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"Cover the family jewels, gentlemen," Lilah Anderson called into the men's locker room at St. Mary's Hospital. "Female coming through."
High heels clicking on tile, Lilah charged past a male nurse yanking on scrubs and an anesthesiologist wrestling with a too-small towel, barely registering the flash of male flank here, masculine chest there. Smothered coughs and chuckles echoed around her in the steamy tiled area, but she remained undeterred.
Completely focused on locating him.
No one dared stop her on her way past benches and lockers. As chief administrator of Tacoma's leading surgical facility, she could have any of them fired faster than someone could say "Who dropped the soap?"
Her only problem? A particularly stubborn employee who seemed determined to avoid her every attempt to speak with him over the past couple of weeks. Therefore, she'd chosen the one place she could be certain of having Dr. Carlos Medina's complete attentiona public shower.
The stall tactics would end here and now. And speaking of stalls
Lilah stepped deeper into the swell of steam puffing around a cream-colored plastic curtain. His secretary, Wanda, had warned that he couldn't be reached since he was washing up after a lengthy surgery. He would be exhausted and cranky.
Not deterred in the least, Lilah saw this as the perfect opportunity she'd been seeking to corner him. She'd grown up with two brothers, and she would have been left out of everything if she didn't occasionally invade their male inner sanctums. She eyed the line of showers.
Three of the five were in use. The first sported a shadowy, short and round male figure. Not Carlos.
From the second, a balding head peeked around the industrial curtain with shocked green eyes. Also not her surgeon in question.
She nodded to the head of pediatrics. "Good afternoon, Jim."
Jim ducked back into his stall, which left her to focus on the third tiled cubicle. She marched forward, heels tapping almost as fast as her heart.
Stopping, she planted her feet and checked first. Through the plastic folds, she studied the lean outline standing under the spray, scrubbing his hands over his head. Without even pulling aside the curtain, she knew that body well, intimately so.
She'd found him, Carlos Medinadoctor, lover and, as if the guy didn't already have enough going for him, also the eldest son of a former European monarch. His princely pedigree, however, didn't impress her. Long before she knew about his royal roots, she'd been drawn to his brilliance, his compassion for his patients..
And a backside that looked damn fine in scrubs. Or wearing nothing at all. Definitely not what she needed to think about right now.
Lilah gathered her nerve as firmly as she clenched the curtain and swept it aside, metal rings clink, clink, clinking along the rod.
A wall of steam rolled out, momentarily clouding her vision until the mist dispersed and exposed an eyeful of mouthwateringly magnificent man. Water sluiced down Carlos's naked body turned sideways, revealing long lean muscles flexing and bunching. And heaven help her, she had a perfect view of the curve of his taut butt.
Beads of moisture clung to his bronzed skin, arms and legs sprinkled with dark hair. No tan lines marked him since he spent most of his time indoors either in surgery or asleep. But his natural olive coloring gave him an allover tanned look, as if he'd bared himself unabashedly to the sun.
As he turned his head toward her in a slow, deliberate move, not even a whisper of surprise showed on Carlos's face. His eyes shone nearly black heavy lidded darkly enigmatic. She couldn't suppress a shiver of desire as his intense gaze held hers. Her stomach knotted with a traitorous ache that could only serve to distract her from her mission today.
He raised one thick eyebrow, slashing upward into his forehead. "Yes?"
His subtle Spanish accent saturated the lone syllable like the steam in the air, so hot she felt the urge to ditch the jacket on her power suit.
In the next stall, water shut off in a hurry as the head of pediatrics made a hasty departure from the locker room. Others lingered, backs studiously turned as they retrieved clothing.
Lilah tugged her jacket more firmly in place. "I need to talk to you."
"A telephone conversation would have saved my coworkers some embarrassment." He spoke softly as always, never raising his voice as if he knew innately that people would hang on his every word.
"What I have to say isn't for an impersonal call." And wasn't that the understatement of the year? What she needed to tell him also wasn't for the curious ears behind her, but she would have Carlos alone soon.
Static-like awareness popped along her nerves until the hair on her arms rose. Was that an answering spark lighting his dark eyes? Then he blinked away any hint of emotion.
"It does not get much more personal than this, boss lady." He turned off the shower. "Could you pass me that towel?"
She snagged the white cotton draped on a hook. The hospital name and logo were stamped along the bottom. She pitched the towel to him rather than risk an accidental touch. As he looped it around his waist, she couldn't resist staring for a stolen second.
Water soaked his hair even blacker, shiny and swept back from his face. Every hard and hunky angle of his aristocratic cheekbones and nose was revealed. Dark brows slashed over brown eyes that rarely carried humor, but turned lava lush when he made love to her.
Pivoting, his back to her for the first time, he snagged his shampoo. Her eyes quickly left his slim hips and taut butt, drawn more to the scars along his lower back. In the four years she'd known him, he'd chalked up his permanent limp to a teenage riding accident. The one time she'd pressed him, the first time she'd seen those scars, he'd brushed aside further questions with distracting kisses along her bare skin.
While she was a lawyer and not a doctor, her tenure working at the hospitaland flat-out common senseclued her in that he'd suffered a major physical trauma.
Toiletries bag tucked under his arm, he leaned toward her. His shoulders, then his eyes, drew her in until the rest of the space faded away. She swallowed hard.
He stared back, unblinking, unflinching. "Let's make this quick."
"Your charm never ceases to impress me."
"If you're looking for charm, you hired the wrong man four years ago." He'd been thirty-six then to her thirty-one, a lifetime ago. "I've spent most of the day repairing the spine of a seven-year-old Afghani girl injured by a roadside bomb. I'm beat."
Unwanted sympathy whispered through her. Of course he was exhausted from the drawn-out, tragic surgery. Even when he caved to his pride and used a chair during extended operations, the toll it took on him was always evident. But she couldn't afford to weaken now.
They'd been friends for years only to have him turn into a cold jackass because of an impulsive one-night stand together after a Christmas fundraiser. It wasn't like she'd dropped a wedding planner in his lap five seconds after the third orgasm waned.
Yep, three. Her toes curled inside her pumps at just the memory of each shimmering release.
The sex had been amazing. Beyond amazing actually, and after that impulsive hookup, she'd envisioned them transitioning into a relationship of friends with kick-ass benefits. A nerve-tingling, safe option. But he'd pulled away as fast as he'd pulled on his pants the next morning. He was cold, withdrawn and painfully polite.
But she wasn't backing down. "I don't have the time for niceties. I'm just here to say my piece. So grab some clothes and let's talk."
He ducked his head until his voice heated her ear. "You're not the type to create a scene. Let's set up a time to talk when you're calmer. This is already awkward enough."
Her nose twitched at his fresh-washed scent. Yes, she'd chosen an unconventional route for her confrontation, but Carlos Medina's tenaciousstubbornreputation was legendary. She felt confident the hospital board would cut her a little slack for her scene. And if they didn't? Then so be it. Sometimes a woman had to make a stand.
This was her time. She couldn't afford to wait much longer.
"I'm not setting up an appointment. I'm not delaying this conversation." She lowered her voice, although from the sound of retreating footsteps behind her there must not be many people left. "We talk. Today. The only matter up for discussion is whether we chat right here in front of everyone or if we speak in an office. And believe me, if we stay here, it's going to get a lot more awkward very quickly."
Carlos cocked an eyebrow.
From behind her, a cleared throat echoed, or a stifled laugh perhaps. She looked up at Carlos, suddenly painfully aware of just how close they stood to each other with nothing but a towel covering his oh-so-generous family jewels.
Whispering, she struggled not to back awayor move closer still. Carlos had ignored her for nearly three months, hurtful and flat-out insulting given their friendship. Or rather, their prior friendship.
One way or another, she would get a reaction from him. "It's not like I haven't seen you before. In fact, I recall in great"
"Enough," he silenced her with a word.
"The almighty Medina prince has spoken," she mocked, backing a step to snag surgical scrubs from the top of a stack. "Get dressed. I'll wait."
She thrust the folded green set his way and turned away. A trio of half-dressed men faced her, their jaws slack and eyes wide. The magnitude of the scene she'd caused hit her full on for the first time. She resisted the urge to squirm.
This was too important to show any vulnerability. She just hoped she could maintain enough distance to get through the conversation during their first time alone together in so long. She pressed her fingers to her lips, still unable to forget the rush of passion from their first impetuous kiss, a clench that had led to so much more with lasting consequences.
Once Carlos put on his clothes and they moved to another room, he would learn the truth she'd only just begun to accept herself. A truth she could no longer avoid.
Dr. Carlos Medina was a little over six months away from becoming a princely papa.
Carlos Medina was about six seconds away from losing his temper, something he never, never allowed to happen.
Of course, he was the person who needed chewing out for foolishly allowing himself to sleep with Lilah nearly three months ago. He'd wrecked a top-notch working relationship.
Sidestepping a janitor slopping an ammonia-saturated mop over the floor, Carlos followed her down the otherwise empty hospital walkway, wearing fresh surgical scrubs, tennis shoes and ten tons of frustration. Fluorescent lights overhead lined the path down the corridor. Windows flanked either side. Murky late day sun fought to pierce the dreary drizzle outdoors. But his focus was locked in on the woman two steps ahead of him on the way to his office.
His office. Not hers. His territory.
She may have tipped the controls in her favor with the shower confrontation, but he wasn't giving ground again. His office would also provide guaranteed privacy. Once his Medina name had been exposed, the hospital had been flooded with paparazzi. He'd feared he might have to resign his position in order to ensure the safety of his patients.
But he'd underestimated Lilah.
She'd slapped restraining orders and injunctions on the press in a flash. She'd increased security at the hospital. And she'd moved his office to the farthest corner of the building. Overzealous paparazzi would have to run a gauntlet of two layers of security and a half-dozen heavily populated nurses' stations before reaching his newly relocated inner sanctum. No one in the press had succeeded to date.
Yes, he'd underestimated her then, something he wouldn't do now. He needed every edge he could muster around this woman when all he could think about was her bold entrance into his shower, her gaze raking over his body as if she wouldn't mind a touch. A taste. Maybe even a bite. Damn, but he hadn't expected to see her again without the defense of even a pair of boxers.
The understated twitch of her hips encased in a black power suit held his gaze far longer than any simple passing interest. His eyes glided up the rigid brace of her spine to the vulnerable curve of her neck, exposed with her auburn hair swept into a tight twist. One stubborn curl escaped to caress her ear the way he burned to do even now when he was angry as hell with her.
He'd wanted her for years, but knew she was the one woman he had to keep his hands well off. She was too insightful, too good of a friend and one who mirrored his workaholic ways. Anything more than a professional friendship would be disastrous. For a man who'd had precious few friends in his life, he'd valued the unexpected camaraderie he'd found with Lilah.
Clearing the hall and entering his reception area, he tore his eyes away from the enticing curve of her butt and nodded to his secretary, an efficient woman with photos of her twelve grandchildren neatly lined up on her desk. "Hold my calls, Wanda, unless it's about the Afghani girl in recovery."
His back twinged with a reminder of just how long he'd spent cleaning up bone fragments along the child's spine, of working to relieve pressure, doing all he could to ensure she had as much use of her arms as possible even though she would almost certainly never walk again. Entering his office, he braced a hand on the door frame, then the sofa, using walls and furniture to steady himself at the end of a long day. His uneven gait contrasted with the efficient click of Lilah's killer red heels.
Skimming her fingers along a row of leather-bound medical journals, she stopped in front of a framed oil painting by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, a gift from his middle brother, Duarte. The canvas came from Bastida's Sad Inheritance preparatory pieces, a painting of crippled children bathing in healing waters.
No matter how much distance Carlos put between himself and his homeland, influences from his heritage called to him. He couldn't escape the reality of being the oldest son of deposed King Enrique Medina from San Rinaldo, a small island country off the coast of Spain. He couldn't ignore or forget how his father had fled with his family, relocating to live anonymously off the coast of Florida for decades.
Only recently had the press picked up the Medina trail. Carlos and his two brothers, all now adults, lived in different locations across the United States. Until four months ago, they'd even managed to fly under the radar with assumed names.
For most of his adult life he'd been known as Carlos Santiago. Yet in the stroke of a media pen's expose, it became impossible for people to think of him as anything other than Carlos Medina, heir to a defunct monarchy.