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Grace Turner glanced around the perfectly appointed guest apartment-cream-colored walls, beige couch and a matching club chair, with half a dozen colorful pillows strategically placed, red accent chair on the opposite side, fresh-cut white calla lilies in a tall vase on the glass-topped coffee table. There was even a small cherrywood desk pushed into the corner with internet hookup. Her laptop fit perfectly there.
Everything was in place for her convenience, and she was definitely thankful to the Hunter Clinic for the comfort in her new home away from home. The apartment was also supposed to be a mere ten-minute walk around the corner to 200 Harley Street and her new job.
Her gaze drifted into the single bedroom with the extra-large bed. That's not going to see any action. A single wide would have been more than adequate. Surrounded by luxury and taste to the hilt, the guest apartment was already closing in on her and she needed to get out. Desperately.
The extended-stay hotel was fully serviced, and though she hadn't had a chance to shop for food yet, she didn't feel like ordering room service. She'd heard of a tiny car-free street somewhere nearby, also within walking distance, where she could window-shop and dine alfresco, but she was sick of being alone. And why bother to buy new clothes when she didn't have anyone to wear them for?
She paced the length of the living room, noticed the invitation placed carefully on her mantelpiece before her arrival from the States yesterday, and picked it up. It was a duplicate of the one sent to her a couple of months back. Frankly, she'd forgotten all about the fund-raising event at the London Eye tonight. Leo Hunter, the man who'd personally asked her to join his clinic, had said he'd be attending. The combination of meeting her new boss a day early and in a more casual setting at a charity event, and a bit of fun on the London Eye sounded like the perfect antidote for her early-onset cabin fever.
Grace strode to the eye-popping white kitchen and put on some water for tea. Even though she was tired, she felt too restless to sleep. She needed a little caffeine to ward off the quickly approaching fatigue from the long flight. Then she headed for the bedroom to find the perfect outfit.
Never an easy chore, finding fashionable clothes that covered her scars, Grace burrowed through her two suitcases, tossing tops, dresses, slacks, and underwear every which way. Making a mental note to put things in the drawers and closet at her earliest convenience, she continued to dig through the luggage. Ah, there was the black lace bodysuit, the one with a mock turtleneck and wrist-length sleeves. It would go perfectly under that low-cut black evening dress with the puffy shoulders and cap sleeves, and the above the knee-length dress would showcase her best attribute-her legs.
It being May in London, she could definitely get away with bundling up for the clear but chilly evening. No one would raise an eyebrow about the extra layer of underclothing, especially as it was sexy. She'd discovered over the years that there was nothing quite like fine black lace to cover up the scars.
An hour later, invitation in hand, a new layer of makeup carefully applied, and with a glittery fake jeweled barrette in her hair just for fun, she made her way toward the apartment door.
Grace felt like a kid again. Getting out of the taxi near Westminster Bridge, her eyes went to the huge, brightly lit, famous Ferris wheel. The cabbie instructed her toward the entrance, and off she went, entranced by the huge ride, following the spectacle that filled up this part of the London skyline. Showing her invitation to the official-looking security guard, she was let inside the gate. A fairly large crowd of impeccably dressed people of all shapes and ages milled around, chatting, sipping drinks and eating tidbits provided by tuxedo-dressed helpers with flashy silver trays.
Though she was considered wealthy back home by Scottsdale, Arizona standards, they paled in comparison with tonight's larger-than-life festivities. She ate a salmon puff, sipped some champagne and looked for a familiar face. The only face she knew, actually, and that was from an interview on world-renowned plastic surgery clinics she'd seen on TV, was Leo Hunter's.
A half hour later, still circulating through the crowd, a gaze here, a nod there, a smile every once in a while, she noticed one particularly grandly dressed couple get off the Eye. She'd seen them get on-she checked her watch-about half an hour ago. Still unsuccessful in finding Leo Hunter, she decided to quit looking for him and take the ride.
She might not be able to meet Leo tonight, but she could at least grab a few quiet moments and take in the amazing sights of London all lit up. She read a sign with a few facts about the Eye. After doing some quick mental math, converting meters to feet, she took a deep breath, realizing she'd soon be more than four hundred feet in the air. Her phobia wasn't fear of heights so much as fear of falling. She glanced at the sturdy-looking steel-and-glass pods, convincing herself they'd hold. But she'd keep safely away from the windows. So she walked up the ramp and, with the Eye closed to the public for the charity event, was able to follow a handful of people onto the next pod.
One man already on board didn't bother to get off.
Two middle-aged couples talked quietly on one side of the egg-shaped pod. She nodded zat them and they smiled, but clearly their circle of friends was closed to outsiders. She considered sitting on the wooden bench in the middle to help lessen her fear of falling, but changed her mind.
On the other side of the pod, that single figure taking a second trip gazed outside. Something about him drew her to his side of the pod. From behind, he had broad shoulders that filled out his tuxedo perfectly, and rich brown hair that kissed the collar on his shirt. He seemed closer to her age than the others, too. He leaned against the rail, shoulder to the glass, arms folded, deep in thought. She took a tentative step closer, not invading his privacy but close enough to see his profile.
Wow. The man was nothing short of gorgeous, with a high forehead, strong brows and jaw, a nose that could be claimed perfect if it wasn't for the attractive bump on the bridge. The decisive cleft in his chin was almost overkill. Speaking strictly as a reconstructive surgeon, this guy was a natural work of art. Even the shell of his ear was attractive.
She'd never been one to swoon over looks, especially in her line of work, when she knew people could alter their appearances to be more perfect looking, but this man in all his glory elicited chill bumps. Tingles danced along the skin of her arms and up the back of her neck as he awakened something inside her, long forgotten.
She took in a slow breath to steady herself. Perhaps it was the fact the pod had reached a point where she realized she'd soon be dangling from a height almost twice that of the Statue of Liberty that made her knees weaken. She snuck another glance at him and reached for the rail.
There was something more than pure handsomeness in this man. Something about his brooding, the tight upper lip and mildly pouting lower lip, how lost in his thoughts he seemed. There was something about his dissatisfaction about God only knew what that drew her in. Unfortunately, she'd always been a sucker for brooders. And she was definitely drawn to his contemplation, against her will maybe, but will seemed to have nothing to do with it. She couldn't stop herself from staring.
He was a perfectly made man who, from the expression on his face, seemed perfectly miserable, and that was the part that touched her most-it made him someone she could relate to.
"Hi," she said to him, surprising herself, but what the hell, if she was going to spend the next half hour dangling above the Thames, she may as well be talking to the handsomest man she'd ever laid her eyes on. Who knew? Regardless of the millions of people who'd already ridden it safely, something could go wrong on the Eye tonight. For all she knew, this might be the last thirty minutes of her life.
Wouldn't it be smart to spend those last minutes staring into the most intense eyes she'd ever seen?
Grace smiled to herself, thinking she'd officially turned into a fatalistic drama queen. Apparently the handsome stranger's doom and gloom had rubbed off on her.
This was the last place Mitch Cooper wanted to be tonight, but Leo had needed someone to cover for him while he and Lizzie were seeing a travel agent about their upcoming honeymoon in Paris. Between Leo and this highly sought-after travel agent's schedules, the appointment landed at eight o'clock on a Sunday night.
The black-tie affair had been on the calendar long before Leo had finally seen the light and popped the question to the head nurse at the Hunter Clinic. Though the newly mar-rieds had put off their honeymoon until the summer, he understood the guy needed an extra night off duty every now and again.
Mitch would rather be home, reading a good-night book to Mia. Sure, Roberta was there, but no nanny could replace a father's love-or a mother's.
He braced himself for more nights like these, since Leo had asked his surgeons to step in and help with the multiple and necessary social functions and fund-raisers related to the Hunter Clinic. Especially now that Leo had gotten married, he'd want a life away from the clinic and that meant the rest of them attending more events. And as a team player, Mitch would do his share.
After all, the clinic with the wealthy donors who kept things running for the sake of those in need, not to mention the eternally nipping-and-tucking plastics patients, was everyone's bread and butter. If he wanted to stake out a new life for himself in London, and provide the kind of life he dreamed of for his daughter, this small price to pay wasn't so bad.
Tonight he'd rubbed elbows with as many guests as humanly possible. He'd made the rounds, done his duty and had now decided to sneak off and take in the view one more time before heading home. He'd have to bring Mia here one day. She'd love it.
He really did love London, especially after dark, and most especially after leaving Hollywood and all the bad memories behind.
Someone spoke-a woman. He dragged himself out of his dark thoughts, which always managed at quiet times like these to circle back to his ex-wife and best friend.
"Hi," he said robotically, looking straight ahead. "Enjoying yourself?" Then, back on duty and clicking into host mode, he actually glanced at the person to his left.
Time slowed as he took in the strikingly beautiful woman. Large and inquisitive pale eyes, enhanced by dark eyeliner and curtained by thick bangs, stared expectantly at him. Having never seen her before, because he'd definitely remember this face if he had, he assumed she was a wealthy donor.
With no sign of plastic surgery or Botox injections, she smiled naturally, with fine crinkles beside her eyes and mouth. Her cheeks grew more prominent, and that sweet little mouth with meticulously applied pink lipstick stretched into a serene smile. The sight of such a lovely face buoyed his spirits nearly to the height of the pod.
Could he be so superficial, letting natural beauty grab him like this? Yes, and his broken marriage proved it. Hadn't he learned his lesson? "Have you been to the London Eye before?"
She shook her head of dark hair-half of it piled high on her crown and with a shiny barrette meant for nothing more than show, something his daughter might wear-the rest of the hair dropping in waves around her neck. "I'm new in town."
Probably here for some plastic-surgery work since tonight's guests were by invitation only. All the beautiful women he'd ever known thought of plastic surgery as their little beauty secret. Maybe he could talk her out of whatever procedure she'd come to have. Why mess with genuine perfection? God, he hoped she didn't plan to change her lips. They were just fine as they were, with the classically shaped Cupid's-bow upper lip and the plump lower mate. Bigger was not always better, and lip jobs never looked completely natural, in his opinion. Even under his skilled hands.
"If you're new in town, then I guess I need to be a gentleman and point out a few landmarks, don't I?"
She continued to smile and her expression changed to one of playfulness. "Definitely. By the way, I notice you're American, too."
He nodded. "I'm from California originally. How about you?"
Didn't they have highly acclaimed plastic surgery clinics in Scottsdale? Maybe, as Scottsdale could be a tight-knit small town, she didn't want anyone to know she was undergoing a procedure. Maybe she'd told everyone she was going on vacation, and when she went home she'd look amazingly well rested. Who knew? Who cared? Maybe he should quit reading so many sleuth novels and stop assuming the worst about women.
Right now, he'd grab a moment for himself and enjoy it with.. what was her name?
"I'm Mitchell, by the way, and you are?"
"Grace. Nice to meet you."
Yes, of course her name would be Grace, she almost shimmered with it.
"So, Grace, across the Thames there you'll notice Big Ben, and the Gothic-style building with all of those lights right on the river are the Houses of Parliament."
She followed wherever he pointed, smiled and nodded. He liked it that she'd stepped a little closer and a refreshing, brisk, fruity scent floated up his nose. She wore a sexy black dress with a diving neckline, but instead of flaunting everything God had given her-there he went assuming again, but her breasts were probably real as they were shapely but not overly large-she'd covered up with amazingly alluring thin black lace. Sexy. And not fair. The subtle holding back made him all the more curious about what lay beneath. Some women knew how to make a man take notice and beg for more. Hats off to the beautiful Grace from Arizona.
He cleared his throat, forcing his thoughts back on task. "Oh, and over there is Westminster Abbey. Look down just a bit more. There."
She inched forward and grimaced when she glanced downward.
"Fear of heights?"
"Fear of falling."
"Ah. I promise I won't push you or swing the pod." She smiled and another moment stopped in time. He grasped for something to say. "Remember trying to make the Ferris-wheel gondolas swing when you were a kid?"
She gave him an incredulous and funny look.
He grinned. "Maybe that was just a guy thing. Anyway, I'll point out a few more places ."
She oohed and ahhed over everything, giving him the impression he was doing a fantastic job as a tour guide. Maybe he could start a second career? But then again, maybe she was easily pleased.
"The lights make everything so much more beautiful, don't they?" she said, her sweet, husky voice soothing every wrinkle in his mind.