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

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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

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Excerpts, Guest Blogs

Excerpt – The Paris Wedding by Charlotte Nash

We’re thrilled to have Charlotte Nash with us again today, with an excerpt from her latest release.  ‘The Paris Wedding’ is released on 27th June 2017 and can be pre-ordered from: iBooks,  Kobo,  Google Play (Charlotte Nash Author Page),  Amazon AU,  Booktopia

FINAL COVER_PARIS WEDDING_800x519 Chapter 1

The day after the funeral, Rachael by force of habit, woke near dawn and made two cups of tea. She dumped the teabags in the sink, then, remembering it would annoy Tess, squeezed them out and tossed them in the bin. It took her longer to register that the second cup wasn’t needed.

She poured her mother’s tea away and braced her hands on the sink, looking out the window. Their harvest had finished two weeks ago and the wide rolling fields of stubble were grey before the sunrise. A beautiful grey, like a dove’s feather, joining the pale soft light at the horizon. As the sun appeared, it gilded the cut stalks, and the single majestic gum on the rise seemed to float on a sea of burnished gold.

Seven, Rachael thought. Seven sunrises without my mother.

She pressed her hand to her mouth. The tears kept boiling up unbidden, the wound still raw and open. Mercifully, Tess, Joel and the children were still asleep. She had time to pull herself together.

‘You’re up early.’

Rachael jumped and sucked back the tears. Tess had padded into the kitchen in thick, silent socks. Her checked robe was tightly knotted at her waist, her blonde hair stowed in a neat plait. Rachael involuntarily touched the unbrushed, ragged clump behind her head, the result of sleeping on her ponytail. Amidst the frizz were bits of broken elastic sticking up from the overstretched band.

‘So, we’re getting started on Mum’s things?’ Tess asked, flicking on the kettle.

‘What?’

‘Mum’s things. I asked you about it last night. You said we’d do it today.’

‘When?’ Rachael said. She couldn’t remember a single thing that had happened yesterday, apart from those two women talking outside her window. The day had been a blur of tears and hymns and the scent of white lilies.

‘This morning.’

‘No, I mean when did you ask me?’

‘After dinner. When Joel was doing the dishes.’

‘I don’t remember.’

She didn’t even remember eating dinner. She took her tea from the windowsill, but didn’t drink it. She wouldn’t have been able to swallow around the lump in her throat.

‘Look, have some breakfast,’ she said, dodging around Tess.

‘I’ll eat later. Where to first – lounge or bedroom?’

‘We don’t need to start right now,’ Rachael said, trying and failing to keep the wobble out of her voice.

‘But it’ll be a huge job. Her wardrobe is overflowing. What a woman on a farm wanted with all those fancy clothes, I don’t know.’

‘She made a lot of them for other people – for formals and weddings and things like that.’

‘What are they doing in her cupboard then?’

‘Because people brought them back and she’d modify them for someone else. She didn’t—’

‘I bet you don’t even know what’s in there,’ Tess said. ‘I bet that ottoman’s still stuffed with winter woollies nobody wears. Don’t worry, Joel will feed the kids and keep them away.’

Rachael had a vision of her sister striding around her mother’s room and stuffing garbage bags with dresses and quilts and other precious things, mixing up what was going where. ‘No,’ she said.

‘I don’t understand. We have to get back to the farm in a few days, so I won’t be around to help later. You said you wanted to get started.’

Rachael threw her hands up. ‘I don’t remember what I said! It was her funeral, Tess. Besides, I was here with her the last ten years. I know what she wanted. If you have to go home, that’s fine. I can manage.’

‘Oh, I see. This is about me choosing to go with Dad when we were kids.’ Tess folded her arms, bringing out a well-worn bickering point like a favourite toy. ‘Well, someone had to. It doesn’t mean I didn’t care about her. And I’m just trying to make things easier for you.’

Tess delivered her speech without a shred of sadness. Rachael was utterly unable to understand how her sister was navigating the grief so easily.

‘It’s not about that,’ she said.

Though she couldn’t help remembering standing beside her mother on the day Tess and her father drove away. Rachael had pressed herself against her mother, her eight-year-old eyes unbelieving. Marion had squeezed her fiercely, tears in her eyes, though she’d held her voice calm and level. ‘She’s still your sister,’ she’d said. ‘This will always be home. She’ll be back one day. She’ll be back.’ Over and over the same words, as if they had the power to make it true.

Now, Tess pursed her lips. ‘Well, can I at least make some lists for you? There’s all the medical hire equipment that needs to be returned, and someone should throw out all the tablets.’

‘Why would I need a list?’

‘So you don’t forget.’

Rachael stared. Was it possible that Tess still thought of her as a dreamy girl with her sketchbook and pencils, often late and forgetful? Yes, that’s what she had been, once. But she’d worked very hard in her last years of school; and then had come ten years of looking after her mother’s appointments, medicines and meals, toilets and showers, and the farm. All that had changed Rachael forever. Tess simply hadn’t been here to see it.

‘I’m not going to forget,’ she said.

‘You forgot what you said yesterday.’

Rachael gritted her teeth. All she wanted today was to be left alone, to stare down the fields or wander round the house, to be as lost as she needed to be. Choosing retreat, she abandoned her tea and headed for her room.

Tess followed. ‘Well, what about cleaning out the fridge? There’s tonnes of food from the wake that needs organising.’

‘Then take it home for Christmas.’

‘Speaking of Christmas, I think you should come up to Dubbo. You shouldn’t be here all by yourself. Or, a better idea. I’ve got someone I want you to meet.’

Rachael spun back. ‘Why would I want to be fixed up with anyone?’

‘Who said anything about fixing up? It’s Joel’s cousin, nice man. He’s bought a farm near Orange and he doesn’t know anyone yet. Family’s all in WA, so he’s going to be alone too. You can talk shop and keep each other company.’

Rachael rubbed her face. She hadn’t slept much this week, her mother’s last days in the hospital replaying in her thoughts at night. Worries about the farm and the future were also accumulating like fallen leaves. Couldn’t Tess understand how tired she was, how upset? How the smallest things seemed like mountains?

She started back down the hall. ‘Will you please just leave it alone? We only just buried Mum.’

‘I thought it would take your mind off everything, and besides it’s time you found a man. There’s been no one since Matthew.’

Rachael froze with that same sick feeling she’d had yesterday, as if his name had dropped a cage around her body, one that was so tight she could barely draw breath. She steadied herself on the wall. Retreat wasn’t enough; she needed to escape. The door onto the rear verandah was right there. She suddenly found herself outside, boots on, striding through acres of field, mowing down a row of cut stalks in her haste.

‘I’m just trying to help!’ Tess yelled at her back.

Rachael didn’t turn around. Out under the sky, she pulled out her hair band and sucked in the warming air, trying to shake off the shock. Finding that Matthew’s name could still hurt was an unpleasant surprise. She thought she had packed him away so deep in her heart that he couldn’t affect her any more.

She strode south, trying to lose herself in her steps, and avoiding the long field where a dip in the ground lay hidden in the wheat stalks. Sadly, avoidance didn’t help. If she closed her eyes, she could still imagine lying in that hollow with Matthew, the earth cool against her arms, his body warm beside her. She had lost hours lying against his chest, twisting his curly brown hair in her fingers, staring into his eyes, and listening to his plans for them both. She’d been so excited by the prospects he’d effortlessly sown in her mind: of university, and then coming home to work and build a home together. Dreams that were still tied to the earth and the baked-straw scent of the fields, to everything Rachael was.

He’d broken off and given her his broad smile. ‘I’m going on.’

‘No,’ she’d said. ‘I want to hear more.’

So he’d brushed his thumbs across her cheeks, cradled her face, and said, ‘I’ll love you forever.’ Fierce and certain, he’d sealed his promise with a kiss and her heart had lifted with joy.

Rachael wrenched her mind back with an exasperated curse. That same straw scent was in her nose, but everything else had changed. They’d both been seventeen when he’d made that promise, imagining a different life than the one that had happened. And yet she knew she would never love anyone like that again.

She walked until she hit the south fence and still the ache clamped around her like a too-tight belt. The sun was behind a cloud, shooting beams of filtered orange across the sky, and birds wheeled and skimmed low over the stalks. Across the highway in a neighbour’s field, a combine turned a lazy circle at the end of a row, the distant grumble of its engines competing with sporadic traffic. Rachael lifted the hair off her sweating neck, but couldn’t put it up again; she’d lost the band somewhere in the field. She leaned on a fence post to pick the prickles off her socks, then chewed the remaining nail on her left hand as a truck rumbled down the highway towards Parkes. Another passed a minute later. Rachael lingered, watching.

The next truck had cowboy western murals painted over its cab. Then came two caravans, and two sedans. A sheep truck was next; the driver waved. Then she spotted a green Corolla flying down the highway. Rachael straightened. Just as she made out the mismatched door panel, the car flicked its lights at her and ploughed onto the hard shoulder.

The driver’s door flew open and Rachael almost cried again, this time in gratitude. Sammy was here.

‘I thought that was you,’ Sammy called, negotiating the slope to the fence, the breeze ruffling her choppy fringe. She had a blonde pixie cut, dimpled cheeks and long eyelashes. ‘What are you doing out here?’

‘Avoiding the house.’
Sammy raised her eyebrows. ‘Tess?’

‘She wants to get into Mum’s stuff.’ Rachael’s voice caught.

‘She’s being really awful. I don’t understand how she can be so…’

‘Callous? Invasive?’

‘Yeah. She’s worse than normal.’

Sammy hugged Rachael awkwardly across the fence. She was wearing her black work pants and blue blouse with Parkes Country Motor Inn stitched over the breast pocket.

‘Are you on your way to work?’ Rachael asked, confused. It was far too early for a shift at the motel; Sammy was more likely to have been at her second job, at the bakery.

‘Later. I came to see how you are. I brought food.’

‘I’m not hungry.’

‘I know. But I bet your nieces and nephew will be. Come on, I’ll give you a ride back to the house.’

Rachael glanced over her shoulder, gauging how long it would take to walk, then bent to slide through the fence. ‘Probably a good thing. Tess might have decided to clean things out on her own.’

‘I’m sure she wouldn’t,’ Sammy said. ‘But leave Tess to me. You’ve got enough to deal with.’

***

Charlotte Nash - Author Charlotte Nash grew up obsessed with horses and good stories, and is now a bestselling author of contemporary romantic novels. She came to writing after an eclectic past in engineering and medicine, and loves writing about brave women in testing circumstances, finding love and themselves. She lives in a cosy Brisbane cottage with her family. The Paris Wedding is her fifth novel, released 27 June 2017. 

Facebook: facebook.com/AuthorCharlotteNash/
Twitter: @CharlotteNash79
Website: http://www.charlottenash.net/

 

Excerpts

Excerpt – The Shipbuilder’s Daughter by Emma Fraser

51QRrTnj+zL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Prologue

Glasgow, 1920

The scream was like nothing Margaret had ever heard before and seemed to go on forever. She dropped her book and clasped her hands over her ears. Almost worse was the awful silence that descended a few moments later.

Her heart hammering, she ran to the window and looked outside. Although her father’s office was on the third floor, only a fraction of the shipyard was visible; the rest, sprawling alongside the Clyde, was hidden from view. Beneath her a crowd was gathering, converging on something she couldn’t quite see through the grimy window.

She used the sleeve of her dress to clear a patch, but all she managed to do was smudge it more. As urgent shouts filled the silence of moments before, she sped downstairs, emerging into the soot-filled air, her breath coming in painful gasps. She hesitated, suddenly reluctant to discover what horror had precipitated the blood-curdling screams.

‘Where are you going, Miss Bannatyne?’ a man asked, grabbing her by the elbow.

‘What’s happened? Is it my father?’

His lip curled. ‘No, it’s not your father. What would he be doing down here? It’s an accident. Nothing unusual, but not summat a young lass like you should see. Better go back indoors.’

She shook his arm away. ‘Let me go!’ she couldn’t just go back inside – she had to see for herself.

Eyes fixed on the huddle of men obscuring her view, she threaded her way through the grim-stained figures, their stale sweat mingling with the smell of burning coal, welded steel and other odours too foreign to identify, until she was standing inside the circle of onlookers. One of the workers, his face deathly pale, lay on the ground, pinned down by several steel girders. Blood seeped from beneath him, staining the dust red and, just visible through his torn trousers, white bone glistened through a ragged gash in his lower leg Margaret clamped her hand over her mouth to stop herself from crying out. Part of her wanted to turn away, to slip back through the mass of bodies and return to the safety of her father’s office, but another, stronger part couldn’t tear her eyes away from the scene unfolding in front of her.

The injured man groaned, sweat trickling down his face and pooling in the hollow of his neck. He looked up at his colleagues with frightened, pain-filled eyes. ‘Help me. For God’s sake.’

His please galvanised the group into action. Several men jostled past her, almost pushing her to the ground. One of them crouched by his side and grabbed the end of the girder. He turned back to the watching men. ‘We need to get the weight off him. Come on, men, put your backs into it.’

‘Stop!’

The shout, loud enough to be heard over the clanging metal, stopped the men in their tracks. Way above her head, so high up she had to crane her neck to see, a shipyard worker was standing on the scaffolding surrounding the ship currently under construction.

Ignoring the ladders connecting the different levels, he ran across a narrow plank, grabbed hold of a steel pole and swung down to the levels below. As he descended at breakneck speed, Margaret held her breath. If he wasn’t careful, he could easily plunge to his death.

But within moments he was on the ground and the crowd parted to let him through.

‘Jimmy,’ he said, addressing the man who had ordered the others to move the girders, ‘we’ll not be able to lift those off him without a crane. Get one over here. Toni, fetch the stretcher. And a cart too.’

The new arrival couldn’t be much older than her, yet to her surprise the men did his bidding without argument. He shoved dark hair out of his eyes and knelt by the injured man’s side. ‘How are you holding up, Hamish?’

‘I’ve been better, Alasdair. I’ve a feeling I’ll no’ be home for my tea.’

A brief smile crossed the younger man’s face as he ran his hands across Hamish’s body. ‘Aye, well. I’ll get someone to let the wife know. In the meantime, let me have a look see.’

Why didn’t they lift the girders off Hamish? He needed to get to a hospital as soon as possible. Why were the workers listening to this man? Where was her father? He should be here, telling them what to do.

‘Alasdair, lad, we have to get him out from under that weight,’ one of the men said. It appeared she wasn’t the only one wondering about the delay.

The dark-haired man shook his head. ‘He’s punctured an artery at the top of his leg. The pressure of the girders is stopping him from bleeding like a pig. If we take them off without putting on a tourniquet first, he’ll not last more than a few minutes.’ He yanked off his belt and wrapped it around the top of the injured man’s thigh. ‘Hold on, Hamish. We’re going to move you in a bit. I just need to do something first.’

He glanced up, his eyes narrowing as he caught sight of her. ‘You. Do you have anything I can use as a bandage?’

Margaret stiffened. He’d spoken to her as if she were a nobody. Anyway, she didn’t have a handkerchief and her dress was stained with soot from the yard. ‘No. I’m sorry.’

‘You’re wearing a petticoat, aren’t you? Tear a strip off and pass it to me.’

As several pairs of eyes swivelled in her direction, she blushed. ‘I can’t do that. Not in front of everyone.’

‘You’re going to have to. There’s nothing else. I need something to staunch the bleeding that’s not covered in muck.’

‘That’s Bannatyne’s lass,’ one of the men said. ‘Best leave her out of it.’

‘I don’t care if she’s the Queen of Sheba. She shouldn’t be here but since she is, she can help.’

Her face burning, Margaret lifted the hem of her dress. She tried to rip a piece off her petticoat but couldn’t make even the tiniest tear. ‘I can’t.’

Alasdair gave an exasperated shake of his head. ‘Someone help her.’ When no one made a move, he rose to his feet. ‘Is the crane here?’

‘Aye, son. And the stretcher.’

‘Right then, secure the poles.’ While the men started tying ropes around the girders, Alasdair stepped towards her. Before she could stop him, he lifted her dress and tore a strip from her petticoat with his teeth.

He looked up at her and a smile flitted across his face. ‘Sorry, Miss Bannatyne.’ He was so close she could see the freckles scattered across his face. Thick, long lashes framed eyes the colour of the sky in winter.

As soon as the ropes were tied, Alasdair knelt once more on the ground beside the injured man. ‘Hamish, I know it hurts like buggery now, but it’s going to hurt even more when we lift the girders. You can yell as loud as you like. No one here will mind.’ He squeezed Hamish’s shoulder. ‘Right, lads. As slowly and as carefully as you can.’

The ropes tightened, then inch by inch, the lengths of steel began to lift. Hamish screamed, his arms thrashing about in agony. Margaret watched in horror as blood spurted over Alasdair’s hands.

‘Hold still, Hamish. For the love of God, just hold still.’

If Hamish could hear Alasdair he was in too much pain to pay heed. He continued to flail his arms, trying to push Alasdair away.

‘Someone hold him down, for God’s sake!’ Alasdair shouted, his bloodied fingers slipping on the straps of his makeshift tourniquet.

One of the men pressed down on Hamish’s shoulders and Alasdair tightened the belt until the blood slowed to a trickle. Satisfied, he moved on to the gash in Hamish’s lower leg, wrapping the strips of Margaret’s torn petticoat tightly over the wound. Within moments his temporary bandage had turned red.

‘Pass me some planks,’ he ordered.

Eager hands thrust several at him. He discarded a few before selecting four of equal length. He placed one on either side of each of Hamish’s legs and tied them quickly with more belts.

‘Let’s get him onto the stretcher, lads,’ he said. ‘Go carefully. His legs are likely broken. The planks will help – but only a little.’

As they moved him, Hamish screamed again, then mercifully fell silent. They laid his unconscious body on the stretcher and set it on the back of the cart.

‘Take him to the Infirmary. As quickly as you can. Avoid the potholes. I’ll let the boss know what’s happened, once I find out what went wrong.’

‘Is he going to be all right?’ Margaret asked, grabbing Alasdair’s arm.

‘You need to leave, Miss,’ he replied curtly. His expression softened. ‘There’s no more any of us can do here. It’s up to the doctors at the hospital now.’ He turned back towards the men. ‘Right. Those who have nothing to say about what happened, back to work.’

As the cart rolled away she looked up. Her father was standing at his office window, staring down. Doing nothing. Just looking.

 

The Shipbuilder’s Daughter is available from Amazon.co.uk and The Book Depository now, and will be available from Amazon.com in October.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt – English Rose for the Sicilian Doc by Annie Claydon

9781474051507 This book almost didn’t get written!  I so loved doing the research that I would have quite happily spent all my time on that 🙂  But – as you can see – I did manage to tear myself away, and start to write.  And I was glad I did, because my archaeologist heroine gets to explore the beautiful island of Sicily, and solve a mystery.  And, to complete my writing bliss, she does so with the help of a handsome doctor!

Chapter One

The building shone white in the sunshine, a line of tall palm trees announcing that this was a place of some importance. Rose Palmer gripped her son’s hand, walking through the wide entrance doors and into a spacious reception area, refreshingly cool after the heat of the afternoon.

A building like this showed intent. Any archaeologist would tell you that buildings gave an insight into what a community thought was important, and Rose was no exception. The high ceilings and clean lines were a clear statement that the work that went on here was both vital and serious.

She hung on tight to William’s hand, for fear of losing him in amongst the melee of people who criss-crossed the space. She couldn’t see a reception desk, and she supposed the best thing to do was to ask someone. Easier said than done. Everyone seemed too intent on getting wherever they were going to stop and give directions.

‘Scusi…’ A woman in a white top that bore the insignia of the hospital stopped, and smilingly asked her something in Italian. Hopefully she wasn’t in need of directions too.

‘Inglese.’ Rose proffered the piece of paper that her friend Elena had given her, with details of William’s appointment, written in Italian.

‘Ah. Sì…’ The woman scanned the paper and shot a brilliant smile at William. Rose was getting used to the way that Sicilians always reserved their brightest smiles for young children, and so was her son. William reached up, and the woman took his small hand in hers.

‘Terzo piano…’ The woman gestured towards the lift and then thought better of it. Taking a pen from her pocket, she walked over to a water dispenser, leaning on the side of it to draw on the paper, smiling at William as she did so. Then she proffered the hand-drawn map, holding up her thumb and two fingers and pointing to the lift to indicate that Rose should go to the third floor.

Third floor, turn right and then the second on the left. She got it. Rose nodded and smiled and thanked the woman falteringly in Italian. William waved goodbye, and the woman responded cheerily, watching her all the way to the lift.

Upstairs, the corridors were less grand and more utilitarian. Rose followed her map, and found herself in a small, comfortable waiting room. A receptionist scanned her written directions and waved her towards the rows of chairs, before picking up her phone.

Rose made her way to the far corner, and sat down. She would rather have flown back to England to do this, but Elena and her husband would have none of it. All of the visiting archaeologists working at the dig were covered by private health insurance and this hospital was one of the best in the world. They would make the appointment for her and request a translator, and William would be in good hands. She was a guest on the island, and anything less would be considered as a lapse in hospitality.

And the one thing that Rose had learned very quickly was that you faulted Sicilian hospitality at your peril. So she’d accepted the offer and driven here, privately deciding that if the language barrier turned out to be more than she or William could cope with, she’d find an excuse to be on the first plane back home for a couple of days.

Someone laughed, and Rose looked up to see a man chatting with the receptionist. Her face was animated, smiling up at him in the way that women did when someone they liked also happened to be breath-catchingly handsome.

And even by the rigorous standards of the island this man was handsome. Straight, dark hair, grazing his collar. Smooth olive skin, high cheekbones and lips that were meant to smile. Rose couldn’t see his eyes, but she imagined them chocolate brown.

Only a man so immaculate could have got away with that jacket. Dark cream, obviously linen—on anyone less perfect it would have looked rumpled. But on him it seemed as if every crease had been carefully chosen and styled, to make the most of his broad shoulders and the slim lines of his hips.

Suddenly he turned, looking straight at her. His eyes were brown. Dark, seventy per cent cocoa, with a hint of bite. Rose dropped her gaze, embarrassed to be caught staring.

‘Mrs Palmer?’ He’d walked over and dropped into a chair opposite her. His voice was like chocolate, too.

‘Ms Palmer.’ It was a convenient halfway house for a single woman with a child. ‘Um… Parla Inglese?’

He grinned and Rose felt her ears start to burn. ‘Yes, I speak English. I’m Matteo Di Salvo, and I’m here to translate for Dr Garfagnini. He’s the paediatric specialist who’ll be seeing William today.’

Perfect. His English was clear and almost unaccented, although the slight difference in tempo made it sound seductive. Or perhaps that was just the way he spoke. Seductive just about summed him up.

Rose took a breath, trying to concentrate on the practicalities. ‘Thank you. You’re the interpreter here?’

‘No, I’m a doctor. Our interpreter is busy with some English tourists in the emergency department…’ He gave a shrug, which indicated that the matter shouldn’t be given a second thought. ‘Dr Garfagnini is running a few minutes late, and I wondered if I might take the opportunity to get to know William a little.’

Handsome and kind. And he spoke English. This man was a bit too good to be true.

‘Thank you so much, Dr Di Salvo. I appreciate it.’ Rose remembered that a handshake was usual in these circumstances and held out her hand.

‘Matteo, please…’ The caress of his fingers was just as alluring as the rest of him.

‘Rose.’ She snatched her hand from his, feeling her cheeks burn, and curled her arm around her son.