Read an Excerpt
'I hired her, didn't I?' Leo's response to his brother was terse. 'So why wouldn't I be nice to her?'
'You know what I mean, Leo.'
Rarely was Ethan the one to walk away. He turned on his heel and attempted to stalk out of his brother's plush office but despite the simmering anger, despite ten years, no, a lifetime of rivalry, Leo's jaws clamped together at the painful sight of his brother's attempt to stalk off.
God only knew the mess of Ethan's legs, Leo thought. Ethan certainly never spoke about them and Leo had only read about them. Leo could still remember the pain and humiliation of having to learn from a news article that his brother was recovering in hospital.
So much for being next of kin.
Ethan's time in Afghanistan was something Ethan chose not to discuss but his pain was evident and, yes, Leo wished his brother would share, open up, but why would he? Leo thought.
They'd never been close.
Their father had seen to that long ago.
'You're not proving anything by refusing to use a walking stick.' Leo watched as Ethan's shoulders stiffened but, hell, if his older brother couldn't say it then who could?
'If I want a further opinion I'll go to someone who ' Ethan didn't finish, he didn't have to-that was the dark beauty of being brothers, there was enough history to know exactly what the other meant without having to spell things out. As Ethan's disdain for Leo's work briefly broke through the tense, simmering surface, exposing the rivalry beneath, Leo merely shrugged.
'Mock it all you like,' he said, as Ethan turned to face him. 'But I'll tell you this much-my patients walk out of here feeling one hell of a lot better than they did when they first walked in, and,' he added, 'might I remind you that it's my work and subsequently my patients' word of mouth that have pulled the Hunter name out of the gutter. While you were busy playing soldiers ' Leo broke off, wishing he could retrieve his own words, because Ethan hadn't been playing at anything. Ethan's injuries were a product of war. He was a hero by anyone's standards-especially Leo's. 'That was below the belt,' he admitted.
'Yes, and so is the shrapnel.'
Leo just stood there silent for a moment. His appalling playboy reputation combined with a passion for fast living meant that having a wounded soldier for a younger brother needled on so many levels. 'While you're peering down your nose at your celebrity surgeon brother, just remember that my work allows the charity side of things to happen,' Leo pointed out. 'Without the money coming into the Hunter Clinic those charity beds at the Lighthouse Hospital and Kate's wouldn't be funded and you wouldn't be working here.'
'I get it,' Ethan growled.
'You abhor it, though ' Leo said, as his eyes drifted to the crystal decanter that sat on the walnut table in his office. 'But you don't seem to mind extravagance when you're knocking back the hundred-year-old malt ' He walked over and lifted the decanter. 'I must remember to replace the stopper more carefully in future.' His voice was dripping with sarcasm. 'It seems to be evaporating at a rate of knots.'
Ethan said nothing. It was Leo who chose not to leave it. 'Don't you have a home to go to, Ethan? I'm assuming that you crashed here again last night.'
It was an obvious assumption. Ethan was wearing the same clothes as yesterday and was the antitheses of the impeccably groomed Leo who, despite a late night at an A-list function and an energetic romp with yet another blonde beauty in his bed, had been out for a run at dawn, before showering and heading to work.
Ethan, it would seem, had crashed again on Leo's leather sofa.
'I was working late.' Ethan offered the same excuse as he had on several occasions since coming to work at the Hunter Clinic.
Leo could feel the tension in his jaw, heard his own hiss of breath as he felt the pages of history turning. Yes, Ethan may be a hero but he was very much a wounded one and it wasn't just his legs that were injured, Leo was sure of it. But even if Ethan's mental scars ran deep there was no way that Leo was about to let history repeat itself. He could still remember, as if it had happened yesterday, the time when everything had finally come to a head-their father, James, turning up for work drunk and causing a scene in front of the clients.
Of course he had been sent home, disgraced, but instead of sleeping it off James had carried on with his bender, eventually collapsing and dying. The Hunter reputation had fallen like a house of cards and it had been Leo who had painstakingly rebuilt it brick by brick, client by client, personal recommendation by personal recommendation.
He'd sacrificed way too much to see it fall again.
Leo felt the heavy weight of the stopper in his palm for a moment before he replaced it in the decanter. 'If you ever-' Leo started, but Ethan broke in.
'It's not going to happen.'
'You're quite sure about that?' Leo's eyes were as blue as the ocean and, despite the seemingly decadent lifestyle, just as clear. Unlike Ethan's-his hazel eyes were bloodshot and although Leo appeared unshaven it was designer stubble on his chin, whereas Ethan looked like a man who had spent the night on a sofa-albeit an expensive one.
'I shan't be making excuses for you, Ethan.'
'Learned your lesson, have you?' Ethan asked. Yes, there was a dark beauty to being brothers, because in that short question Ethan had demanded answers to the impossible. Why had Leo kept such a lid on things with their father? Why had Leo constantly smoothed over the gaping cracks? Why, when Ethan had wanted to confront their father, had Leo insisted otherwise as their father had spiralled further out of control?
Even as children, Leo had been the same, defusing situations with wit and humour- even pouring his father a drink at times just to knock him out.
Ethan would have preferred different methods to produce the same result.
'I don't think now is the time or the place,' Leo said.
'There never has been a right time and place,' Ethan responded, then turned the conversation from the impossible to the practical. 'Just make sure that you're nice to Lizzie.'
'I can't wait to meet her,' Leo clipped. Despite wanting the conversation over, Leo just couldn't help himself, he simply could not resist a dig. Oh, there was history, so much history that threaded every word of his taunt.
'She must be pretty amazing if she's got into that cold black heart of yours.'
'I'm just asking you to go easy on her,' Ethan said. 'Lizzie isn't one of your usual tarts.'
'You really do have a thing for her.' Leo drawled. 'Good in bed, is she?'
Had Ethan thumped Leo it wouldn't have been in defence of Lizzie. Both men's minds had turned now to the woman who had ultimately divided them-so much so that Olivia might just as well be standing in the room watching them, listening to them fight, just as they had ten years ago, almost to the very day.
'How sad that that is your measure of a good woman,' Ethan responded.
'Do I look sad?' Leo's lips sneered into a smile. 'I'm not the one who's turning into a recluse. I'm out every night, I'm living '
'Really?' Ethan had heard enough. It had been a stupid idea to come back and an even more stupid idea to expose Lizzie to the toxicity. There was a fight waiting to be had, an explosion about to come sometime soon and, were his legs not about to give way, Ethan might have dealt with it then. He looked at Leo-so arrogant, so assured, so, despite his insistence otherwise, messed up.
What had he been thinking, coming to work here?
'It's not living, Leo, it's existing-I should know!' Ethan walked out then, calling over his shoulder as he left, 'Just keep it in your pants for once. Lizzie deserves better than that.'
Leo stood there as the door slammed.
Their voices hadn't been particularly raised and the walls were thick but the tension in the clinic was almost palpable and the staff must surely be noticing it by now. Had it been a mistake to ask Ethan to come and head up the charitable side of the business? Leo truly didn't know. There was no doubt that his brother was a brilliant surgeon and that his skills could be well utilised, but there was just so much water under the bridge between them.
'Leo ' Gwen, the clinic manager, interrupted his train of thought as she buzzed through on the intercom. 'I've got-'
'Send her straight in,' Leo broke in, bracing himself to meet Saint Lizzie-the woman who had got under his brother's skin.
Leo's head jerked around at the sound of a low, sensual voice and, no, it wasn't the new head nurse who stepped into his office, instead it was what he had hoped was finished business-Flora Franklin, who was as far removed from a saint as it was possible to be!
Incredibly beautiful, Flora was dressed in a long expensive coat and her heels were so high she was almost as tall as Leo, who stood stock still as she walked towards him. 'You didn't return my call,' Flora reproached him.
'Because there's nothing more to say. We're finished.' Leo didn't like to have to repeat himself and he already had, once, but twice was one time too many. 'We've been through this.'
'Well, this might change your mind.'
Flora opened her trench coat and let it fall from her shoulders to the floor. Leo looked down at the sight of her spectacular body almost on full display in the sexiest of red underwear, her nipples peeking out between lace, and what man wouldn't be tempted?
Yes, his body might be, there was no denying that fact, but Leo's mind certainly wasn't. Even as she rained kisses on his face and her hands got to work, Leo reminded himself that he was through with Flora. Yes, it had been fun while it had lasted but it was over. He had tried to let her down gently, but it was time to make things very clear.
'Flora ' Leo's voice was as detached as it was firm. 'You really need to.' His voice trailed off to the sound of gentle knocking and as the gap in the partially open door widened and Lizzie stepped in, all Leo could think was that this was so not how he had wanted to greet the new head nurse.
'Dr Hunter, I presume?' He saw her tight smile, saw colour flood her rounded cheeks as she took in the situation, and though Lizzie didn't actually say, your reputation precedes you, her eyes most certainly did.
'Mister.' Even in the most compromising of situations, Leo corrected mistakes. He'd worked hard for his fellowship after all. 'You must be Lizzie.' Leo returned an equally tight smile as he attempted to peel Flora off, not that Lizzie hung around to watch. With a brief shake of her head she turned and walked out of Leo's office and, unlike Flora, Lizzie did think to close the door properly. There was no door slamming but, just as it had with Ethan, Leo could feel the lingering disapproval.
'Where were we?' Flora purred, not in the least embarrassed by the interruption.
Rarely, Leo was.
'The same place we were a few moments ago,' Leo answered brusquely, getting straight to the brutal point. 'Finished.'
'Leo ' Flora attempted, grabbing the arm that was trying to retract itself, but Leo shook her off-he was in no mood for debate.
'Cover yourself up, make sure that you are out of here by the time I get back. I need to go and sort out this mess.' He marched out of his office and through the plush corridors and because, unlike Lizzie, he knew his way around, Leo had caught up with her before Lizzie made it to the changing rooms.
'Your timing's impeccable,' Leo offered, and gave a wry smile to Lizzie as he tucked in his shirt. 'I'm serious,' he added as she shot him an incredulous look. 'I was actually trying to get rid of her.'
She had a very soft but exceptionally clear voice, though it was, Leo noted, her eyes that did most of the talking and what they had to say was less than flattering-especially as they briefly drifted down and, with a slight purse to her lips, returned to meet his cool gaze. Without needing to check, Leo knew, just knew what she had seen-his flies were undone.
Leo could have blushed. Or cursed.
Perhaps he should have chosen to ignore it. His response was far less forgivable. He laughed.
A shameless, deep laugh as he deftly rectified the situation.
Lizzie, he noted, didn't laugh.
He noted a few other things too. She was incredibly Leo's mind hesitated. As one of Britain's top cosmetic surgeons he was usually able to sum up a woman's looks in an instant. It came as second nature to him to notice any work that might have been done or, perhaps more pointedly, to guess what work a woman might be considering. As a patient walked into his office, Leo's eyes were already assessing their features and had guessed by the end of that first handshake what was on the patient's mind.
He just couldn't work out what might be on Lizzie's.
Rather than noticing very slightly protruding teeth, Leo saw only her full lips. Her creamy complexion didn't come from a bottle-if it did, Leo would have held the patent, and as for that body With Flora his response had been automatic, clinical, but with Lizzie it was far from that. He'd had no idea what to expect from the new head nurse, but it certainly hasn't been this ball of femininity.
'Flora and I recently broke up,' he explained. 'She just hasn't got used to the idea yet.'
Lizzie really didn't want to hear about his love life. Her cheeks were on fire-a mixture of coming into the warm clinic from a cold January day, nerves at starting her new job, and the sight that had greeted her.
Right now, all she wanted was to get as far away from Leo Hunter as possible to attempt to get her head together. 'If you will excuse me, I'd like to get changed and then I'll come and introduce myself and we can hopefully start again-more professionally this time.'
'Sure,' Leo responded, realising that in very few words she had stated her case. Lizzie Birch was far from impressed, but right now he had other things to deal with- namely, a near-naked, scorned woman who, Leo thought as he heard the sound of sobbing, was not going to go quietly.