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'Isn't that Sophia over there?' The blonde indicated the far side of the room with her champagne glass.
James knew he ought to change the subject or just walk away, but he couldn't help himself. He looked.
And there she was. Sophia Alexander, society's favourite party girl. Draped over yet another good-looking man, laughing as if she didn't have a care in the world.
Which, to be fair, she probably didn't.
'Mmm,' James replied, trying to sound noncommittal.
'She's not with that Italian model any more, then.'
The one she'd been photographed with on his father's yacht, a mere six months after their wedding. The pictures of his topless wife and her lover had been splashed across newspapers around the globe.
Though that was old news. Very old news. After the Italian, Sophia had had an affair with a Spanish actor: lover number two on his divorce papers. And then a Brazilian footballer, who'd been squiring her around in the week before what should've been her first wedding anniversary with James.
'I hear he's a French chef,' the blonde added.
Indeed. No doubt the guy would be cooking Sophia a 'happy divorce' meal tonight. Among other things.
Ha. And to think James had come out tonight to celebrate his freedomthe sheer relief that his marriage was legally over. He should've guessed that his ex-wife would be partying even harder. Showing him in the best way she knew that she didn't give a damn, and she was going to enjoy every penny of her extremely generous settlement.
'What do you think it'll be next? A Greek restaurateur?' the blonde asked.
If this was the woman's way of trying to find out if he really was over his ex-wife, she could've found a more tactful way to ask. James was about to say something extremely cuttingand then he saw something in the woman's eyes. Something that told him she wasn't merely a guest, or just supremely tactless. The blonde was a journalist, after a story, and she knew very well what today was for him.
Decree absolute day.
The day he'd hoped that Sophia would change her surname back to Carvell-Jones, and the press would stop tormenting him.
How naive he'd been.
'I really have no idea. I don't keep tabs on my ex-wife,' James drawled, with emphasis on the ex. 'Excuse me. There's someone I need to see by the bar.'
It was a lie, and they both knew it. But she let him go without further question, and he made his escape from the party as soon as he could.
No doubt the tabloids would all be full of the story tomorrow. How poor, heartbroken surgeon James Alexander had been forced to watch his ex-wife celebrating with yet another of her lovers on the day their divorce was finalised. And then there would be speculation about who would mend the heart surgeon's heart.
You couldn't get much further from the truth. James was hardly poor, despite the settlement, and he was very far from heartbroken. He'd stopped caring about Sophia a long time ago. It was just a pity that he'd been too smitten with her to see her for what she was before he'd married her: a spoiled socialite who didn't think any further ahead than the next party.
'What was I supposed to do, James? You never paid me any attention. You practically pushed me into his arms.' The words echoed in his head: words she'd flung at him when he'd confronted her about the yacht episode and demanded to know what the hell she was playing at.
But she'd married a surgeon, not a socialite. James had never made a secret of the fact that his career was important to him. Cardiothoracic surgery was the most competitive specialty going, and he'd excelled at ittaking all his exams early and coming top in every single one. He loved what he did. He loved making a difference, giving someone their future back. Surely Sophia had been able to understand that he couldn't leave a patient halfway through an operation just because she didn't want to be late for a party? For pity's sake, he wouldn't leave the hospital until his patient was out of the recovery room and had been settled for at least an hour. He was a surgeon, and he believed in living up to the responsibilities that went with it.
Or maybe she'd thought that he would change, for her. That he'd switch specialties, go into plastics or something similar, and have a high-profile clinic on Harley Street. A job where he'd work nine to five at most, where all his surgical cases were elective rather than emergency, where he'd earn obscene amounts of money from pandering to the vanity of celebrities.
Just as he'd been naive enough to think that Sophia would understand the demands of his job as a children's heart surgeon and make allowances for them, instead of flouncing off in pique, straight into the arms of the first gorgeous hunk who smiled at her.
Their marriage had crashed as spectacularly and publicly as it had begun. And the only reason James hadn't served Sophia with divorce papers the week she'd been cavorting with her Italian and the paparazzi had taken snap after snap after snap had been because the law said you couldn't get a divorce until you'd been married for a year. He'd had to wait for six excruciating months before he could apply for a divorce. Six months where he'd been forced to endure his wife flaunting a string of lovers in the gossip magazines.
At least Sophia hadn't contested his grounds. Then again, with the amount of evidence in the press, she could hardly have denied adultery.
James let the front door click to behind him and deadlocked it. Right at that moment, he was sick of London. Sick of parties. Sick of everythingeven the glittery charity fundraisers he'd once loved doing for his hospital. He could really do with some time away. Sure, he could call his father and go to one of the family's private resorts, but he knew he'd still have to face the same old thing. Parties like tonight's, full of debs and celebs.
What he really wanted was to chill out, somewhere quiet and peaceful. Somewhere where there weren't any supermodels or society party girls who did nothing but shop and look for rich husbands they were going to cheat on within months of their flamboyant and expensive weddings.
Not that such a place existed.
Or did it?
He'd trained with Jack Tremayne in London. Jack had known how to party with the best of them; but then he'd moved back to Cornwall, to where he'd grown up. James hadn't gone to Jack's wedding in Penhally, simply because he hadn't been able to face the happy couple while his own marriage had been collapsing around his ears. He'd sent an expensive present and a feeble excuse.
Though he'd also wondered why on earth Jack had been mad enough to bury himself in such a backwater. Why go back to a little seaside town when he could've had so many more opportunities in London?
But maybe Jack had the right idea.
Maybe in Cornwall, miles away from London, James could find some peace.
He picked up the phone and dialled Jack's number. It rang and rang, and he was just about to give up when a sleepy voice answered. 'Hello?'
James glanced at his watch. For pity's sake, it was a Saturday night and it wasn't even midnight. The Jack Tremayne he knew would barely have started partying at this time of the evening. 'Jack? It's James. Sorry, did I wake you?'
'Don't worry. Just napping when Helena sleeps,' Jack mumbled.
Of course. The new baby. It had slipped his mind. 'Sorry, mate,' he said, guilt flooding through him.
'Everything all right?' Jack asked.
'Yes.' No. 'Look, I was wondering You said a few months back, if I wanted to come and spend a few days.'
'Sorry, I shouldn't have asked,' James said immediately. How selfish and thoughtless could he get? 'Not when you have a new baby.'
'No, no, of course you can come and stay. Alison won't mind.'
James rather thought she might. And he didn't blame her. 'Look, don't worry, I'll stay in a hotel or something. But it'd be nice to catch up. Have a beer together.'
'Yeah, sure.' Jack seemed to be waking up now. 'Are you all right, James? You sound a bit flat.'
'Just had enough of London.' He wasn't going to mention the divorce. It wasn't fair to dump that on a sleep-deprived new father. Even though Jack was about the only person he knew who'd understand what it was like to have the press on your backJack had had his fair share of flak from the tabloids in the past. 'Hey, I'll let you get back to sleep. I'll call you at a more sociable hour tomorrow.'
Jack laughed. 'You mean when you crawl out of bed in the middle of the afternoon.'
James forced himself to laugh back. 'Something like that.'
'If you're serious about wanting to get out of London, I might be able to help. There was a job on the bulletin board at work last week that's right up your street. Registrar on the cardiac surgery team. Why don't you come down and take a look?'
It would be a sideways move. But the chances were, in a smaller place, he'd get more responsibility. At twenty-nine, James knew he needed more experience before he took the next step up, and this could be a really good opportunity. 'I might just do that.'
'St Piran's is a good place to work,' Jack said. 'I'm really happy here.'
Yeah. Because Jack had met the love of his life.
As if Jack had picked up on James's thoughts, he continued, 'And you never know, you might find someone here who'll be able to make you forget Sophia.'
James gave a mirthless laugh. 'You must be joking. I'm not getting involved with anyone, ever again. Been there, done that.' And the whole lot had been documented in the press. In every single squalid, sordid detail. He didn't believe in love any more. 'No, from now on, it's no strings and no involvement.'
To his relief, Jack didn't argue. 'Give me a ring tomorrow, when I've had a chance to talk to Alison.' 'Yeah, sure.'
'And think about the job. It might be just what you need.'
Maybe, James thought as he replaced the receiver, just maybe, his friend had a point.
'Did you hear a single word I just said?' Nick asked his niece, looking pained.
I No,' Charlotte admitted. 'Sorry, Nick. I didn't mean to be rude.'
'Just that your head's full of plans for the new centre.'
Yes, she thought. And the new cardiac surgeon at St Piran's, James Alexander. Why on earth the head of surgery had given the job to a man who spent more time at parties than with his patients, she'd never know. The son of a supermodel and an international businessman, James was prime fodder for the gossip pagesand she'd seen his face splashed across enough magazines brought in by visitors to the ward. Usually posed on a red carpet, in full evening dress with a smile so perfect that it had to be the result of expensive cosmetic dental work, and some gorgeous supermodel with legs up to her armpits draped over his arm.
A man like that, used to partying with A-listers in exclusive clubs and hotels, would be bored stiff around here within a matter of hours. He wouldn't see the beauty of this quiet corner of Cornwalljust that it was a backwater.
And then he'd be off again in search of the bright lights, dropping his responsibilities without a second thought and leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces. Marvellous.