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MADELINE HARRINGTON was grateful for the air-conditioning
in her car as she pulled up at the roadworks. there was heavy earthmoving machinery blocking the way and as the heat rose in visible waves off the black tar of the road she'd never been more pleased to have an indoor job. the worker holding the stop sign looked hot and sweaty, his skin an unhealthy weathered brown. Skin cancer just waiting to happen, she mused absently.
It was hard to believe, watching Brisbane shimmer in the afternoon sun, that she'd been in the throes of a British winter only twenty-four hours ago. Jackets and gloves and woollen hats. As she'd flown out of Heathrow the temperature had just managed to struggle into positive figures. If London had been a fridge, Brisbane felt like a furnace!
She yawned and shut her eyes briefly as the overwhelming fatigue of jet lag took hold. She sighed as it gathered her into its folds but fought her way out again a minute later. Her eyes felt like they had sand embedded in the lids and she rubbed at them to ease the grittiness. the road blockage didn't look like it was going to clear any time soon and she sighed impatiently. She wanted a shower. She wanted her bed.
Her gaze wandered to the neighbourhood skate park where teenagers rode their skateboards up and down the curved cement walls. the doctor in her saw all the horrible possibilities but the uncoordinated female admired their skill and lack of fear.
A man entered her line of vision, expertly negotiating the bumps and ramps and shooting up off the wall, his skateboard staying miraculously attached to his feet even in mid-air, and landing again like he was riding a wave instead of unforgiving concrete. He was at least twenty years older than the other riders but somehow managed not to look ridiculous despite the age difference.
He was wearing a raggedy pair of cut-off denim shorts and nothing else. His chest was magnificent, tanned, the abdominal muscles well definedcut, wasn't that what it was called these days? He pirouetted perfectly, one end of the board in the air, the other grounded, and her eyes were drawn downwards to his powerful quads that flexed and strained to maintain perfect balance.
She could see the hairs covering his legs were dark brown even from this distance. they matched his colouring. His head, too, was covered with brown hair, short around the back and sides and longer on top. Why isn't he wearing a helmet? Macho idiot. A smattering of the same covered his pecs and narrowed to a fine trail that disappeared behind the waistband of his shorts.
He looked like the stereotypical bronzed Aussie, at home in the outdoors, kicking a footy or surfing. Except today his choice of wave was concrete instead of water. Maybe he was some kind of adrenaline junkieany wave would do?
The thought horrified her almost as much as it fascinated her. How would it be to spend your life bumming around skate parks? Or the beach? No responsibilities. No worries. No patients to see. No lives to be responsible for. No beepers. No mobile phones.
Looking at him made herrestless. A feeling that something was seriously missing from her life reared its ugly head and was magnified by the stranger's utter joy in the adrenaline-charged thrill.
He appeared to be with a little boy who looked about six or seven. His son? there were definite similarities between the two. the boy looked at him with total admiration and the man ruffled his hair as he helped him on his skateboard. He stood back as the boy performed a trick and clapped loudly as he successfully completed it. At least he's wearing a helmet. the man lifted the boy up on his shoulders and spun him around. the little boy held on and laughed, his head thrown back, the sunshine accentuating his exhilaration.
Madeline felt a weird pull low down in her gut. the man had dimples. He was gorgeous! Pure male. One hundred per cent testosterone. She felt her body responding to his magnetism. the boy obviously loved him and strangely enough that made him even more attractive.
Oh, God! She must be tired. Since when had macho hemen been her type? Spoken for he-men at that? She glanced back at the roadworks, suddenly desperate to get away from this inexplicable transient attraction, but the red stop sign was still stubbornly facing her way. She glanced back at skater boy and found herself wondering what it would be like to be with a man like him.
Despite the unemployed look, there was a presence about him that reached across the fifty-odd metres that separated them. He looked like he knew what he was doing. What he wanted and where he was going. He looked dominant and in command. He laughed again as he jumped back on his board and she recognised something else about him. He looked like he knew how to have fun. To laugh at the world and himself. He looked like he knew how to kiss. How to please. How to pleasure.
She shivered and reached forward to turn the air-con down. Kiss? Pleasure? Where had that come from? OK, it had been a while. it had been seven weeks since she and her fiancé had split up, and several months more since they'd last been intimate. But hell, that had never really been the focus of their relationship anyway and re-establishing the practice had taken up all her time and energy over the last two years. She hadn't had time for carnal thoughts.
Neither of them had. They'd barely seen each other for months, with her work and his long shifts at the hospital and studying for his exams. Him calling the engagement off in the middle of it all had been just one more thing on her plate. She'd been confused when he'd said he needed time apart. How much more apart did he want? But she doubted it would be permanenta decade of history was hard to walk away from for ever.
Skater boy laughed again and oozed sex appeal all over the park. it brought her temporarily out-of-order relationship with Simon into sharp contrast. Frankly, she couldn't remember the last time, if ever, just looking at Simon had made her think sexual thoughts.
She shook her head. Jet lagthat was it. it was responsible for these uncharacteristic thoughts. Sex and sexual urges had never ruled her life. She'd been thrown one too many curve balls to be a free-loving kind of girl. For goodness-sake! She was a thirty-year-old doctor, she'd seen more naked men in her life than she'd had hot dinnerswhy should looking at barely dressed skater boy have an effect? Why did his chest and his thighs and his laugh make her want things she'd never wanted before?
A car horn blasted behind her and she looked back to the road to see the sign had been turned to the yellow "slow" side and she accelerated away quickly, grateful for the respite from her jumbled jet-lagged thoughts. She caught a glimpse of the man again in her rear-view mirror and felt the feeling of discontent he had stirred intensify. Damn him. Her life was just fine.
Madeline pulled up outside work a few hours later. She'd unpacked. She'd had a shower. She felt slightly revived. But the fog of fatigue still clung to her and she'd known she'd had to get out of the house before she'd succumbed to her bed and the seductive lure of sleep.
It was way too early to go to bed despite her exhaustion. If she went now she'd be awake at three in the morning with no hope of going back to sleep. So a quick catch-up trip into work late on a quiet Saturday afternoon was the perfect diversion.
She noticed the next-door shop, which had been empty when she'd left, was in the process of a fit-out. A painter was admiring his handiwork, putting the finishing touches to the signage on the glass sliding door.
"Dr Marcus Hunt," it read. "Natural therapist." Madeline stared at it for a few moments, repeating it over and over in her head until her sluggish brain computed the full implications. She felt the slow burn of rising anger.
"Over my dead body!"
there was nothing quite like anger to wake you up. She felt it white and hot and burning in her gut. She felt more than awake, she felt alive again. the fog cleared from her brain and the weariness that was deep within her bones dissipated in an instant.
How many patients had she "fixed up" after they'd seen alternative medicine characters? People who had let their conditions and diseases run out of control while some charlatan had used voodoo or a spell book and given them false hope? And then there was Abby.
She'd see about this! She brushed abruptly past the painter, slid back the door and entered the room. She blinked, removing her sunglasses as her eyes adjusted to the dim light in stark contrast to the glare of a summer's afternoon in the Sunshine State. the chemical smell of paint assaulted her nostrils as she quickly scanned the room littered with boxes and painters trestles.
"I'm sorry, we're not open for business until next week." A deep, masculine voice drifted towards her from somewhere beyond the clutter of the immediate surroundings.
It resonated around the room and Madeline felt goose-bumps break out on her arms despite the stuffiness of the room. His voice made her think of the guy at the skate park and she gave herself a mental shake.
The man entered from a doorway to the right and leant lazily against the jamb, filling the space easily. She almost did a double-take as skater boy smiled at her and Madeline was pinned to the spot by his laughing blue eyes and boyish dimples.
He was dressed this time. Well, more dressed anyway. He wore a white long-sleeved shirt, completely unbuttoned, revealing that perfectly muscled abdomen. the impulse to touch him, run her fingers down the dark trail of chest hair and watch his abdominal muscles twitch beneath her nails was shocking.
His face was rugged, with a square jaw covered in light stubble. His dimples should have looked ridiculous on anyone older than five but they didn't. they added to the alluring mix of pure man, giving him a shot of angelic boy.
In his right hand he held a well-used paintbrush and she thought absently that she'd been wrong about his employment status. He did have a job. A painter, or decorator, or something similar. He had some flecks of paint in his hair and the desire to touch them was compelling.
She couldn't help but compare him to Simon. Physically they weren't too dissimilar. Her ex-fiancé was a little shorter, a little less bulky, a little paler and his chest hair a little sparser. But there was something intangible about this man, something quite magnetic that frankly Simon just didn't have.
Simon's face was pleasant to look at, with a ready smile that put you at ease and oozed nice. Skater boy's was sexy with a wicked smile that put you on edge and made you forget nice. Simon was your average good-looking guy. there was absolutely nothing average about this man. And in their whole ten years as a couple Simon had never made her body hum like it was right now.
Madeline frowned, confused by her uncharacteristic thoughts. Labourers were not her type. Buff wasn't her type. Men that knew their way around skateboards weren't her type. Men with children weren't her type. What the hell was happening to her?
"May I help you?"
His voice was rich and deep and barely contained his obvious amusement at her appraisal. She was standing a few metres away but Madeline could feel the caress of the air currents, disturbed by his voice, swaying seductively over her. it was as if he had physically touched her.
She blinked at him blankly, trying to remember why she was there. His amused gaze eventually worked its way into her consciousness and she made an effort to pull herself together. So, the man had a nice body. She'd come to talk to the naturopath, not to ogle the removalist or the decorator or whoever in the hell this man was.
"Ahno. I came to talk to Dr Hunt, but it appears he's not hereso I'll let you get back to yourduties."
Marcus smothered a smile, suppressing the urge to throw back his head and laugh out loud. Put in your place, Marcus, old boy! the woman had just looked him over, summed him up and dismissed him as nothing in about thirty seconds flat! What a snob, he thought. What a sexy, beautiful snob.
She was tall and her head was crowned with the most magnificent red hair he'd ever seen. it was curly and looked slightly wild despite her efforts to tame it into a neat bundle at the back of her head. He had a sudden vision of it spread over his chest and he blinked.
Her emerald-green eyes sparkled above high cheekbones and two luscious lips. Kissable lips. Very kissable lips.
Her serious, obviously expensive suit did nothing to hide her fantastic figure. He felt his loins stir as he speculated on the bits of her long legs that were hidden by her skirt. She looked prim and proper and he was hit by the urge to get her dirty and messy. it was powerful, bordering on primitive.
She looked tired but there was an undercurrent, a vibe of tension around her that was almost palpable. Like a fully wound spring ready to unfurl at a second's notice. he'd never met anyone so uptight in his life. A large diamond flashed on the ring finger of her left hand. Surely someone getting regular sex couldn't be this tense?