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Avery O'Neill had guilty secrets, but her attitude toward a certain cardiothoracic surgeon wasn't one of them.
She stopped pacing long enough to look at Ryleigh Evans, her best friend. "It's bad enough that I have to put up with Spencer Stone at your wedding. Far be it from me to question your future husband's taste in a best man. But I just found out I have to go to Dallas with him."
This was Ryleigh's office and she was behind the desk, watching Avery walk back and forth to work off her frustration. Her brown eyes sparkled with more than bridal happiness. She was also rocking a pregnancy glow with a baby due in four months. She was a beautiful brunette and happiness made her more beautiful than ever.
"Why do you have to go with him?" she asked.
"For months I've been telling Stone that the surgical robotic system he's lusting afterjust like he lusts after every attractive single female employee at Mercy Medical Center is not in the budget. He went over my head to my boss, who pointed out that Doctor Heartthrob brings patients, publicity and revenue to Mercy Medical Center. In short, he's the golden boy and we need to keep him happy."
"And just how are you going to do that?" Her friend Ryleigh's tone dripped with double entendre.
"Don't go there."
Avery certainly wasn't planning to. Spencer Stone was only interested in casual sexand that didn't interest her. She knew his typebig man on campus. The guy that girls couldn't say no to. In high school she'd learned the hard way that there were consequences for not saying no and sleeping with that guy. Hers were an unplanned pregnancy and a newborn daughter she'd had to give up for adoption.
Her gaze dropped to her friend's baby bump and the way she absently and protectively rubbed her hand over the swell of the growing child. A familiar envy, longing and sadness rolled through her. Avery covered it the way she always did, by being prickly. Ryleigh teased that it was one of her best qualities, but she'd never confided her guilty secret, not even to her best friend.
"I have to go with Stone to talk to the financial people and find out if this Star Wars technology is fiscally feasible."
"And what will he be doing while you're playing with numbers?"
"He'll be playing with the really expensive Star Wars technology."
Ryleigh nodded sagely. "Well, I can see their point. Hospital administration doesn't want him to contract his considerable skills to another facility. But he's officially really good at fixing hearts."
"Good thing because he breaks so many. He's a pain in the butt."
Ryleigh slid her a look of exaggerated patience. "You'll get to know him better at the wedding. I promise not to say I told you so when you find out you're wrong about Spencer. If he were as bad as you think, Nick wouldn't like him or ask him to be his wingman for vow-taking."
The day after tomorrow her best friend was remarrying Dr. Nick Damian, the love of her life and father of her unborn child. Avery was the maid of honor, which meant she'd have to play nice. But that was two days away and now, she was annoyed. "Stone's a jerk."
"Not true. He's a really nice guy."
"Right." Avery folded her arms over her chest and faced the desk with her back to the open office door. "I've yet to meet a surgeon who isn't full of himself, a total control freak."
"So says the hospital controller," Ryleigh pointed out.
"Job title not personality." She got mad every time she thought about the pressure Spencer Stone had put on her. He buried her in emails with a subject line of 9-1-1, or stat, or Code Red. When that didn't work he tracked her down in the hospital wherever she happened to be, although so far he hadn't breached the sanctity of the ladies' room. "What part of no doesn't he understand?"
"Now's not the time"
"Yeah, it is." Avery was warming to her subject. Even her friend's weird eye-rolling and nodding her head toward the doorway didn't penetrate the tirade. "I swear if I ever meet a nice doctor, I'd have sex with him at that moment"
"Avery" Ryleigh was dragging her hand across her throat, the universal cutoff sign.
She felt her stomach drop and heat spread through her. "He's behind me, isn't he?"
"I understand we're traveling together. Hello, Avery." Heart-of-Stone himself walked up beside her. His grin was wicked. The expression on his face was full of the devil.
"And since I'm a really nice surgeon and dressed appropriately, it looks like we'll be having sex, too."
"Don't be mean, Spencer," Ryleigh scolded. "I defended you. I'd appreciate it if you didn't make a liar out of me."
Avery didn't know what to say. She'd just insulted the brilliant doctor that hospital administration was jumping through hoops to keep happy. They were traveling together because he wanted a robot and she had to crunch the numbers to make it happen. If Stone said take a flying leap, her boss would ask how high and how many times. If Stone said fire Avery O'Neill, they would have her severance ready faster than you could say "may the force be with you."
She looked at her friend because she couldn't look at him. "You need to give me a bigger shut-the-heck-up motion next time."
"Next time?" Spencer rested a hip on the corner of Ryleigh's desk. His piercing green eyes snapped with intelligence. Dark blond hair was cut military short and suited his square-jawed face. It just wasn't fair that he made the green scrubs he wore hot as a sexy kiss under a full moon. "You have plans to trash talk me again, Tinker Bell?"
She winced, but didn't say anything. He called her that because she was five feet tall, barely weighed a hundred pounds and her blond hair was cut in a short pixie style. Ryleigh had said the look suited her but the nickname didn't do a whole lot for her professional image.
"Was there something you wanted, Spencer?" Ryleigh asked. She reached into a desk drawer and pulled out her purse before standing.
"Just wanted to double check on the wedding rehearsal time," he said.
"Tomorrow. Six-thirty at the house. We're taking the wedding party to dinner after."
"Who's in the wedding party again?" he asked, the sinful sparkle in his eyes aimed directly at Avery.
"Oh, please, Spencer. You have a mind like a steel trap and never forget anything. You know it's just you and Avery. She's my best friend and maid of honor. Don't pick on her."
They were the only attendants for the small intimate wedding and the next two days were going to be like a never ending double date. Karma was having a good laugh at her expense.
"Okay." He nodded to Ryleigh. "And you're feeling okay?"
"Great." She smiled and rubbed a hand over her belly. "Morning sickness is gone. Although why they call debilitating nausea that lasts twenty-four hours a day 'morning' is beyond me. But currently all is well."
"Okay, you two, I have to go meet Nick. But feel free to use my office for restoring diplomatic relations."
"You don't want to play referee?" Spencer asked.
"Not even a little. Be excellent to each other," she added sternly on her way out the door.
When she left Avery and Spencer eyed each other. His expression was challenging but he didn't say anything. The silence was making her nervous and she needed to fill it. Partly because there would be no massive wedding party to buffer them during the rehearsal festivities and ceremony. And partly because she also had to work with him. And travel with him, which was worse than working with him.
"About the jerk comment.. " She took a deep breath and met his gaze without flinching. "I was simply stating an opinion. I'm sorry if it hurt your feelings."
"You don't look sorry," he said.
That's because she was only sorry he'd overheard. "It's all on the inside."
"Unlike your stated viewpoint, which you put right out there. One that didn't allow for the fact that I have any feelings."
From where she was standing, he didn't. "Do you?"
The teasing tone and gleam in his eyes didn't convince her but the combination made her pulse pick up more than she liked or even wanted to acknowledge. He was too handsome, too sexy, too confident, too smooth. Too much of everything that left her too little peace of mind. Filling the silence had only made her nerves more nervous.
"So, it's good we talked." Avery slid her hands into the pockets of her black slacks. "I should be going now."
"It's quitting time, right? Is there somewhere you have to be? Do you have plans?"
"We should go get a drink," he said.
No, they shouldn't. "Why would you want to do that?"
The words just popped out of her mouth. She didn't mean to be rude, but definitely could have been more tactful.
Surprisingly he laughed. "It never occurred to me I needed a reason to ask a woman to go for a drink."
"Well, you asking just came out of the blue for me. We don't have what you'd call a going-for-drinks kind of relationship. It sort of took me by surprise."
"So, you're saying I do need a reason?"
She could feel the skepticism and suspicion on her face, but tried to suppress it. "Not exactly."
"That's okay. I can come up with more than one."
The way he folded his arms over his broad chest made his shoulders look even wider. Her mouth went dry and there was a hitch in her breathing. It was okay with her if he thought she was unreasonable and not worth the trouble, but that could put a speed bump in her career.
"If we had a drink together, we'd get to know each other better."
"Good luck with that." She resisted the urge to put her hand over her mouth and simply mumbled, "Sorry."
He grinned. "It would ease tension and make the wedding festivities more fun and the trip to Dallas more relaxed."
On what planet? "Look, Dr. Stone"
"Call me Spencer. It'll be easier that way. Especially at the rehearsal dinner."
Nothing about it was going to be easy. "Whatever I think about you, I'd never do anything to spoil my best friend's wedding day. And I'm a professional businesswoman. My personal feelings, whatever they are, will not affect my ability to do my job well."
"So, you're opposed to getting to know me?"
"It's not really necessary," she hedged.
"And that's a no to a drink?"
"Yes, that's a no," she said.
"Okay." He stood and looked down at her before saying, "See you later, Tinker Bell."
Avery stared after him for several moments. Over the years she'd spent a lot of time by herself but for some reason alone was bigger after sharing space with Spencer Stone. Probably because he'd taken up so much of her space and now it was emptier. Plus, she felt a little guilty for speaking her mind, which was weird. The guilt, not the speaking her mind.
Even though he was the same type as her first love, it wasn't fair to cast him in the same mold as the guy who'd gotten her pregnant and then joined the army to avoid her and any responsibility for his child. She wasn't normally a person who judged someone else based on rumors, hearsay and innuendo. But she had a weakness for guys like Spencer Stone and in her experience it didn't end well. Avoiding him altogether was the wisest course of action.
Fixing hearts might be his medical specialty, and by all accounts he was very good at it. But he was also good at breaking themand she wasn't about to make hers an easy target.