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Bronte Nichols' thoughts were focused inwardly, as they so often were, as the lift settled and the doors opened. There a was man standing in the cubicle, which was so unexpected it actually pierced Bronte's abstraction. She stared at him blankly, partly because she was surprised to see anyone at all so early in the morning and partly because, for some unfathomable reason, she discovered he was not completely in focus.
Prompted by the instinctive urge to keep from being left behind, she leapt inside just as the doors began to close again. Uneasiness washed over her even as she yielded to the impulse, effectively trapping herself inside with the stranger. It wasn't just that he was big--really big--a stranger, or even the fact that she so rarely met up with anyone at all when she arrived at work so early.
His stance seemed relaxed, unthreatening, and yet Bronte sensed that he had tensed when he'd seen her just as she had when she'd spotted him and there was something about that that set off alarm bells in her head.
After staring at him owl eyed for a moment, she finally remembered her manners, nodded politely in greeting, and turned to stare at the doors instead, or rather the level indicator. She didn't exactly see the screen displaying the levels the lift was passing. In her mind's eye, she was shifting through the vague impressions her eyes had recorded of the stranger.
She was certain he was a stranger to her. In the first place, she never spoke to anyone aside from her staff members and the parents of her patients ... and of course her patients. In the second, as distracted as she generally was with her own thoughts, she still thoughtshe would have noticed a man as large as the one behind her if she'd run across him in the medical center before. He wasn't just tall, he was big, muscular if the form fitting, one piece suit he was wearing was any indication, and she thought it probably was. It looked like the uniform of the med center's security guards, but there was something about him that, somehow, just didn't seem to go with the uniform.
Not that she'd actually been able to make out much more than that about him--big, very tall, and dark hair. His features had seemed pleasingly regular--but blurred so she wasn't so certain she could trust that impression. She was certain he had dark hair though it seemed it had been slicked tightly against his skull in a very odd sort of hair style--not the way the security guards generally wore their hair at all. In fact mostly they just shaved their heads so that there was little more than stubble sprouting from their scalps and sometimes not even that.
Which brought her mind back to the subject that had engrossed her before the doors of the lift had opened. "My glasses," she muttered under her breath. "Now what did I do with them? I'm sure I had them when I left the apartment. I distinctly recall that I had them."
"On your head."
The deep, resonant voice behind her startled her. Not only had she not realized she'd been muttering aloud, but she'd become so engrossed with her conversation with herself she'd momentarily forgotten she was sharing the elevator. Her lips parting with surprise, she whipped her head around at the sound of his voice, lifting a hand absently to her head as she did so. Her fingers connected with something in her hair, dislodging whatever it was.
As it fell, she and the stranger both bent instinctively to catch it ... and butted heads. The blow made Bronte's knees buckle and she sat on the floor of the lift, one hand flying upward to massage the throbbing knot where their heads had connected. "Oh! I do beg your pardon! Are you alright?"
His face came into focus as he leaned down, wrapped the fingers of one hand around her left upper arm, hauled her to her feet, and then shoved the glasses he'd managed to rescue onto her nose. Briefly, his face came into sharp focus before blurring again when he moved too close for her eyes to focus with the aid of the glasses. Bronte felt her face reddening as she gaped up at him and it sank slowly into her mind that he was quite the most handsome man she'd ever run in to, either literally or figuratively.
Not that she made a habit of running into strange men! She had had a few accidents, however, and she grew an even brighter red until her skin was no doubt rivaling her dark auburn hair as she recalled her last embarrassing encounter with a man.
She'd rather liked Dr. Pool, too, or at least thought she might be interested in the man on a purely feminine level, but he'd been far more embarrassed by the collision than she was. He had made it a point to give her a wide berth after she'd mowed him down at the corner of the connecting corridors where they had their respective offices and she was fairly certain she'd blown yet another, rare, opportunity to find a soul mate ... or at least a fuck buddy.
She became aware suddenly that the man, the stranger, was still gripping her arm, his gaze wandering over her speculatively. "Do I know you?" she asked politely, certain that she couldn't possibly have met him before. But then, he was being very familiar, really, for someone who didn't know her.
Bronte blinked. Apparently he did know her. "Yes?"
His frown deepened instead of clearing. "B. A. Nichols?"
Understanding dawned. Bronte chuckled, but she felt her blush rising again. "My father was Bryan Alexander Nichols. I'm Dr. Bronte Alexandra Nichols." She hesitated uncomfortably. The plan had been that she would join her father in his practice once she'd completed her residency. She had so been looking forward to it, too, getting to work beside a man of his reputation, getting the chance to actually get to know her father at last. She certainly hadn't had the opportunity when she was growing up. After her mother had died when she'd been little more than an infant, her father had settled her with his sister and her brood, and she'd only gotten a handful of visits from her godlike father over the years. "Uh ... my father's dead," she added baldly. "But I've taken over his practice. Were you looking for a pediatrician?"
Her stomach seemed to drop at the realization that that must, indeed, be why he was in the medical center, though it seemed an odd time to be doing so. Her first appointment wasn't for hours yet. Tamping her disappointment at the discovery that he was a potential patient, or at least must have one--a child--and therefore must be married, or at least involved with someone, Bronte glanced down at the hand that still gripped her arm and then noticed she'd attached her badge upside down when she'd put it on that morning. No wonder he'd had trouble reading it!
She tugged at her arm as she reached to adjust the name badge. Almost reluctantly, it seemed to her, he released his hold on her then reached past her and tapped the panel used to select levels. The lift braked, stopped, and began to descend as rapidly as it had been rising. The action reminded Bronte belatedly that she'd forgotten to key in the level she wanted. She discovered when she turned to look at the panel, though, that the lift had already shot past her level.
Her lips flattened in irritation as she reached to press her level. She hadn't just come early because she never slept well and was too restless to remain in her apartment any longer. She'd intended to catch up on some of her paperwork--which was why she'd been so distracted to begin with. Dread always filled her when she had to tackle the mounds of paperwork she allowed to build up while she attended the part of her job she actually enjoyed ... interacting with her patients. And then, too, she'd been worried that she'd misplaced her glasses ... again.
She really ought to have her eyes fixed, ought to have done it already, but there never seemed to be time. And actually, the prospect unnerved her, though she wouldn't have admitted it under torture. She was a physician herself, for god's sake! It didn't look good that she was such a coward about facing medical procedures herself!
The lift settled and the doors opened.
A man, dressed much as the one behind her, stepped into the lift.
Bronte tried not to stare, but he was much like the man behind her--very tall, built like a tank, and dressed in the skin tight uniform that left very little to the imagination and made it impossible for her not to notice as her gaze flickered over the broad chest and shoulders, bulging arms and well developed legs ... and the almost obscene bulge at the apex of his thighs. She shuffled over to give him room and then looked up as the sense of being loomed over swamped her, discovering that both men were looming over her because she was sandwiched between them and they were looking down at her.
"This is Dr. Nichols," the first man said to the second, drawing Bronte's gaze for a moment before she glanced at the man he was speaking to.
After trying to adjust her glasses and discovering that both men were too close to bring into focus, Bronte shoved her glasses onto the top of her head. She was a bit stunned to discover when she had that the second man was as unusually attractive as the first, though they looked nothing alike beyond the fact that both were dark. The new arrival, though, was not quite as dark. Whereas the first man's hair was as black as night, his eyebrows a thick, straight line above eyes a steel, almost eerie blue, the second man had hair of a slightly warmer shade, though still very nearly black. She might have thought it black if not compared to the first man's hair. His brows were also dark and thick, but arched. At the moment, one was lifted upward while the other had descended in a look she could only think was displeasure, even if not for the cool assessment in his emerald green eyes.
"B. A. Nichols?" the second man asked, obviously no more pleased than the first man had been.
Bronte tried not to feel slighted, but she couldn't prevent the resentment that swelled in her chest. It was completely unfair to compare her unfavorably to her father. He had had many years to build his reputation, after all! Given time, she fully intended to live up to his name ... but there was the rub. It was a hard act to follow, and she'd been viewed under a microscope and compared unfavorably almost from the time she'd arrived in medical school. "I am imminently qualified, I assure you!" she responded somewhat defensively. "Although I have not had the years to build my reputation as my father did, I graduated at the top of my class and I have been practicing for several years now." She couldn't help but notice they looked unconvinced. "And, of course, I have the added advantage of having worked with a man of vast experience in the field."
She felt a little uncomfortable about that claim, but it wasn't exactly a lie ... just a slight prevarication. She had worked along side experienced physicians while she was doing her residency and she had her father's case studies, after all.
The two men exchanged a long, speaking look above her head and seemed to come to a decision. After a moment, they shifted slightly away from her, still crowding her personal space uncomfortably, but not quite as uncomfortably as before.
She dragged in a shaky breath, not realizing until that moment just how unnerved she'd been.
Not that she wasn't still more than a little unnerved.
She felt overly warm, too.
Actually, now that she thought about it, she felt almost ... dizzy, definitely jittery. Distracted by that realization, she fell to analyzing her reaction. It dawned on her after a very few moments that her chaotic response was on a purely feminine level and had very little, if anything, to do with any primal sense of threat. Pheromones, she realized dimly as she inhaled and felt her body react to the chemical even though she wasn't actually aware of the scent. The combined testosterone of the two overpoweringly male strangers was enough to bring any self-respecting, red blooded female instantly into heat.
Rather pleased by the discovery that, despite her preoccupation with the sciences, she could indeed react like any other woman, Bronte flicked a tentative smile at the newcomer, who glanced down at her as the lift, at last, stopped at her level and the doors began to open. She'd already tensed to step off when the opening doors revealed yet another man, dressed as the first two.
This one, however, was fair ... and carrying a rather large piece of equipment that was heavy enough it made every considerable muscle in his upper body and arms bulge with effort. Bronte was so mesmerized by the powerful display that she wasn't aware that the man had crowded her into the back corner as he stepped into the lift with his load until she stepped on the feet of the man behind her and fell against him. An arm came around her waist, molding her to every deliciously hard, sculpted inch of his body. Embarrassed at her clumsiness but grateful that he hadn't allowed her to fall when she'd lost her balance and fell against him, Bronte tipped her head back to smile at him apologetically. "I am so sorry! Excuse me!"
He met her gaze, his arm tightening around her. A shiver chased down her spine, but she wasn't certain if it was because the icy color of his eyes made him appear so cool and detached, or if there really was no warmth in his gaze. Something long and hard rose against her buttocks, however, that completely disordered her mind. "No problem," he responded after a long moment of hesitation, his voice as cool and as lacking in inflection as his gaze.