The ER had been so busy Elijah had seen two more patients before he felt he could call his shift done. It then took another fifteen minutes to bring the doctor taking over for him up to speed on the patients being seen.

Elijah admitted to himself that he was dragging his feet about the whole wedding thing. It wasn’t he didn’t want to be there for Charles or that he didn’t like Grace. He did. He wished them both the best. Was truly happy for them. It was just that the ‘wedded bliss’ idea didn’t appeal to him much. He’d seen little of that in his parents’ marriage. Knew he wouldn’t be good at it.

He was halfway down the hall when one of the two swinging doors at the end opened. Helena came toward him. Elijah stopped dead in his tracks. She was a vision of loveliness like he’d never seen. Her curly, shoulder-length, auburn colored hair was now pinned up, the waves flowing randomly about her head. A red poinsettia bloom was fixed behind her right ear. She wore a long forest green dress that hugged womanly curves usually hidden by loose scrub shirts. The top of the dress dipped, giving him a hint of cleavage that only made him want to see more. Small short sleeves cupped her creamy shoulders. The skirt swirled about her legs as she came toward him drawing his attention to her hips.

His heart picked up a beat. Not to mention the stirring south of his beltline. Heaven help him, Helena was breathtaking. Why hadn’t he noticed before?

They had been working together for a couple of years. More than once she and a few other of the staff had gone out to eat as a group after a shift but he’d never thought of her in any way except as a colleague. She’d always been pleasant but seemed closed off somehow. She gave off the vibe that she wasn’t someone who played around. With her wholesome southern drawl and gentle smile, she wasn’t one of those women who gave him a come-hither look he had no trouble obeying. Everything about her said serious, down to earth, love me forever. That was the type he stayed clear of. Maybe that’s why it never registered Helena could be so completely stunning.

Whatever the cause it had been lifted from his eyes. He was noticing her now. Big time.

He needed to snap out of it. Had Helena said something to him? He blinked.

“Elijah, are you just now going to get dressed? You have less than an hour before we’re supposed to be walking down the aisle. Grace is going to have your hide.” She stepped closer.

Her wonderful aroma filled his nostrils. Nothing like the antiseptic smell of the hospital but something warm and earthy, intriguing. He was acting like a fool. Working to get a grip on himself, he grinned. He focused on a point just over her shoulder to get beyond how enchanting she looked. “It’s a good thing you’re a doctor. At least you’ll be able to patch me up.”

She lowered her chin and gave him a speculative look. “I don’t think I have enough medical training to save you from Grace’s wrath if you’re not there on time.”

He laughed. Helena did too. It had a sincere ring that sounded as if it came from her heart. He’d always liked that about her. She had a sense of humor. “Then I guess I need to get moving.” He started down the hall.

“That would be my suggestion.” She headed the other way.

Elijah stopped and looked back, his attention drawn to her hips. It was a shame her scrubs had been disguising those full curves for so long.

Minutes later he was under a hot shower. He was surprised he hadn’t needed a cold one after seeing Helena. How spectacular she looked still amazed him. At least he’d managed not to make a fool of himself. This sudden interest, no, infatuation, with Helena was crazy. He’d seen many woman in formal clothing yet had not reacted this way.

It was probably being overtired from covering for Charles when the ER was impossibly busy. Or maybe it was due to the wedding hoopla he normally stayed clear of. There was something out of cynic with the universe for him to have had such an intense reaction to Helena. Especially when she was clearly not his type.

Half an hour later he shrugged into his black overcoat adjusting it over his tuxedo. Wrapping his groomsman’s gift, a scarlet red scarf securely around his neck, he popped a short black top hat on his head. It might be the silliest thing he’d ever worn if it wasn’t for the fact that it was so cold and not wearing a hat was even more ridiculous.

He received more than one interested look and a few grins as he made his way through the older part of the building to the lobby and out the front entrance of the hospital. His idea of dressing up was putting on a pair of slacks and a collared shirt. Causal was his style, less dog and pony show. He worked hard and liked to relax and have fun when he was off. Only when he couldn’t avoid it did he put on a suit for a medical meeting. To be wearing a tuxedo was taxing. The only reason he was doing so was because he loved his brother. Elijah wished him well. It had been hard on Charles when he lost his wife and was left with two small sons to raise. Elijah was glad his brother had found love again, happiness.

Elijah pulled on his black gloves as he went down the stone steps to the street to catch a cab. It would get him to the closest park entrance nearest Shakespeare Garden and then he would have to walk from there. Just as Helena told him more than once, he’d be cutting it close on time.

The taxi driver put him out at the curb and he hurried down the path. Thankfully having grown up in New York he knew Central Park well. He’d heard of people getting lost in the massive acreage. As a child, he and his brothers and sister had played there. More than once they had picnicked in the Shakespeare Garden area among the trees and large foliage. Those were sunnier days both literally and figuratively. Ones from a long time ago.

He hurried up a slope and made a left turn at a sign reading ‘Grace and Charles’ with a large red bow on it. Up another rise he followed another path into an open area surrounded by snow-tipped trees. Smaller trees in the area were decorated in white lights that were shining bright in the diming light.

An arch made of red poinsettias blooms and more white lights were at one end of the field. Facing it were rows of white chairs with red bows tied to the ones closest to the aisle. A few people were already taking their seats. Tall portable heaters were stationed around the ceremony area. At the other end of the field was a huge enclosed tent with four low round fires pits that glowed. His family was standing around them.

Elijah took a deep breath to fortify himself for what was coming.

As he approached Charles left the group and walked toward him. “I thought I’d have to send Zac after you.”

“I told you I’d be here.” Elijah grinned at his brother. As twins, they had always been close. It wasn’t until they were eighteen that they’d had secrets between them. Elijah carried that guilt and regret to this day.

“Yeah, but I know better than most that you’re always five minutes behind.”

Elijah gave him a wry smile. “Funny big brother. I’ve heard it all before. Just because you were born before me doesn’t mean I’m one step behind you.”

“About following in my footsteps, how’re things at the hospital?” Charles asked as they continued toward the tent.

“Under control. We managed to get the patients waiting down to a reasonable headcount before I left.” Elijah couldn’t fault Charles for his dedication to his job even on his wedding day. “What you need to be worrying about is that beautiful bride of yours. I’ve got the ER covered. Enjoy the day, your honeymoon and let me handle the rest.”

“I’m trying. I guess most of my worrying has to do with nerves.”

Elijah didn’t doubt that. The thought of a wedding made him edgy as well and he wasn’t the one getting married. He looked around. “So where are the Rugrats?”

“Max and Cameron are with Grace. They’ll be coming down the aisle ahead of her.”

Elijah gave him a brotherly pat on the back. “I hope you have them bundled up. It’s cold out here.”

Charles laughed. “I know. But this is what Grace wanted. I love her so that’s what we’re having.”

That kind of love Elijah didn’t comprehend. He’d never felt that for a woman. Didn’t think he ever would. He understood wanting, enjoying, appreciating a female but loving one the way his brother did Grace wasn’t something he’d experienced. More than that, Charles had been able to find it twice. Elijah didn’t plan to have it even once.

Excerpts

Excerpt – A Christmas Miracle by Amy Andrews

9781474051781

BLURB

Her knight in shining leathers! 

Trinity Walker has learned the hard way to stand on her own two feet for her sick son, Oscar. But, when ex-army surgeon Reid Hamilton walks into her life and offers her a job and a home, she can’t refuse! 

He might ruffle her feathers, but Trinity can’t help falling for the knight in motorbike leathers. Reid never expected this little family to bring such sparkle into his cynical life but now he’ll do whatever it takes to give Trinity the love she deserves this Christmas!

EXCERPT

Trinity was in the kitchen making a banana cake when Reid came home. She tensed as she glanced at the clock – ten past two. His footsteps diverted to the living room and she heard the rumble of two male voices for a couple of minutes.

Then he appeared in the kitchen.

He hesitated for a moment when he spotted her at the bench before nodding and crossing to the fridge. He pulled out a beer, twisted the top and tossed it into the sink from where he stood.

It landed with a clink.

He tipped his head back and took several long swallows. It took all Trinity’s willpower to keep her eyes on the job at hand and not feast her gaze on his neck.

“You do know Chase flirts with every woman with a pulse, right?”

The sentence came from out of the blue. She’d been feeling happy since returning from Allura. But Reid seemed hell bent on ruining that, too.

“Gee thanks,” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm as a spike of temper infected her blood stream. “You sure know how to make a girl feel real special.”

“Oh for -” He bit off whatever expletive he’d been about to utter. “I just meant you should be careful, the guy wouldn’t know monogamy if it bit him on the ass.”

“Who says I’m after monogamy?” she snapped.

He blinked, clearly taken aback. Good. A slightly crazed sensation pushed at the inside of her skull as an urge to let fly took hold. She’d learned not to argue over the years. Not to rock the boat. To grind her teeth and quietly submit.

But, screw him. She was really pissed off now.

“I would have thought being a single mum and having to think about Oscar –”

Don’t bring Oscar into this.”

“I’m just saying,” Reid pushed, obviously not going to let it drop. “He’s not daddy material.”

“I’m not going to marry the man,” Trinity said, letting the spoon fall to the bench with a clatter as she crossed to the pantry and opened the doors.

She searched the shelves for vanilla. She knew it was in here because Reid used it to make French toast on the weekends.

God, she’d never be able to eat French toast again without thinking of him in this kitchen, beating eggs and flipping bread fried to a perfect golden brown.

Her anger cranked up another notch.

She glanced over her shoulder. Reid was glowering at her and it pissed her off even more.

“Maybe I just want to a quick tumble,” she said, her cheeks burning, her pulse throbbing wildly at her temples. “A few hours of goddamn pleasure. You ever thought of that?”

She turned back to stare blindly at the shelves.

Where was the bloody vanilla?

“Seeing as how you don’t fancy me,” she said, not bothering to turn this time because his rejection of her still stung, “why shouldn’t I look somewhere else?”

“Don’t fancy you?” His voice was deep and dark, brimming with pissed off.

Before she could blink his hands were on her shoulders and she was spun around and pushed hard against the pantry door. His face loomed up close, white hot flame burning in the blue eyes that raked her face. His breathing was husky, his chest heaving.

“I can’t get you out of my head,” he muttered, each word puffing his breath in her face, disturbing her fringe, “If you had any idea how much I wanted to rip your underwear off with my teeth the other night you’d run screaming from this house.”

Trinity’s heart rate skyrocketed as his grip on her upper arms tightened and his lips slammed onto hers.

It was a kiss that took. That ruled. That owned.

Possessive. Demanding. His tongue thrusting into her mouth, taking the kiss deeper. The graze of his beard marked her face, prickling everywhere.

She felt it everywhere.

She was a slave to the sensation. A slave to the onslaught.

His thigh jammed between her legs, high and hard, grinding against the apex of her thighs. She moaned as her aching flesh revelled in the delicious torture, rubbing herself shamelessly against him.

As quickly as it had started, it was over. His mouth was gone. The kiss was done. His hands still gripped her arms though, his thigh still jammed between her legs, the only things keeping her from collapse.

They stared at each other for long moments, nothing but ragged breathing between them. His mouth was wet and swollen, the white hot flame in his gaze burning brighter. He grabbed her hand and shoved it on the hard bulge pressing against the zipper of his bike leathers.

“This is not,” he whispered, “about me not fancying you.”

He let her go abruptly and stormed out of the room.

Trinity’s legs wobbled for a beat or two before they lost the ability to keep her upright and she slid down the pantry door to the floor, her fingers pressed to her mouth, her mind wiped of coherent thought.

LIKE IT? A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE IS OUT NOW AND YOU CAN BUY IT HERE

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt – The Midwife’s Longed-For Baby, by Caroline Anderson

As I promised you earlier in the year, The Midwife’s Longed-For Baby is out now.  It’s the story of a love broken by failure and despair, and the rebuilding of that love into a strong and solid marriage that can survive anything life throws at it, but Nick and Liv had a mountain to climb to do that, and they dragged me up the hill with them every step of the way!  So here you go, a little taster to whet your appetite.  I’d love to hear what you think of it!

Caroline x

 

Chapter 1

‘LIV, HAVE YOU got a minute?’

She hesitated, about to say no, but Ben wasn’t one to waste time and if he wanted to talk to her…

‘If it really is only that? I need to check on a mum soon.’

‘That’s fine, it won’t take long. I just want to run something by you. Can we go in my office?’

His office?

‘Is this about Jen?’ she asked as Ben closed the door.

The fleeting smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. ‘In a way. Did you know she’s got cancer?’

‘Yes, Simon told me yesterday. I was gutted. She’s such a lovely person and it seems so unfair. He said they’re moving home so their families can help with the children while she’s having treatment. So what is it you want me to do?’ she asked, thinking flowers, a gift voucher, something for the kids—

‘Nothing, but what I do could affect you, because yesterday was Simon’s last day and his compassionate leave’s pretty open-ended so we need a locum, and I’d like to talk to Nick about it.’

‘Nick?’

Of all the things he’d been going to say, her ex husband’s name was so far down the list it wasn’t even on it, and just the sound of his name made her heart beat faster. And he wasn’t officially ex, because she’d never quite been able to follow through on that—

‘Are you still in touch?’

Ben nodded. ‘Yes, we’re in touch. I speak to him quite often. He always asks about you,’ he added gently.

Her heart lurched. ‘Does he? How is he?’ she asked, trying not to sound too needy and failing hopelessly.

‘He’s OK. He’s well, keeps himself busy.’ He frowned, hesitating, then went on, ‘I know it’s none of my business, Liv, and I’m not asking any questions, but I was really sorry when you two split up.’

She felt her eyes fill and blinked as she looked away. ‘Me, too, but it wasn’t working.’ Any more than this was, this awful aching emptiness where her love for Nick had been…

‘I know. I could see there was something wrong, so I wasn’t surprised, just saddened for you both. Look, don’t worry about it. I’ll try and get someone else. I only thought of him because he’d be perfect for the job, but I don’t want to make things difficult for you—for either of you, really.’

The shock had worn off now, swamped by a tidal wave of mixed emotions that she couldn’t quite work out. Longing? Dread?

She didn’t have a clue. Both, maybe, but confusion was fighting its way to the top of the pile.

‘I don’t understand how he could do it anyway. Doesn’t he have a job?’

He must have. He was paying the mortgage on their house—

‘Not any more, as far as I know. His existing locum post’s about to come to an end and I haven’t heard that he’s got anything else lined up so I wanted to get in soon if we were to stand a chance, but it’s probably too late anyway.’

He was locuming? He’d been made a consultant at Yoxburgh Park Hospital a few months before they’d split up. How had he ended up working as a locum? Although it was only a year ago since he’d left. Maybe nothing had come up, nothing as good anyway. Nothing that would do him justice…

‘Can I think about it? Before you ask him, or get anyone else. It’s just—it’s the last thing I expected you to say and I can’t quite get my head round it.’

‘I know, I can see that. And I realise you might need to talk to him first.’

No way. She hadn’t spoken to him since that horrible day that she’d regretted ever since, but this wasn’t the time or the way to do it. She shook her head. ‘No, I don’t need to do that. How long can I have?’

Ben shrugged. ‘The rest of the morning? I’m sorry, I know it isn’t long, but if you think you can deal with it I really don’t want to hang about in case we lose him. It’s right up his street—mostly obstetrics, but there’s some of the fertility clinic work as well, which is why I thought of him.’

That stopped her mind in its tracks, and she felt her jaw drop. She just couldn’t picture him in a fertility clinic, of all the ironic places, but of course Simon’s job partly involved it.

‘I didn’t realise he knew anything at all about infertility.’

Apart from their own, but she wasn’t saying that to Ben.

‘Yes, that’s one of the reasons why we want him, because of Simon’s role here. Plus he’s a damn good obstetrician, of course, but he’s a perfect fit. He’s been running the fertility clinic in his hospital since last May, and it shuts any day now.’

Her heart was beating so fast she could feel it thudding against her ribs. Of all the things for him to do, running a fertility clinic was so out of left field she’d never have seen it coming. Why would he choose to punish himself in that way? Unless he’d had no choice. Had he been driven to it just to earn a living? Her guilt over the mortgage ramped up a notch.

‘I had no idea,’ she said numbly. She took another moment, letting it all sink in a little, and then took a deep breath and made a decision she just hoped she didn’t regret.

‘Talk to him, Ben. Ask him if he’s interested. If he is—well, I’m sure we can be civilised about it.’

‘Are you sure? I realise it’s a big decision for you.’

‘But it isn’t really mine to make. It’s yours, and his, and if he’s the right man for the job, who am I to stand in the way? And anyway, it’s not permanent. Ask him, Ben. Just keep me in the loop, OK? I don’t want any surprises.’

‘Of course I will.’ He opened the door and stared down thoughtfully into her eyes. ‘Thank you, Liv. I do appreciate it and I know it can’t be easy for you.’

Did he? She wondered how much he knew about their break-up, about the why and the how. Had Nick spoken to him about it? Surely not. If there was one thing her marriage had taught her, it was that Nick didn’t talk about his feelings. Not to her, and certainly not to his boss.

She found a smile from somewhere. ‘You’re welcome. Just let me know his reaction.’

‘I will.’

* * *

‘Nick? It’s Ben Walker. Are you OK to talk? I want to ask you something.’

‘Yeah, sure. What d’you want to know?’ he asked.

‘Nothing. I’m headhunting you. I know your clinic’s shutting any time now, and we need a full-time locum consultant to cover Obs and Gynae and some of the fertility clinic workload and I thought it sounded right up your street, unless you’ve got your next job lined up already?’

Ben was asking him to go back? With Liv still there? At least, he assumed she was. He hadn’t heard otherwise and Ben would have told him, he was sure. Would he be working with her?

His heart rate rocketed, and he hauled in a deep breath and let it go, consciously engaging his brain instead of his adrenal glands.

‘Whose job is it? It sounds like Simon’s.’

‘It is. His wife’s got cancer and he’s gone off on compassionate leave with immediate effect. They’re moving back to their home town so their parents can help with childcare.’

‘Oh, no, that’s horrendous. Poor Jen. Poor all of them. And poor you, because it’s obviously left you in the lurch, but I’m not sure I’m the man for the job. Does Liv know you’re asking me?’

‘Yes. I asked her first. She said she thought you could be civilised about it.’

Civilised?

He’d be right under her nose, working with couples to solve the very thing that had left their marriage in tatters. Civilised wasn’t the word he would have applied to that situation.

A minefield, more likely.

Or an opportunity to build bridges? He knew so much more now than he had then, but the pain was still raw and no amount of knowledge was going to make that go away.

Could he do it? It wasn’t as if they’d be working together, and it was only temporary in any case. They could keep out of each other’s way if necessary, but it might give them a chance—

‘So, are you still free?’

‘Yes, technically. I haven’t got anything lined up yet, at least, and I’m seeing the last patients today, but I had thought I’d take a break. When would you want me to start?’

Ben made a sound that could have been laughter. ‘Tomorrow? And by the way, that was a joke, but—ASAP, really. We can cover it for a few days but after that it’ll get really tricky. Every woman in Suffolk seems to be pregnant or trying to be at the moment.’

His chest tightened. Not quite every woman. Not his Liv…

‘Why don’t you come and talk to me about it?’ Ben went on. ‘See how you feel?’

He had no idea how he’d feel. Confused? Desperate to see Liv? Afraid to see her, to find that she was happily settled without him when he was still miserable and lonely and struggling to make sense of it all? But maybe she was happy, which would mean he’d done the right thing by leaving without a fight. Maybe he needed to know that so he could move on?

There was no real reason why he couldn’t go. When the clinic closed its doors at five that evening, he’d be jobless. He’d planned a holiday, something reckless and adrenaline-soaked, but he hadn’t booked anything and now Ben was dangling this opportunity to go back to Yoxburgh right in front of his nose.

Yoxburgh, and Liv.

They’d been so happy there at first in the pretty Victorian seaside town, but it had all gone horribly wrong for them and now the only memories he had of it were sad ones. Did he really want to go back?

He’d made changes in his life, tried to get it back on track, but although his diet and lifestyle had undergone a radical overhaul, his heart hadn’t moved on. He’d just shut it away, buried it under a massive pile of work and endless runs around an inner-city park, and going back was bound to open a whole new can of worms. Did he really want to do that? The sensible answer was no—or was that just the coward’s answer?

And Ben needed him. He had no commitments or ties, no reason why he couldn’t go, except that Liv would be there, and maybe that wasn’t a good enough reason to stay away.

Even though it was a minefield, even though they hadn’t spoken in over a year, even though he knew it was rash and stupid and ill-considered, he realised there was a massive part of him that wanted to see her again.

Needed to see her again.

It was high time they had the conversation he’d been putting off since they’d split up. The conversation he owed her—and the one she owed him, like why after more than a year she still hadn’t started divorce proceedings…

‘Let’s just go for it,’ he said, suddenly decisive. ‘I can’t do tomorrow, but why don’t I come up on Friday? That gives me a day to tidy up here and pack, and if I can sort everything out with your HR first thing on Friday morning I can start work right away. My paperwork’s all in order, so once HR have seen it I’ll be good to go. Then you’ll only have to deal with tomorrow, and I can spend the weekend finding somewhere to live.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, absolutely,’ he said without giving himself time to back out of it. ‘Let’s do it. I’ll drive down early so I’m with you for eight and I can be in HR as soon as they open.’

‘Nick, thank you. I can’t tell you how grateful I am,’ Ben said, and the relief in his voice made Nick realise just how much pressure his old clinical lead was under. ‘And don’t worry about finding anywhere to live,’ Ben added, ‘you can stay with us as long as you need to, Daisy’d love to have you. Come here, to the hospital. You know where to find me. They’ll page me when you get here.’

‘Sure. Thanks. I’ll see you then.’

He hung up, slid the phone into his pocket and stared blankly across the room.

He was going back.

He wasn’t sure he was ready to see Liv again, because he’d never managed to get any emotional distance and his heart was still as raw as it had been the day she threw him out, so it was going to be tough. Very tough. But maybe he could use the opportunity to find out if she was happy without him, because he sure as hell wasn’t happy without her…

There was a knock on the door and a nurse popped her head into the room. ‘Mr Jarvis? Mr and Mrs Lyons are waiting to see you.’

He nodded, gave himself a mental shake and got to his feet. ‘Show them in, please.’

* * *

He was coming back today.

Taking Simon’s job, at least in the short term. She still couldn’t work out how she felt about that. Confused, more than anything. Confused and nervous and tingling with apprehension. Lots of that.

She found a slot in the staff car park, got out and headed for the maternity unit on autopilot, her mind whirling.

Would she see him today? Did she want to? Did he want to see her? Their last exchange had hardly been amicable. Well, her side of it anyway. He’d hardly said a word but then he hadn’t needed to, the evidence had spoken for itself.

She reached the kerb and glanced up, checking that the road was clear, and saw a car approaching.

Nick’s car.

She recognised it instantly, and her heart started to thud as he drew closer, their eyes meeting as he slowed down.

To speak to her?

For a moment she thought he was going to stop, and then he raised his hand in acknowledgement and drove on, and she hauled in a breath and crossed the road on legs like jelly.

Her heart was tumbling in her chest, her lips dry, and she was breathing so fast she could have been running. Ridiculous. He was just a doctor, here to do his job, and she was just a midwife doing hers. The fact that they were still married was neither here nor there. They could do this.

She just had to work out how.

* * *

Nick parked the car and sat there for a moment, waiting for his heart to slow down.

He’d known it would be odd to see her again, but he hadn’t expected the thunderbolt that had struck him when he’d met her eyes. It was like being punched in the gut, and it had taken his breath away.

Jaws clenched, he took the key out of the ignition, picked up the briefcase containing his stethoscope and the file with all the documentation for HR and got out of the car, following her towards the maternity unit.

Why the hell had he said yes? He could have turned Ben down, walked away, gone and had the holiday he’d been promising himself. Then he wouldn’t have been here, he wouldn’t have seen her and ripped open the wound left by the abrupt end to their marriage.

Not that it had taken much ripping. It had barely skinned over in the last year and a bit, but he was here now, the damage was done and he might as well just get on with it. And anyway, she needed the truth. They both did, and maybe then they could both move on.

The door slid open and he strode through it, went up to the maternity reception desk and asked them to page Ben.

* * *

‘Morning, all.’

‘Oh, Liv, I’m so glad I’ve caught you. Can you do us a huge favour? Would you mind covering an antenatal clinic this morning? Jan’s called in sick and you’re the only person who’s not already involved in a delivery.’

She felt a little shaft of relief and smiled at her line manager. ‘No, that’s fine, I’ll head straight down.’ And she’d be nicely tucked out of the way so she wouldn’t run the risk of bumping into Nick.

Which was stupid, really, because it was going to happen sometime, but she’d had less than forty-eight hours to get used to the idea of him coming back and judging by her reaction to him in the car park, it had been nothing like long enough.

She’d spend the morning giving herself a thorough talking-to, and then by the time he actually started work she’d have herself firmly under control.

Good plan.

Except it wasn’t.

The clinic receptionist welcomed her with a smile of relief and then comprehensively trashed her peace of mind.

‘Thank heavens it’s you, Liv, we need someone who knows the ropes. There’s a bit of a delay because the locum who’s covering for Mr Bailey is still in HR, but he’ll be down soon, apparently, so if you could make a start that would be amazing.’

Simon’s clinic? That meant she’d be working with Nick all morning, before she had a chance to shore up the walls and get all her defences in place. Great. Fabulous.

Her heart had started to pound, and she hauled in a breath, picked up the first set of notes with shaking hands and pasted on a smile.

‘No problem. I can do that,’ she said, as much to herself as the receptionist. She walked out to the waiting area, glanced at the file and scanned the room.

‘Judy Richards?’

* * *

‘Nick! Welcome back!’

He recognised Jane, the motherly but ruthlessly efficient woman who acted as Ben’s secretary as well as Simon’s, and greeted her warmly.

‘Hello, Jane, it’s good to see you again. How are you?’

‘I’m fine. I’ve been expecting you. HR said you’d be up here shortly. They said you were very well organised, ironically.’

He laughed. ‘It just so happens I had a file ready with the relevant paperwork in it because I knew I’d need it soon, but don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security. I hate admin.’

She smiled knowingly. ‘I haven’t forgotten that. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you do everything you have to do.’

‘Can you read my mind?’ he asked, and she just laughed.

‘If necessary. That’s what I’m here for.’

‘Good. I don’t suppose you’ve got Simon’s schedule handy, have you? I really need to hit the ground running. Ben said something about a clinic and I’ve got a list this afternoon.’

‘Yes, I’ve printed it all out for you here. First on your list is the antenatal clinic, as you know. It’s still in the same place and they’re expecting you. And your elective list starts at two, so you should just about have time after the clinic to meet your patients before you start in Theatre. The notes are on the ward.’

‘Jane, you’re a legend.’ He hung his stethoscope round his neck, left his briefcase in her care and went.

At least in the clinic he was less likely to run into Liv, because she’d be safely tucked away on the midwife-led unit. And even though in a way he’d wanted to see her, their brief encounter this morning had shaken him more than he’d expected and he could do without any more surprises.

Yes, a nice, busy clinic was exactly what he needed. Just until he got his head round the idea of working in the same building as her…

* * *

‘Liv…’

She was standing in the empty corridor with an armful of notes when she heard him say her name, and she turned slowly and met his eyes.

Anguish, love, regret—and then nothing, as he got control of himself again and slammed the shutters down. He’d had plenty of practice at that, he’d got it down to a fine art in the last year of their marriage, but he’d been too slow this time and his reaction exactly mirrored her own.

‘Hello, Nick,’ she said, her voice sounding scratchy and unused. The words how are you hovered on her tongue, but she couldn’t speak because it had glued itself to the roof of her mouth so she just stared at him.

His face was leaner, she realised, the crows’ feet more pronounced, the frown lines shallower. Because he was happier? He hadn’t looked happy, but he looked more like the old Nick, the man she’d fallen in love with, fit and well and healthy but with a touch of grey at his temples now. Stress, or just age? He was thirty-nine now, nearly forty, and he wore it well apart from that.

Not that the silver threaded through his dark hair did anything to dim his subtle but potent sex appeal—

Her heart was beating so fast it was deafening her, her breath was lodged in her throat, and she had to clamp her lips together to stifle a sudden little sob.

She blinked fiercely and adjusted the folders in her arms before looking back at him, and as she met those beautiful, smoky grey eyes again her heart thudded, but his gaze held her eyes and she was powerless to look away.

‘I wasn’t expecting to see you down here,’ he said after a second of silence that seemed to scream on for eternity, and his gruff voice set her free and she breathed again.

‘Ditto, but it’s just as well you’re here now, we’ve got a lot of work to do.’ She pretended to look at the notes in her arms. Anything to get away from those searching eyes when her own were bound to be too revealing. ‘I take it you managed to tick all HR’s boxes?’

‘Yes. I have a file I keep up to date. It comes in handy when you’re a locum.’

That again. Why hasn’t he got a full-time job?

He hesitated, as if there was something else he wanted to say, but after a moment he looked down at the armful of folders she was holding. ‘So, what’s that lot?’

‘The ladies who’ve had their BP and fundal height measured and their urine tested, so they’re all ready for you.’ Her voice was almost normal again, and she nearly laughed. If he had any idea what was going on in her chest—

She led him into the consulting room and handed him the folders, and as he took them his hand brushed lightly against hers and the heat from his skin sent a wave of longing through her. She almost dropped the files but he had them, and he turned swiftly away and dumped them on the desk.

‘Anyone I should be particularly aware of?’ he asked, his voice a little taut and very businesslike, so she followed his lead. Anything to help get herself back under control before her heart gave out.

‘Yes, Judy Richards,’ she said briskly. ‘She has a history of early miscarriage. This is her fourth pregnancy, she’s thirty-two weeks which is the longest she’s ever gone, but her fundal height hasn’t changed since her last appointment a week ago and that wasn’t as much as it should have been, so it might be that the baby’s found a new position, or it could be that it’s stopped growing for some reason. She’s on the top of the pile.’

He frowned thoughtfully, all business now. ‘Right. Good. Has she been tested for APS?’

‘Yes, after her last miscarriage. The test came back negative.’

‘Hmm. OK, well, she’d better have another scan before I see her, if we can do it without worrying her too much.’

‘It’s done. I knew you’d ask for it so I told her it was because it was a new consultant, and she didn’t question it. The results are on here,’ she said, handing him the department tablet.

‘Great. Thanks.’ He scrolled through and studied the results, then handed it back, frowning thoughtfully.

‘OK. I think I’m going to admit her. Can you call her in, please, and I’ll check her over and break the news?’

‘Sure.’

And oddly it was fine, because Judy Richards and her baby needed them, they had a job to do and so they just got on with it, slipping seamlessly back into the familiar routine as if it had been yesterday. Not that she was relaxed in any way, but it was a joy watching him with Judy, and a stark reminder of how good he was at his job.

She’d forgotten how intuitive a doctor he was, and how caring. Kind, gentle, thorough—and from his first greeting onwards, Liv could see Judy had utter faith in him.

‘Mrs Richards—I’m Nick Jarvis, I’ve taken over from Simon Bailey. I’ve had a look at your notes, and also the scan you had done today. It doesn’t really shed any light—which is good news in a way, I suppose, but it still leaves some unanswered questions and I don’t like that, so I think I’d like to admit you and do a few more tests, get a closer look at your baby and the placenta and retest you for APS—antiphospholipid syndrome. Has anybody discussed that with you yet?’

‘Yes, Mr Bailey did, but he didn’t think I’d got it.’

‘He may well be right, but I’m erring on the side of caution, so if that’s all right with you, I’ll ring the ward and make the arrangements for you to be admitted now, and then maybe someone could bring some things in for you later.’

‘I can’t go home and get them myself?’

‘You can, of course, but I’d like to get the tests under way as soon as possible and I’m in Theatre this afternoon, so I’d very much rather you didn’t because I’d like to look after you myself rather than hand you over to someone else in my team.’

By the time he’d convinced Judy to come in immediately for closer monitoring, she was still calm and relatively relaxed, which considering her obstetric history was nothing short of a miracle.

If only they were as calm and relaxed things would be fine, but they weren’t. Liv felt like a cat on hot bricks, and she wasn’t sure he was faring any better.

They got through the morning by keeping out of each other’s way as much as possible, avoiding eye contact, restricting conversation to a minimum and all work-related, but fun it wasn’t and her nerves were in bits, so the second the clinic was finished she made her escape.

* * *

He closed the door as Liv went out with the last patient, leant back against the wall and closed his eyes, letting his breath out in a long, slow huff.

Well, they’d survived, if you could call it that.

Not that it had been easy, but they’d got through it by sticking to business and getting on with the job, and they’d done that well, working together as a smooth, well-oiled team just as they had in the old days. Except in the old days they’d enjoyed it, and he was pretty certain neither of them had enjoyed it today, and the tension between them could have been cut with a knife.

It couldn’t go on like this, though, and he knew he had to do something to break through the icy politeness and careful distance between them or it wasn’t going to work. At all.

He shrugged away from the wall, picked up the last set of notes and left the room, scanning the clinic for Liv, but there was no sign of her.

‘Seen Liv?’ he asked at Reception as he handed over the file, and was told she’d gone for lunch.

Which meant, unless she’d changed her habits, she’d be in the café that opened onto the park.

Good. He could do with a nice, strong coffee, with caffeine in it for a change. It might help him get through what was sure to be a deeply awkward conversation.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt: Bride for the Single Dad, by Jennifer Taylor

Today we’re bringing you an excerpt from Jennifer Taylor’s new release, ‘Bride for the Single Dad‘.  This is the second book in Jennifer’s trilogy ‘The Larches Practise’ the first being ‘The Boss who stole her Heart‘.  

Both books are available from Amazon, Mills and Boon UK, Mills and Boon Australia and Harlequin.

9781474051750Chapter 1

Why did this have to happen today of all days? Surely she had enough to contend with, without this as well!

Polly Davies struggled to contain her frustration as she brought her car to a halt. Opening the door, she hurried over to where two vehicles had collided in the centre of the carriageway. It was barely six a.m. and there was no other traffic about but Polly was very aware that if the accident had happened later then it could have been a different story. A lot of people could have been injured then so it seemed that even the darkest cloud could have a silver lining. Maybe that maxim could be applied to her own situation?

Polly bit back a sob, knowing that now wasn’t the right time to dwell on what had happened. Right now her main concern was to check if anyone had been injured. It appeared that one of the vehicles had run into the back of the other. It was a very expensive car too, the logo on its bonnet declaring its pedigree for all the world to admire. Even as she watched, a tall dark-haired man climbed out of the driver’s seat, cursing under his breath when he saw the dent in the front bumper. It was obvious that he wasn’t seriously injured, however, so Polly headed towards the other vehicle, her footsteps quickening when she recognized it as the van belonging to the Applethwaite family. They used it to deliver their famous Dales lamb to the local shops and restaurants, but it was only as she drew closer that she realised Lauren Applethwaite was driving it. Polly’s heart sank. At three months pregnant, and with a history of miscarriages, this was the last thing that poor Lauren needed.

‘Lauren, are you all right?’ Polly demanded, opening the van door.

‘I don’t know. I had this terrible pain…’ Lauren broke off and groaned. ‘There it is again.’

‘Just try to stay calm,’ Polly instructed when she heard the panic in Lauren’s voice. She leant into the van, knowing that she couldn’t risk moving Lauren until she was sure that she hadn’t suffered a spinal injury. Her heart sank that bit more because the last thing she wanted was for Lauren to become even more upset if she had to remain in the van. The calmer she was, the better it would be for her baby…

‘Stop! For heaven’s sake, woman, have you no sense?’

Polly stopped dead when she heard the deep voice behind her. Turning, she saw the driver of the other vehicle striding towards her. He glared down at her and she shivered when she saw the hostility in his green eyes. As the community midwife, she was used to dealing with all types of people. However she had never seen such naked animosity on anyone’s face before.

‘You never, ever, move an accident victim until you’re sure they haven’t suffered a spinal injury,’ he rapped out.

Polly flushed, resenting both his tone and his assumption that she had no idea what she was doing. However, before she could explain that she had been about to check that it was safe to move Lauren, he elbowed her aside. Sliding his hand between Lauren’s back and the seat, he gently ran his fingers down her spine, and Polly frowned. There was a confidence about his actions that pointed towards the fact that he knew exactly what he was doing. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask him if he was medically trained when he turned to her and the question froze on her lips when once again she was treated to an openly hostile look. It made her wonder if he had a problem with her in particular or with women in general before she dismissed the thought. She had enough problems of her own without worrying about his.

The thought of what had happened in the past few hours rose up and swamped her before she could stop it. She should have realised that something was terribly wrong when Martin failed to phone her last night, she thought, feeling the bitter tears stinging her eyes. She had tried calling him but she had been put straight through to voicemail. She must have left a dozen messages, asking him to phone her back, but when he still hadn’t replied by midnight she had got into her car and driven to the cottage they had bought. Martin’s parents had given them the deposit as a wedding present and Polly had been thrilled at the thought of them starting their married life in their very own home.

It had been a relief to find lights on when she had reached the cottage. At least it appeared that Martin hadn’t had an accident even if he hadn’t returned her calls, Polly had thought as she had let herself in. However, her anxiety had soon started to rise again as she had checked each room and found no sign of him. It was only when she had gone back to the sitting room that she had seen the envelope propped up on the mantelpiece…

‘There doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with her spine from what I can tell, but it would be better to wait until the ambulance gets here before we attempt to move her.’

Polly dragged her thoughts back to the current situation when the man spoke to her. ‘That won’t be possible,’ she said, blanking out the thought of the furore it was going to cause when everyone found out what had happened. She forced down the fresh wave of panic that hit her, aware that there was nothing she could do about it. ‘We need to get her out of there immediately.’

‘There’s no way I’m prepared to take that risk,’ he countered, his dark brows drawing together into a frown. It was obvious that he didn’t appreciate her arguing with him but Polly wasn’t going to let that deter her. Stepping away from the van, she beckoned for him to join her.

‘Lauren is three month’s pregnant,’ she explained flatly. ‘She has a history of miscarriages and has just told me that she’s having pains. She needs to lie down if we’re to have any chance at all of saving this baby.’

‘And you’re an expert on these matters, are you?’

‘Yes, as it happens I am.’ Polly bridled at the disparaging note in his voice. Normally, she would have let it pass but not today when she was already feeling so emotional. She looked coldly back at him. ‘I’m the community midwife for this area and Lauren is one of my patients. I think I can safely say that I know what I’m talking about.’

***

Elliot Grey could feel his temper soaring, which was unusual for him but he really didn’t need this aggravation on top of everything else that had happened recently. He had spent the last week trying to sort out the mess he had found himself in and he had failed. Miserably. He was no closer to finding anyone reliable to look after his son, Joseph, than he’d been this time last week. Not for the first time, he found himself wondering if he’d made a huge mistake by moving to the Yorkshire Dales. Back in London, he could have contacted any of a dozen agencies and there would have been a highly qualified nanny knocking on his door a couple of hours later. Granted, he would have had to pay through the nose for such a service but money didn’t matter: making sure Joseph was safe and happy was his only concern…

But Joseph hadn’t been happy, had he? Elliot thought suddenly. Joseph had hated the constant changes, the fact that no sooner had a new nanny been hired then she would find another job and leave. That was why Elliot had decided to leave the city and relocate to the country. It would be easier to find someone permanent to care for Joseph while he was at work in a place where fewer jobs were available, he had reasoned. However, it certainly hadn’t worked out that way. The woman he had hired had backed out at the last moment and finding anyone else qualified to look after an eight-year-old with major health issues was proving an uphill battle…

‘Hello? I hate to rush you but I would like to get this sorted out this side of Christmas if it isn’t too much trouble.’

The sarcasm in the woman’s voice roused him. Elliot glowered at the tall, red-haired woman who was watching him with what looked very much like disdain on her face. It was a whole new experience to have anyone look at him that way too. None of his former colleagues would have dared and, as for anyone else, then he would have soon put them in their place. However, he had a feeling that this woman cared little about upsetting him and it made him feel strangely vulnerable to realise that his disapproval meant nothing to her.

Elliot dismissed that thought as the fanciful nonsense it undoubtedly was. Moving back to the van, he peered inside, his reservations about moving the driver disappearing when he saw the pain on her face. It was obvious that they needed to get her out of there as quickly as possible.

‘I’ve a rug in my car – I’ll go and fetch it.’

He glanced round when the red-haired woman spoke beside him, feeling his senses swirl as he inhaled the fragrance of the shampoo she had used to wash her hair. It was years since he had been aware of something like that and it shook him so that he missed what she said next. ‘I’m sorry – what was that?’ he asked thickly.

‘Can you phone for an ambulance while I fetch the rug?’ she repeated. ‘Lauren’s in a great deal of pain and she needs to be in hospital.’

Elliot nodded, not trusting himself to say anything this time, although it was understandable if he was acting out of character after the week he’d had. The thought helped to reassure him as he took his mobile phone from his pocket and put through a call to the emergency services. He sighed inwardly when the operator explained that it would take some time for the ambulance to reach them. The sooner this was over and done with, the sooner he could get home to Joseph, he thought anxiously as he ended the call. Asking Mrs Danton, his newly acquired housekeeper, to spend the night with his son had been a last resort, but he’d had no choice when he had been called into work. However, he couldn’t expect Mrs Danton to keep covering for him so he would need to find someone suitable to look after Joseph soon…if he could.

The thought of what little success he’d had to date didn’t sit easily with him. It was a relief when the red-haired woman came back and he could turn his attention to other matters. Elliot moved aside while she bent down to speak to the driver.

‘We’re going to get you out of there now, Lauren. We’ll take it nice and slowly so there’s nothing to worry about. The ambulance is on its way and it won’t be long before it gets here.’

Elliot felt a ripple of something that felt very much like shame run through him and he frowned. Why did he feel ashamed to hear genuine concern in her voice? Was it the fact that he was more concerned about his own problems than this poor woman? When was the last time he had really felt anything? he wondered suddenly. When had he truly cared? Oh, he cared about Joseph, of course, cared about every aspect of his son’s life. It was his raison d’etre, the thing that kept him focused. He also cared about utilizing his skills to give his young patients a better quality of life, but even then his interest was detached, impersonal. He didn’t feel it inside, didn’t feel anything very much in there. Apart from his love for Joseph, his heart was a wasteland, empty, barren, and all of a sudden Elliot found himself wishing that it was different, that he was different. Listening to this woman, with her concern and her caring, he realised how much he was lacking.

‘Can you swing your legs out, Lauren? I know it hurts, love, but we need you to lie down.’

The woman’s voice was gentle, soothing, and for some reason Elliot felt his guilt subside. Moving closer to the van, he waited until the driver had swung her legs out of the door. ‘I’ll carry her,’ he said gruffly because old habits took a long time to die.

‘Are you sure you can manage?’

The redhead shot an assessing look at him, obviously weighing up his physique, and Elliot felt himself colour. It happened so fast too that he didn’t have time to stop it. Bending, he gathered the driver into his arm, feeling heat scudding around his body. He couldn’t recall ever blushing like this before, would swear that he had never done so, not even when he was a teenager, and the shock of what had happened robbed him of the ability to speak. He could only nod like some damned puppet as he carried the young woman over to the pavement and gently laid her down on the rug.

‘Thank you.’ The red-haired woman stepped around him and knelt down. ‘Where exactly is the pain, Lauren? Can you show me?’

‘Here.’ Lauren pointed to the lower right-hand side of her abdomen and Elliot frowned.

‘Appendix?’ he murmured, not realising that he had spoken out loud until the redhead looked sharply at him.

‘Was that a lucky guess or do you have some kind of medical training?’

‘Medical training,’ he said shortly. He had a list of qualifications as long as his arm but he wasn’t about to share them with her and have her make some disparaging remark. It shook him that she should be so sensitive all of a sudden and he hurried on. ‘I’ll check with ambulance control to see how long it will be before they get here.’

‘You do that. And, while you’re speaking with them, make sure they know the patient is three months pregnant with a history of miscarriages.’ Her tone was laced with genuine concern once more. ‘They need to be prepared when they get here.’

Elliot didn’t say anything as he moved away to make the call but it didn’t stop him thinking it. Somewhere along the line he had forgotten why he had gone into medicine in the first place – to alleviate suffering and help people. Would he ever find his way back to those days when he had cared? he wondered. Return to a time when each and every patient he had treated had left their mark? He hoped so, he really did. Because he knew with a sudden flash of insight that he would never be truly happy unless he did.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt and Giveaway from Emily Forbes

The Doctor Next Door, emilyforbes-72dpi-1500x2000I’m celebrating the end of winter in Oz with a free book for Kindle readers in the USA and Canada. The Doctor Next Door  ebook will be available to download for free from August 31 to September 4.

One Night that Changed her Life, USAA Sept 2017 I’m also really pleased to share an excerpt from my current Harlequin release,  One Night That Changed Her Life  Click the link for availability. It is also available through Mills&Boon , Harlequin and  Mills&Boon UK

 

CHAPTER ONE

Brighde hid behind a conference banner as she stabbed her finger at the screen of her phone. Her hand was shaking as she tried to end the call and it took her two attempts to press the right spot. She took a deep breath, fighting to remember her yoga breathing as she fought back the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes.

She was happy for Nick, really she was, but her brother’s phone call had confirmed her worst fears.

Good news for him could only mean bad news for her.

She struggled with the clasp of her bag, eventually managing to open it and shoved her phone inside before snapping the clasp shut. She needed a drink. A strong one.

There were plenty of free drinks on offer in the hotel ballroom where one of the major pharmaceutical drug companies was hosting the end of conference party but Brighde didn’t feel like going back into the crowd. She needed space almost as much as she needed a drink.

The ballroom was on the hotel’s mezzanine floor but on the floor below she knew there was a bar adjoining the lobby. She looked at the staircase, the expanse of carpet between her and the stairs looked immense and she wasn’t sure if she’d make it. Her knees wobbled as she took the first step and she focussed on putting one foot in front of the other until she could reach for the banister. She clutched it tightly, steadying herself for the descent. The simple task of negotiating a staircase suddenly seemed to require enormous effort. Was that a sign? She knew difficulty with motor skills was often one of the first obvious symptoms of the disease, impaired voluntary movements like gait and balance were hard to ignore, but surely that would be too much of a coincidence.

Get a hold of yourself, Brighde, she admonished herself, you’re only twenty-eight, you’re not about to fall apart yet.

She hoped she was right but it was hard to discount the feeling of mounting panic. Her chest was tight and she was finding it hard to breathe. She was surprised by her reaction to Nick’s phone call. She’d always suspected that she would be dealt the bad hand and she hadn’t expected to be so shocked.

This was what she’d always dreaded. It wasn’t exactly a surprise but, at the end of the day, it obviously didn’t matter how prepared she thought she was, the truth of it was no one wanted to know they were going to an early grave.

Somehow she managed to get down the stairs and into the bar on her wobbly legs without taking a tumble. She perched on a stool and ordered a vodka martini. She had no idea if she liked martinis, she drank vodka but she felt she needed something more potent. Something that would numb the pain and a martini sounded like it might do the trick. She didn’t want to ask the bartender for suggestions, she just wanted to anaesthetise herself.

She plucked the olive from the toothpick as she drained her glass.

Martinis weren’t too bad she decided as she ordered another.

‘Brighde! What are you doing down here?’

Brighde turned at the sound of her name and found Sarah, her best friend, colleague and room-mate all rolled into one, making a bee line for her across the room.

‘Just collecting my thoughts.’

‘Looks like you’re collecting more than thoughts,’ Sarah said as the bartender put a fresh cocktail on the bar.

Sarah was watching her closely as she pulled out another bar stool and sat down.

‘Who was on the phone?’ she asked. She’d been standing next to Brighde when she’d taken the call.

‘Nick.’

‘Is everything ok?’

‘He got his test results back.’

‘At nine o’clock at night?’

Brighde shook her head. ‘No. But it took him a while to figure out how to tell me.’

‘Was it bad news?’

‘Not for him.’ Sarah and Brighde had been friends for ten years since meeting at university where they both studied nursing. Brighde had no secrets from Sarah.  ‘He had ten repeats.’

‘He tested negative?’

Brighde nodded.

‘That’s great news.’

‘Yes. It is,’ she said, fighting to speak past the lump in her throat. She still felt like crying even though nothing she’d heard in the phone call should make any difference. Nothing had really changed. She had her reasons for not getting tested and those reasons hadn’t altered. She could go on just as before. Nick’s results didn’t affect her future plans but she knew they solidified her fears. His results didn’t confirm her suspicions but they definitely strengthened them.

‘You don’t seem happy,’ Sarah said.

‘We each had a fifty-fifty chance of inheriting a faulty gene. There’s only two of us,’ Brighde explained. ‘What do you think the chances are of both of us dodging a bullet?’

‘You know the answer to that. It’s still fifty-fifty. Just because Nick is clear doesn’t mean you won’t be. The chance of you inheriting the gene or not hasn’t changed. Nick’s results have no bearing on you.’

Brighde knew Sarah’s facts were correct. The reality was her chances of inheriting the mutated gene hadn’t changed but she still felt the odds were not in her favour. She’d always felt that. Which was why she never intended to get tested. Who wanted to know that you were going to an early grave? Who wanted that fear confirmed?

Not her.

‘I know you’re right. In theory. But I’ve always felt that I was going to draw the short straw and knowing Nick is ok just reinforces all those feelings. Huntington’s Disease is dominantly inherited and I can’t believe we’d both dodge the bullet. I don’t think we could both be that lucky.’

‘And I don’t think there’s anything you can do about it tonight,’ Sarah said as she shook her head at the bartender who was clearing Brighde’s glass and asking if she wanted another. ‘Come and dance, have some fun. You know Nick’s results have no bearing on you. The band’s playing some good music, dancing will take your mind off it.’

Brighde let Sarah convince her to vacate the bar in favour of the dance floor. She didn’t really feel like dancing but she felt less like going back to the hotel room and staring at the walls. She was feeling miserable enough already.

*

Xavier nursed his beer as he watched the dance floor. It was taking him a little while to get back into beer drinking. He hadn’t realised he’d acquired such a taste for whisky in his years of living in Scotland but when in Rome…. Or Edinburgh.

What he was getting accustomed to far more quickly was the plethora of attractive young women at the conference. The band had been playing for some time and the dance floor was full. His eyes were drawn to a petite blonde in a sapphire dress. He’d been watching her for a while now, she’d been late onto the dance floor but even among the crowd she’d stood out. He’d tried to look elsewhere but his gaze continued to return to her. He believed you could tell exactly what a woman was like in bed by the way she moved on the dance floor. The blonde had rhythm and energy. Her dress shimmered under the lights and her hair shone, contrasting brightly against all the black outfits in the room.  She was striking to look at. She wasn’t smiling, she looked focussed, but she danced like she enjoyed it and he’d put money on her enjoying sex too. She looked fit and flexible and carefree, all admirable traits in his opinion, and he was hooked.

He waited until she left the dance floor. He wasn’t going anywhere until he’d spoken to her. He could dance but he wasn’t about to dance in front of hundreds of his fellow medicos. He’d rather dance a deux and so he waited.

*

The band were playing a love song that was impossible to dance too without a partner. She needed pop music. Something she could lose herself in. She gestured to Sarah – she was going to grab a drink – and made her way to the bar at the side of the ballroom.

She had intended to get a water, dancing had taken her mind off the earlier phone call, but once she stopped dancing and reached the bar all her doubts returned. She’d have a water later.  She needed another drink to numb the pain.

‘Can I buy you a drink?’

Brighde’s skin tingled as she felt, rather than saw, someone behind her. His voice was deep and quiet and although she couldn’t see him she knew he was addressing her. She closed her eyes, imagining a face to go with the voice, before she turned around, hoping she wasn’t going to be disappointed.

She wasn’t.

She turned to find the most gorgeous man she’d seen in a long time at her side. How had she not noticed him in the room? Okay there were hundreds of people at the conference but seriously, he was magnificent. She must have been more distracted than she’d realised.

He watched her as he waited for her answer. His dark eyes studied her, captivating her in his gaze.

‘The drinks are free, you know,’ she replied.

‘In that case, I’ll get you two.’ He grinned at her, lightening the seriousness of his dark stare and Brighde lost the last remnants of her composure.

He looked like European royalty. No, He wasn’t clean cut enough for royalty. His dark hair was slightly too long, exploding around his oval face into soft curls that just begged her to reach out and touch them. His jaw was covered in designer stubble, his eyes were dark and his forehead was strong. He was dark and swarthy and sexy as hell. Confidence oozed from him. He was impeccably dressed, his dark navy suit hung from his shoulders and fitted his frame, the pants were slim, encasing powerful thighs. He looked like a European polo player. Something out of a Jilly Cooper novel. He looked rich and successful, although of course she had no idea if that was the case, and he wanted to buy her a drink. If there was a downside to his offer she couldn’t think of one.

‘What are you having?’ he asked. He didn’t wait for her to accept his offer. He just assumed she wouldn’t refuse. Was that confidence or was it simply an assumption based on the fact it was an open bar? She didn’t know but she also didn’t care. She wasn’t going anywhere. Not now.

She shouldn’t mix her drinks but the bar wasn’t offering martinis and she knew she needed more than water if she was going to be brave enough to keep up her side of the conversation with this gorgeous man. ‘I’ll have a white wine,’ she said as she perched on a bar stool. She didn’t need to sit down but she needed to take a step back. He was standing close to her, that wasn’t a problem but she wanted to get a good, second look at him and she needed a bit of distance to do that.

He ordered and handed her a glass. His fingers brushed hers and a spark arced between them, setting her already nervous heart racing. It had been several months since she’d shared a drink with a man but she knew it wasn’t the length of time making her react this way.

Was the touch accidental? She wondered as he tapped his beer glass against her wine and made a toast. ‘To new experiences.’

He held her gaze a fraction longer than was polite and her stomach flipped and she knew his touch had been deliberate. Her body was responding to him in a way it never had before. She’d never felt such immediate attraction or, if she was honest, such blatant lust before. He made her think of naked bodies and tangled sheets and raw, amazing sex and and she knew exactly how this night would end. ‘Indeed,’ she replied as a sense of delicious anticipation flooded through her. She smiled and added, ‘I’m Brighde.’

‘Xavier.’

She didn’t need to know any more than that.

‘Have you enjoyed the conference?’ he asked her.

So he was part of the conference and hadn’t just snuck in for the free drinks.

‘It’s been really good,’ she said as she put her glass on the bar and crossed her legs, pleased that she’d had a little bit of free time to lie by the hotel pool and work on her tan. ‘But I could do with a few days off to recover before I go back to work. I’m heading home tomorrow, back to work on Monday.’

‘That’s a pity. I’ll be here for a few more days.’

‘Work or pleasure?’ she asked.

‘Purely pleasure.’ He kept his dark eyes fixed on her as he reached past her shoulder, picking up a napkin from the bar. His arm brushed against her skin and she could feel his words on her cheek, soft little puffs of air. She knew he didn’t need the napkin, she knew it had just been an excuse to lean in but she wasn’t complaining. She could feel the electricity surging between them. They could power the room with the heat that was being generated between them. She wasn’t aware of the music, the dancing, of anything that was going on around them. She was lost in the sensation he was evoking in her. She could feel his charisma wrapping itself around her as his pheromones enveloped her. Her nipples hardened and she squirmed in her seat. She pressed her thighs together as heat pooled low in her belly.

‘I’ve been working in Scotland,’ he told her, ‘but the conference seemed like a good way to keep the tax man happy and visit my family.’

‘Family?’

‘My parents live here.’

‘You’re travelling alone? No partner? No wife?’ She played with the ends of her hair, feigning casualness. She had to know the answer. She had rules and standards. She knew she would have sex with this gorgeous stranger, having sex would be a far healthier, and much more entertaining, distraction than drowning her worries with alcohol, but first she needed to establish some ground rules. She didn’t want to make any mistakes.

‘No wife. No girlfriend. No significant other.’

Now it was her turn to smile. ‘Good to know.’ She kept her gaze fixed on him now, wanting him to know where she stood. What she wanted. She didn’t need to know anything else about him. She knew she wouldn’t see him again. He was only visiting; she was leaving tomorrow. She hadn’t had sex for ages and a one-night stand with this gorgeous man was a good option all round. No commitment, just a bit of fun and a good way to keep her mind busy. She didn’t want time to think about her brother’s phone call. She wanted something to take her mind off her situation. This was perfect.

She wanted Xavier.

And she wanted him to know that.

But Xavier was looking to his right.

Sarah had joined them.

Brighde watched her friend looking from her to Xavier and she knew she was taking in the distance, or lack of, between them. She watched as Sarah, quite blatantly, checked him out.

‘I’m off,’ Sarah said when she’d finished her inspection. ‘Are you coming?’

Brighde thought about it for a second, okay to be honest, a millisecond, she didn’t need any longer than that when Xavier was looking at her with his come to bed eyes. ‘No, I think I’m going to stay here for a bit.’

She knew Sarah’s question had been rhetorical. She knew her plans for the rest of the evening were written all over her face but she didn’t care. She wasn’t even looking at Sarah as she answered, she couldn’t make herself tear her eyes away from Xavier. He oozed sex appeal and she knew it was only a matter of time before she would be in his bed. She could feel it. She knew he wanted it too. She could feel the desire coming off him in waves and he was just what she needed to take her mind off the phone call she’d had earlier. Taking gorgeous men to bed ticked all the right boxes and it was a habit she had no intention of breaking. Okay, so she didn’t do it all that often, she could barely remember the last time she’d even had sex, but a one-night stand was the perfect way to scratch an itch.

She needed sex but she didn’t need a relationship. One night was enough. There was no need to go into details, no need to reveal anything personal about herself. She didn’t consider sex to be personal, sex with a stranger couldn’t hurt her, not as much as revealing her fears. She could happily share her body but not her mind. Her body was going to let her down one day, she owed it nothing.

Sarah nodded and smiled. She lent forwards and kissed Brighde’s cheek. ‘Have fun,’ she whispered into Brighde’s ear.

Brighde watched her go and when she turned back to Xavier she found he’d moved closer to her. His thigh pressed against her knee. She shifted forward on the bar stool, sliding her knee against the inside of his thigh. Their intentions were perfectly clear.

She looked up at him to find his dark eyes watching her. Her reaction was immediate and primal and she could feel her nipples jutting against the cool silk of her dress. She saw his gaze drop lower, saw him take in the peak of her nipples against the fabric of her dress. When he looked back at her his gaze was so intense and full of heat she thought she might melt into a pool of desire at his feet.

‘Can I offer you a night cap upstairs?’ he asked as he lifted her empty glass from her hand. He reached across her to put her half-finished drink on the bar and the back of his hand brushed across her chest, grazing her nipple. Brighde felt like she might climax on the spot.

She swallowed and nodded as she licked her lips. Despite everything she’d had to drink her throat was suddenly dry and she was having difficulty breathing, let alone speaking. She was experienced in the art of seduction but not in relationships. She didn’t communicate with words. She sought the comfort of sex when she needed it, emotionally or physically. Tonight she needed it to distract herself. It had worked in the past and, looking at Xavier, she was sure it would work again today.

He took her hand and helped her off the stool. Once again her legs had turned to jelly but she barely noticed this time. She was too aware of the tingling in her belly and the intense weight of expectation and excitement in her groin.

Xavier held the door for her as she stepped into the lift.

He reached out one hand and his fingers rested on her waist. She could feel his heat through the thin silk fabric of her dress. He pulled her closer until she was pressed against him. She could feel his desire now, a thick, hard bulge pressing into her. She tipped her head back and looked up at him as the lift stopped and the doors slid open.

***

 

One Night That Changed Her Life  is also available through Mills&Boon , Harlequin and  Mills&Boon UK

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Emily-Forbes-240066392783405/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/EmilyForbeswrtr

Website: http://www.emily-forbesauthor.com/