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Madison noticed him the moment he walked into the room.
Despite the fact that the hospital's charity ball was heaving with people, all wearing Venetian masksand he was dressed the same as all the other men in a dinner jacket, dark trousers, white shirt and bow-tie, plus a plain gold eye maskthere was something about the tall, dark-haired man that set him apart from the others. Some kind of energy that drew her eye.
Not that she was going to do anything about it. Not tonight.
As the chair of the committee for the hospital's fundraiser ball, Madison Gregory had work to do. Such as making sure that everything was running like clockwork behind the scenes. Being there to troubleshoot any last-minute problems. Charming people with a sweet smile and fixing any little niggles without a fuss.
But so far any problems had been minor, because everything had been planned down to the last detail. There had been a few murmurs at first in committee meetings when she'd suggested a jazz trioa band she'd heard several times at her favourite clubbut Madison had stuck to her guns. In her view, a rock band really didn't suit a masked ball, and although ballroom dancing had become popular again, thanks to TV shows, having a string quartet playing waltzes would have felt too formal. Whereas soft, easy-listening jazzbright upbeat numbers and slow crooning ballads that people knew and could dance towas perfect for a ball.
Now she could even see couples mouthing the words of 'Fly Me to the Moon' to each other, smiling and laughing and just having fun on the dance floor. Relief flooded through her. She'd got it right. This was going to work.
With this lovely, warm, relaxed atmosphere, people would be more willing to be parted from their money. They'd buy loads of tickets for the tombola prizes she and the rest of the committee had talked local companies into donatingballoon rides, spa treatments and a chocolate hamper that her cousin and best friend Katrina desperately wanted to win and had bought so many tickets in lieu of being at the ball that Madison had decided, if Katrina didn't win it, she'd buy her the very same hamper as consolation.
And maybe, just maybe, the fund for the new scanner would reach the halfway point as a result.
Eve, one of the senior nurses from the emergency department, came up to her. 'Maddie, you've been rushing around since an hour before everything started. Why don't you take a break?'
A little voice in Madison's head added, And go and find out who the man in the gold eye mask is. She brushed it aside and smiled at Eve. 'It's OK. I'm fine.'
'You paid for a ticket, too,' Eve reminded her. 'Which means you're entitled to dance and have some fun. Just because you're the chair of the organising committee, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself.'
'I am enjoying myself.'And it was true: Madison loved being in the thick of things. She'd been hard put to choose between specialising in emergency medicine and her final choice, obstetrics, because she enjoyed the buzz of being too busy almost as much as she loved those magical first minutes of a new life.
And then, as the music changed and the pianist seemed to flow seamlessly into 'It Had to be You', a hand touched her arm. 'May I?' a deep, unfamiliar and slightly accented voice asked.
Even before she looked up, she knew who it was going to be, and a shiver ran down her spine.
The man in the gold mask.
He was looking at her with the most sensual, smouldering gaze she'd ever seen: dark eyes with a hint of green and gold and grey. Stunning.
Not to mention a slow, sweet smile that actually made her knees go weak.
'I ' Her throat dried, and Eve gave her a shove.
'She means yes,' Eve said sweetly. 'Have fun.'
Before Madison could protest, she was dancing with the stranger.
Theo had been aware of her all evening: the girl in the floaty dress with the pink and gold cat mask covering her upper face and the most incredible smile. He'd seen her talking and laughing with plenty of people, though he hadn't actually seen her on the dance floor.
And now he was dancing cheek to cheek with her. Whoever had chosen this music was an utter genius: it had neither the formality of ballroom dancing nor the slight distance of pop. This was old-fashioned dance music, the kind of stuff his grandparents lovedand, so he'd discovered recently, his mother had loved too.
Despite his dance partner's high-heeled shoes, she wasn't that tall and he had to dip his head slightly to dance with her, but she felt perfect in his arms. And those blue, blue eyes behind the mask were just stunning. Like a Mediterranean sky on a late summer evening, shading to dark navy at the very edges of her irises. Her dark hair was loose around her shouldersnot perfectly straight, but not a riot of curls either. Soft, enticing waves that made him want to tangle his hands in them, feel the silkiness against his fingertips.
Even more than that, he wanted to see her hair spread over his pillow. And he really, really wanted to explore that beautiful mouth. Tease it with kisses until it opened beneath his mouth, letting him deepen the kiss.
Kyrios. He couldn't remember when he'd last felt a pull of attraction this strong.
But right now she was in his arms, holding him close. And it felt good.
The stranger's touch was perfectly decorous, Madison thought. And yet somehow it felt personalintimate, even. They were dancing close enough for her to feel his breathing, hear his heartbeat. And he had a perfect sense of rhythm, guiding her round the floor so effortlessly that it actually felt like floating. She'd never been so in tune with a dance partner before.
They didn't speak as they dancedthey didn't need to and suddenly everyone around them just melted away. They could have been dancing on a little terrace overlooking a garden in Tuscany, just the two of them, in the moonlight
She shook herself. Of course not. This was London. And if it wasn't for the fact that she'd deliberately stuck to sparkling water because she was responsible for the way things ran tonight, she would've been sure this heady feeling was from drinking too much champagnealmost like tiny bubbles fizzing through her veins.
The fact it was all from dancing with him scared her and excited her at the same time. She'd never reacted this strongly to anyone before. Even Harry.
Part of her wanted to ask the stranger what his name was, but she knew that talking would break the spell. And right now she didn't want it to end. Just the two of them and the music, the singer crooning and the soft jazzy piano counterpointed by the double bass and guitar.
Two and a half minutes had never passed so slowly.
Or so very, very fast.
When the song ended and his hands dropped from her body and he took a step backwards, it felt so wrong.
And then he bowed to her, lifted her right hand and kissed the pulse on the inside of her wrist.
She could barely breathe.
His eyesdark and as sexy as hellheld hers. 'Thank you.'
Again, that slight accent. She couldn't quite place it, but it was incredibly attractive.
Just as her mouth started to frame a response, an introduction, a question, a different pair of arms caught her round the waist. 'Maddie! Here's my girl.' She found herself spun into a hug. Into arms she recognisedEd, the registrar in the emergency department she'd dated a couple of times, a month or so back.
Ed was beaming. A champagne-induced sort of beaming, and he'd clearly forgotten that they'd agreed to be just good friendsthat they weren't dating any more.
By the time Madison had extricated herself and jollied Ed into remembering that they were just friends and she was busy tonight anyway with her chairwoman hat on, and had informed him that he'd just been incredibly rude to the man who'd danced with her by cutting in like that, Mr Gold Mask was nowhere to be seen.
The disappointment felt as if someone had just driven past her through a deep puddle, dousing her in cold water.
Which was utterly ridiculous. The man was a complete stranger. No way should she be reacting this strongly to hima man who'd danced with her once and whom she was unlikely to see again, because she certainly didn't recognise him as one of the hospital staff she'd chivvied into getting a table together.
Madison Gregory, you need to get a grip, she told herself silently, then went to check that everything was proceeding smoothly with the tombola.
Here's my girl.
Well, of course a woman that attractive wouldn't be single. Even though Theo had instinctively checked her left hand before asking her to dance and there had been no sign of a ring, he should've realised that she would have a boyfriend.
And a dance was just a dance. It wasn't going to lead to anything else.
He pushed away the regret. It wasn't as if he was looking for a relationship anyway. Wasn't that half the reason why he'd left Greece, because his family was constantly trying to fix him up with an eligible woman and it was driving him crazy? And he was only here tonight because he was at a loose end the weekend before he started his new job. Buying a ticket for the hospital fundraiser had seemed like a good ideaa chance to meet some of his new colleagues socially, get to know people. He'd enjoyed chatting to people tonight.
But all the same he needed some fresh air. A cool breeze to bring his common sense back and give him some immunity to the sweet, seductive tones of the singer. As she segued into 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered', he allowed himself the briefest of smiles. Theo Petrakis most definitely didn't let himself get bewitched, bothered and bewildered by anyone.
And that included a beautifuland very much off-limits woman by the name of Maddie. He'd go back in, buy a few tombola tickets to help swell the fundraising coffers and then maybe he'd have an early night.
Madison kept the smile on her face for the rest of the evening. And although she allowed herself to relax in between checking that all was well and danced with a dozen different men, none of her partners on the dance floor matched up to the man in the gold mask. They didn't have his fluidity or his intuitiveness.
It was pretty stupid even to be thinking about the man. She'd never met him beforeor she would most definitely have rememberedand she probably wouldn't meet him again.
She didn't even know his name.
And you couldn't fall for someone whose name you didn't even know could you?
She shoved the thought to the back of her mind. Besides, tonight wasn't about her. It was about raising money for the new and hugely expensive medical equipment that the hospital trust dearly wanted but just couldn't afford. So she was going to schmooze and schmooze and talk people into buying more tombola tickets.
When the evening was over and everyone had gone home, Madison stopped by the hotel kitchens to thank the staff for their hard work and deliver the chocolates she'd bought them to show her appreciation, then headed for the hospital. Right now, she was wide awakeand unless Katrina, as the on-call doctor, was in with a patient, the chances were she'd be free for a quick coffee-break.
When the night sister let her into the paediatric department, Madison was delighted to discover that her cousin was in her office, catching up with paperwork.
'You missed a great evening,' she said, settling herself on the edge of Katrina's desk. Even though Katrina, being deaf, wasn't over-keen on dark, noisy, crowded environments, Madison knew that her cousin would have enjoyed the ball.
'I wanted to be there, Maddie, you know thatbut we're so short-staffed right now I just couldn't work it.' She looked hopefully at Madison. 'So, did you take my hamper back to your place before dropping in? Or have you scoffed half of it already?'
Madison shook her head. 'Sorry, hon. You didn't win it. But you did get a full body massage and a manicure.' She produced the vouchers from her handbag.
Katrina smiled wryly. 'Can you see me having a manicure?'
'Wellno,' Madison admitted. She enjoyed doing girly things, but her cousin most definitely didn't. Katrina was practical. Too practical for her own good.
'Then you have them. With my love.'
Madison shook her head. 'I can't do that. You spent a fortune on tickets, Kat.' And she hadn't won a single thing so Madison had told a teensy fib and given her cousin her own prizes. 'Look, at least have the massage. You'd enjoy it. Really, you would. It's really relaxing.'
Katrina wrinkled her nose. 'Thanks, but it's not my style.' And she clearly suspected Madison of having had a hand in the prizeswhich she had, but not quite in the way Katrina thought. 'Look, if you really don't want them, I'll raffle them off in the department and you can add the proceeds to the scanner fund.' Katrina paused. 'Did you meet Prince Charming tonight, then?'
'Hey, are you calling me Cinderella?' Madison teased.
'You've gone red. Aha. So you did meet someone.' Katrina gave her a wicked smile. 'Come on. Details. All of them. Right now.'
Madison shrugged. 'There's not a lot to tell. We danced. Once.' She left out the fact that the man in the gold mask had kissed her inner wrist and she could still feel the touch of his mouth against her skin.
'And?' When Madison didn't reply, Katrina asked, 'What's his name? Which ward is he on?'
'No idea, to both.' Madison forced herself to sound offhand. 'Kat, it was just a dance.' And a kiss. 'And he was wearing a mask, so I didn't even get to see his face.'
But she had seen his eyes and his mouth. She'd class both as the sexiest she'd ever seen.
'You didn't even ask? Sounds like you missed a great opportunity,' Katrina said. 'He might have been really nice.' She shook her head. 'You're so picky. How are you ever going to meet someone if you never give them a chance?'
Madison grinned. 'Says the woman who's waiting for her prince to come and find her.'
'I looked. I kissed some of them, even. And they turned into frogs.' Katrina shrugged. 'Anyway. I'm happy with my career.'
'So am I,' Madison said.
Katrina raised an eyebrow. 'Honey, you've been broody for the last five years.'
'Which is why I made such a huge mistake with Harry. I know.' Madison shrugged. 'Next time, I'll get it right. Find myself the perfect mangorgeous body, gorgeous mind, gorgeous heart.'
'In that order?'