I’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.
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
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.
‘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?’
‘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?
‘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 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.’
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.’
‘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.