Being invited to be part of the Paddington Children’s Hospital series was an honour and it was great to work closely with a group of medical romance authors. Forbidden to the Playboy Surgeon is the second book in the series and there’s a nice twist. I have an uptight Australian female surgeon matched against a laid-back British neurosurgeon. Claire and Alistair are chalk and cheese but they have valid reasons for their different approaches to life, but that doesn’t stop them from rubbing each other up the wrong way. I hope you enjoy getting to know the two of them. Here is an excerpt from Chapter Three.
Alistair high-fived Tristan Lewis-Smith. ‘Way to go, Tris,’ he said with a grin.
The kid had just whooped him at virtual tennis— twice— but he didn’t care. He was too busy rejoicing in the fact that the ten-year-old had been seizure free for a week. That hadn’t happened in two years and it was moments like these that reminded him that what he did each day mattered. Hell, it reinforced his mantra that each day mattered and life should be lived to the full.
He’d almost lost the opportunity to do that and when he’d woken up in the coronary care unit, he’d vowed never to forget how life could change in a heartbeat— or the lack of one as the case may be— and how close he’d come to death. He’d been blessed with a second chance and he never took it for granted. He was thrilled to be able to give Tristan a second chance at a normal life.
‘Right-oh, mate.’ He pulled down the sheet and patted the centre of the bed. ‘Time to tuck in and pretend to read or the night sister will have my guts for garters.’
Full of beans and far from quiet, Tristan bounced onto the bed. ‘You’re just saying that because you’re scared if you play another game I’ll beat you. Again.’
‘There is that,’ Alistair said with a grin. ‘Hurry up, I’ve got somewhere I need to be.’
Tristan scrambled under the covers. ‘Nurse Saunders said you couldn’t stay long because you’ve got a hot date.’
‘Did she now?’ Funny that Lindsay appeared to know more about this hot date than he did. He found himself automatically tucking the sheet around the little boy only this time an odd feeling of something akin to emptiness accompanied it.
He immediately shook off the feeling. He had no reason what so ever to feel empty or lonely. Life was good. He had a job he loved and a spacious and light-filled apartment just off the Portobello Road that he’d filled with curios from his world travels. Three years ago, he’d added to his property portfolio and bought a pretty stone cottage surrounded by fields of lavender in Provence. When he was there, he revelled in the sensory delights of sunshine, hearty Mediterranean food and great wine. He visited at least once a month either alone or with companionship depending on whether or not the woman he was dating was still focussed on having fun. The moment a woman started dropping hints about “taking things to the next level” she was no longer welcome in France. Or in Notting Hill for that matter.
He loved women but he didn’t do next levels. It was better to break a heart in the early days, well before things got serious, than to risk shattering a life, or worse, lives. His childhood was a case in point and on top of that devastation no one ever knew precisely the duration of a second chance.
Surprised by the unexpected direction his musings had taken him— he didn’t do dark thoughts and he certainly wasn’t known for them— he left Tristan’s room and contemplated the hour. It wasn’t quite eight. As it was a Thursday night there’d be a sizeable hospital crowd at the Frog and Peach and he’d be welcomed with open arms for his dart skills. Oddly, the thought didn’t entice. He had an overwhelming urge to do something completely different. Something wild that would make him feel alive.
Parkouring in the dark?
Alive not dead, thank you very much.
Still, parkouring in daylight this coming weekend was worth investigating. He pulled out his phone and had just brought up a browser when he heard, ‘G’day, Alistair.’
Astonished, he spun around at the sound of the broad Australian accent. Although he’d heard Claire Mitchell use the informal Aussie greeting with other people, she’d always been far more circumspect with him. Well, with the exception of one or two lapses. In general, he knew she tried to be polite with him and that she found it a struggle. Did it make him a bad person that he enjoyed watching her keep herself in check? The woman was always buttoned up so tightly it wasn’t surprising she cracked every now and then.
Now she stood in front of him with her hands pressed deep into the pockets of her once starched, but now very end-of-day limp, doctor’s coat. Her hair was pulled back into its functional ponytail and a hot pink stethoscope was slung around her neck. A tiny koala clung to her security lanyard along with a small pen on retractable elastic. Her utilitarian white blouse and medium length black skirt were unremarkable except that the skirt revealed those long shapely legs that taunted him.
Her feet were tucked into bright red shoes with a wide strap that crossed her instep just below her ankle and culminated in a large red button that drew the eye. He suddenly understood completely why Victorian Gentlemen had waxed lyrical over a fleeting glimpse of a fine ankle.
He scanned her face, looking for clues as to why she was suddenly attempting a colloquial greeting with him. ‘G’day, yourself,’ he intoned back with a fair crack at an Aussie accent.
Behind her sexy-librarian style glasses, her eyes did that milk and dark chocolate swirly thing he always enjoyed and— Good Lord. Was she blushing?
‘Do you have a minute?’ she asked, quickly pushing her glasses up her nose as they continued walking toward the lifts.
‘Um,’ she surreptitiously glanced along the corridor taking in the nurses’ station that was teaming with staff. She suddenly veered left into the treatment room.
Utterly intrigued by this uncharacteristic behaviour, he followed. ‘Shall I close the door?’
She tugged hard at some stray strands of her hair before pushing them behind her ears. ‘Thanks.’
He closed the door and flicked the blinds to the closed position before leaning back against the wide bench. Claire stood a metre or more away, her plump lips deliciously red. He shifted his gaze and— Damn it! His eyes caught on a fluttering pulse beating at the base of her throat. She really had the most gloriously long, smooth neck that just begged to be explored.
That as may be, but remember most of the time she’s a pain in the ass. Not to mention, she’s your trainee.
‘Alistair,’ she started purposefully and then stopped.
‘Claire.’ He couldn’t help teasing back. He’d never seen her at a loss before and it was deliciously refreshing.
She took in such a deep breath that her breasts rose, stressing the button he was pretty certain sat just above her bra line. Was it delicate sheer lace or plainly utilitarian? It was his experience plain women often wore the sexiest underwear.
With that mouth, she’s hardly plain.
As if on cue, the tip of her tongue peeked out, flicking the bow of her top lip.
His blood leapt.
She cleared her throat. ‘I hope you won’t take this the wrong way but…’
Trying to look utterly unaffected by her, he cocked one brow and reminded himself of the times she’d been critical of him. ‘My sensibilities haven’t stopped you from giving me your opinion before.’
This time she definitely blushed but somehow she managed to wrestle her embarrassment under control with dignity. ‘True, but that was work. This doesn’t exactly fall into that category. Although I suppose it does technically if you—’
‘You’re babbling,’ he said hoping it would force her to focus. At the same time, he had an absurd and unexpected need to rescue her from herself.
Her head jerked up so fast he was worried her neck might snap but then she hit him with a gimlet stare. He forced himself not to squirm as an unsettling feeling trickled through him. Did she see straight through the man he liked to show the world? Had she glimpsed the corner edge of the bubbling mess he kept securely sealed away?
‘As the head of the department of neurosurgery,’ she said tightly, ‘I think it’s important you lead by example and attend the Spring Fling.’
The Spring Fling? Surely he’d misheard. ‘You mean the neurosurgery spring symposium?’
She shook her head and once again the blush bloomed on her cheeks. She swallowed and that damn tongue of hers darted out to moisten her lips. This time as the zip of heat hit him, he pushed off the bench to try and shake it off.
‘I mean the fundraising ball,’ she said slowly as if the words were being reluctantly pulled out of her.
He couldn’t resist. ‘Are you inviting me to the ball?’
Her eyes widened in consternation. ‘No!’ For a moment, indignation spun around her before fading with a sigh and a fall of her shoulders. ‘I mean perhaps. Yes. In a manner of speaking.’
His mouth twitched. ‘It’s good to know you’re so decisive.’
Her chin shot up jabbing the air. ‘You can tease me all you like, Mr— Alistair, but you know as well as I do that at the bare minimum there should a neurosurgery staff table at the ball.’
Damn it to hell. She was absolutely right but how had she found out he wasn’t going? He’d been keeping that bit of information on the down low more out of embarrassment than anything else. A couple of months ago, just before Claire had arrived, he’d had a particularly tough day. He’d lost a patient— a two year-old boy with a brainstem glioma— and for some reason he’d avoided the sympathetic eyes of his staff at the Frog and Peach. He’d hit a trendy bar in Soho instead and in retrospect, he’d consumed one whiskey too many.
It had been enough to scramble his usually accurate crazy-woman detector. As a result, he’d allowed himself to be tempted by the Amazonian features of Lela. The thirty year-old was a fitness instructor as well as being a part-time security guard. They’d had a lot of fun together until he’d realised her possessive streak wasn’t limited to bedroom games.
He knew the ball committee had flagged the idea of auctioning off the chairs next to eligible bachelors. Usually he’d have been fine with the concept and embraced it, but he’d been worried Lela might turn up and cause a nasty public spectacle. Or worse, buy the ticket. To save himself and the hospital embarrassment he’d decided not to attend the ball but to make a sizeable donation to the cause instead. The only person he’d mentioned this plan to was Dominic.
Stupid! Stupid, Stupid. The paediatric trauma surgeon had obviously broken the bro-code and told Victoria. What was it about a man in love that made him prepared to throw his mate under the bus just to stay in sweet with his lady? Now the i-dotting and t-crossing Claire Mitchell was calling him out on a perceived lack of social etiquette.
He ploughed his hand through his hair. God, he’d been raised on etiquette and the irony that an Australian with their supposedly class-less society was reminding him of his social responsibilities almost made him laugh. Perhaps he could turn this whole Lela-and-the-ball mess around and use it to his advantage.
‘Let me get this straight,’ he said with a lazy smile. ‘You’re prepared to spend an evening with me just to make sure I do the right thing?’
This time she was the one to raise an eyebrow. ‘As your 2IC, I can’t expect you to attend the ball if I’m not prepared to attend.’
‘Ah, yes, that sucker duty gets you every time.’
She stiffened. ‘But it seems you’re often immune.’
Ouch. Her words tried to scratch him like the sharp tip of a knife but he didn’t need to justify himself to her. He was very well aware of his duty. Ironically, duty had arrived in a rush just after he’d vowed to make the most of every new day that had been gifted to him. It was the juxtaposition of his life.
‘None of us are immune, Claire. It’s just I try to have a bit of fun with duty and not take it too seriously.’
She narrowed her eyes, ‘And you’re inferring that I don’t have fun?’
Not that I’ve seen. ‘Have you had any fun since arriving in London?’
She looked momentarily nonplussed. ‘I…um…yes. Of course.’
Liar. But he was planning on having some fun with her right now and killing two birds with one stone. ‘Excellent. I can certainly promise you fun at the ball. Especially considering how you’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty and bought the seat next to me.’
‘What?’ She paled, her expression momentarily aghast and then she rallied. ‘I don’t get paid enough for that.’
‘Brutal.’ He exaggeratedly slapped his chest in the general area of his heart, his long fingers grazing the lower edge of his pacemaker. ‘And here I was thinking I was your date. I tell you what. I’ll pay for both of our tickets.’
‘That won’t be necess—’
‘It’s the least I can do,’ he interrupted, waving away her protest. ‘I imagine it was Victoria who dropped you right in it.’
She grimaced. ‘You’re not wrong there.’
He made a huffing sound more at the absent Dominic than her. ‘The good thing is you’ll be saving me from having to play nice all evening.’
Effrontery streaked across her face. ‘Well, when you put it like that, I can hardly wait,’ she said drily.
Her sarcasm was unexpected and delightfully refreshing and he heard himself laugh. He wasn’t used to a woman viewing an evening with him as a trial. The women he dated erred on the appreciative side and often went to great lengths to make him happy. Not Claire Mitchell.
A streak of anticipation shot threw him. Without realizing, she’d just thrown down a challenge. He wasn’t totally convinced she was capable of having fun and he had a sudden urge to know what she looked like when she was in the midst of a good time.
She’d smile like she did when you let her operate solo. Remember how you felt then?
He disregarded the warning that it was probably unwise to be looking forward to the ball quite this much.
‘So will you be picking me—’ His phone rang with the ICU ringtone and as he pulled it from his pocket, Claire’s pager beeped.
‘North,’ he said answering the call just as Claire mouthed to him ‘ICU?’
Listening to the nurse on the other end of the line, he nodded at Claire and opened the treatment room door. As she walked quickly past him, her crisp scent of the sea drifted back to him and he was suddenly back on Bondi Beach when his life had been simpler and with few restraints placed upon it.
‘We’re on our way,’ he told the worried nurse. Stepping out into the corridor, he followed Claire down the fire escape, taking the fastest way to ICU.