Once a Playboy...

Once a Playboy...

by Kate Hardy

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Love in free fall…

Adrenalin-junkie aristocrat George Somers is used to relationships as short and as sweet as the thrills he seeks. But when an accident puts him in the care of physiotherapist and single mom Serena James, being bed-bound suddenly seems more than appealing! George may be a risk taker…but letting


Love in free fall…

Adrenalin-junkie aristocrat George Somers is used to relationships as short and as sweet as the thrills he seeks. But when an accident puts him in the care of physiotherapist and single mom Serena James, being bed-bound suddenly seems more than appealing! George may be a risk taker…but letting Serena and her little boy into his heart will be his biggest challenge yet….

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'So you're doing static cycling on a flat surface, and swimming?' Serena asked.

'Yes,' George said.

'Does it hurt?'

'No.' And it wasn't a complete fib. George could do the swimming and static cycling bits of his exercise programme without any problems. But he'd pushed himself a bit too far this week, thinking that he could start the last phase of his treatment a little bit sooner than his body was really ready for it.

She raised her eyebrow. 'How about the truth?'

'It is the truth.'

Serena folded her arms. 'George, I know it's driving you crazy not being able to do everything you could do before the accident, and you want to get your life back yesterday, but it's going to take time until you're completely fit again. You did a fair bit of damage to your thigh and your wrists—and, remember, it takes up to six months for a broken femur to heal, plus there's all the soft tissue damage surrounding it.'

And that wasn't the only damage he'd done to his body, George knew. Though he wasn't thinking about that particular issue right now. He sighed. 'OK. If you must know, I tried running, a couple of days ago. Through chest-deep water, so it wasn't weight-bearing.'

She raised her eyebrows. 'And?'

'It was absolutely fine.'

'If I had my way,' Serena said, 'my patients would be banned from looking up anything on the internet.'

He coughed. 'How did you know that's where I read about it?'

'Because you didn't get that advice from me or from Bruno. Your last lot of X-rays were fine—your bones are stable and they're healing nicely—but you really can't run before you can walk. Literally.'

'I realise that now.' Much as he hated to admit it.

She sighed. 'What else did you do, George?'

'Tried it on land. Not very far,' he added swiftly. 'But it hurt.' It wasn't a question. 'A bit,' he admitted.

'I'd say it's your quads, by the way you walked in.' She shook her head. 'What am I going to do with you, George?'

'I used to hear that a lot. At school as well as at home,' he said.

'Why does that not surprise me?' She rolled her eyes. 'Do you mind if I take a closer look and check that you haven't done any real damage?'

'Sure.' He paused. 'Does this mean taking off my clothes?'

'Well, it's a bit tricky to judge muscles through a layer of material.' She gave him an amused smile. 'Let me know when you're ready.'

He still felt slightly self-conscious about stripping in front of her. Which was totally ridiculous. Apart from the fact that Serena James was his physiotherapist and this wasn't his first session with her, George had stripped in enough bedrooms—and other places—not to feel in the slightest bit awkward at taking his clothes off in front of a woman. Especially as this wasn't even a full strip; he'd still be wearing underpants and a T-shirt.

But he appreciated the fact that Serena had turned her back while he removed the hated tracksuit bottoms, leaving him a little bit of dignity. He'd already put up with more than enough during his recuperation. He'd hated feeling so dependent. And he was so, so ready to have his life back again.

If that meant he had to take this last phase just a little bit more slowly, then he'd have to learn to be patient. Even though taking things slowly felt as if it was killing him. He really loathed living life at a snail's pace. For him, it wasn't living, it was existing. And there was a huge difference between the two.

'Ready now,' he said, and she turned to face him.

Her hands were gentle as she probed his leg and felt the muscles. And although Serena's movements were completely asexual, a physiotherapist's touch rather than a lover's, as she moved her head George caught the scent of her shampoo. Like sun-warmed, ripened strawberries. And all the blood in his head rushed south.

Oh, hell. He'd better start thinking of something else—such as how much repairing the roof at Somers Hall was going to cost this year and all the regulations that they'd have to comply with—or he was going to embarrass both of them.

Or was he? Did Serena feel this weird connection between them, too? And, if so, what would she want to do about it?

He glanced at her left hand. No ring. OK, so the lack of a ring didn't mean that she wasn't in a committed relationship, but he had the feeling that Serena James was the kind of woman who believed in marriage and would want that gold band on her finger. Which in turn meant that he was completely the wrong kind of man for her.

He didn't do commitment. Ever. If his mother's behaviour hadn't cured him of that idea, Rebecca certainly had.

'There's some tightness in your muscles here and here.' Serena demonstrated by touch. 'I can give you some different exercises to work on these, and that will help.'

'Thanks. And I promise I'll do the exercises every day, for as many reps as you tell me to.'

'And you'll also promise me that you won't overdo it,' she said firmly, folding her arms and looking him straight in the eye.

He smiled. 'Would I overdo it?'

'Considering that you ended up this way in the first place because you had a fight with a cliff and lost, my vote would be for yes.'

He loved the teasing glint in her green eyes. And he liked Serena James. Either she didn't know he was heir to Somers Hall and the barony, or she didn't care, because she treated him as if he were just an ordinary patient. George appreciated her being so down-to-earth and practical with him.

She turned away again to give him time to replace his tracksuit bottoms. This was the kind of clothing he never wore outside a sports field, preferring designer denims or made-to-measure suit trousers; the accident had done a fair bit of damage to his sartorial style, too, because jeans still didn't feel comfortable on his broken leg. Dressing properly again was another thing he was looking forward to.

'OK, I'm decent again,' he said with a smirk.

'So why do you do it?' she asked as she turned back to him.

'Do what?'

'All the dangerous sports.' He shrugged. 'My brother says I'm an adrenalin junkie.'

'Is he right?'

'I enjoy the rush of extreme sports,' he admitted. 'I guess it's just a way of getting rid of tension.' And it meant he didn't have time to let himself think too deeply about anything.

'And you can't think of a safer way of getting rid of tension?'

At this very moment, he could. Not that he was going to embarrass her by telling her exactly what was in his head. Or the fact that it involved her. 'Powered paragliding isn't unsafe,' he parried instead.

'Says the man with a broken femur and two broken wrists.'

'Which are almost healed,' he reminded her. 'I was wearing a helmet, and I'd done all the training. I just happened to be thinking about something else at the same time as a gust of wind caught me, and by the time I realised what was happening it was too late to avoid the cliff.'

She raised an eyebrow. 'It must've been quite something on your mind to distract you that much.'

It really was. As in whether he was really his father's son. For a normal family, it might not have been so much of an issue, but for the Somers family it had had a lot of legal ramifications. Such as who was the real heir to the barony, and what would happen to the estate and the entailment. Absolutely life-changing things.

Luckily the DNA tests had proved that his mother had been completely wrong in her beliefs, and that George and his younger brother Ed were indeed David Somers's legitimate sons. But, before they'd done the tests, their mother's diaries and letters had given George some seriously bad moments, worrying about what was going to happen to his family.

And it had brought him low enough to wonder about whether he'd still be part of them, if it turned out that he was actually the by-blow of one of his mother's many lovers instead of his father's son. Which again was ridiculous; he knew that his father, stepmother, brother and sisters loved him as much as he loved them.

But that was because they were his family.

That meant they were practically obliged to love him. And they did. Except for one person.

Zara Somers had been able to walk away from him and Ed without a second thought when George was six years old, and she'd acted as if her sons didn't exist from that moment on until the day she died. No matter how ridiculous George knew it was intellectually, emotionally the doubts were always there and he couldn't quite squash them. Would his girlfriends, like his mother, be more interested in his social standing, not seeing him for who he really was beneath the label?

He'd risked it once. He'd fallen for Rebecca at university; and he'd been so sure that she saw him for who he was and loved him anyway.

How wrong he'd been.

His background hadn't attracted her; it had pushed her away. She'd said she couldn't cope with living in a goldfish bowl as the future wife of a future baron; and even though he'd said the barony stuff was just a label, she'd claimed it was what made him who he was and it couldn't be separated. He'd even offered to give it up for her; but that still wasn't enough for her. She'd given him his ring back. I love you too much to make you unhappy.

And then she'd walked away for good.

George had made quite sure from then on that he was the one to leave. Which was why he kept all his relationships short and sweet and very far from serious, nowadays.

'Yes,' he said.

Serena flushed at his curtness. 'Sorry. I mean, I saw the stuff in the papers.'

So had most of the country. The gossip rags had had a field day when the news had leaked that David Somers's heirs might not be who they thought they were.

'I didn't mean to pry or spread gossip,' she added.

He believed her. And it wasn't her fault that his mother had been the way she was. Or that Rebecca hadn't been able to see past her own insecurities and take a chance with him. 'It's OK. And you haven't upset me. I don't mind talking about it.' And it was true, now. The DNA test results had been conclusive and had put paid to all the rumours. Then Ed had announced his engagement to Jane, and the press had been utterly charmed by his brother's Cinderella bride. 'Anyway, it's all done and dusted now. I won't let myself get distracted in the future.'

'You're actually going back to doing that parachute thing?' Serena looked surprised.

'Powered paragliding,' he corrected. 'Sadly, no. The whole family ganged up on me and made me agree to sell the rig. And my consultant said I can't go skiing again until the pin's out of my leg.' He grimaced. 'So I guess I'm going to have a very, very boring year, limping everywhere and being grumpy with everyone because I'd much rather be doing something else.' Something with enough speed to let him leave all his self-doubts behind. Something that meant he didn't have time to sit still and think.

She smiled. 'I'm sure you can find something to keep yourself amused.'

Someone would be a better idea. And she happened to be standing right in front of him. He had a feeling that Serena James could distract him beautifully; even though she wasn't his usual type, there was something about her that really grabbed his attention.

'How are your wrists?' she asked.

'Better. I can manage without the splints now. And I've got pretty much the full range of movement back, thanks to the exercises you gave me.' He gave her a rueful smile. 'You have no idea how much I'm looking forward to being able to drive myself again.'

'Taxis that bad, are they?'

'They are when they're being driven by your little sisters, and the fare is a whole journey's worth of nagging.'

She laughed.

'You're supposed to be sympathetic,' he said.

'I am.' She was still smiling. 'But I'm just imagining you being bossed around by a woman.'

'My sister,' he corrected. 'Bossy isn't the half of it. The oldest one's the scariest barrister I've ever met—you just don't answer Alice back. Ever. The middle one's an architect and threatens to gag me with gaffer tape if I dare suggest she modifies her driving slightly so she doesn't scrape my car, and the baby just switches to speaking Latin if you try to talk her into letting you do something!'

Serena laughed again. 'I bet you charm all three of them into doing everything you ask of them.'

Fair point. It was what George did with women. Charmed them. With two exceptions—ones he didn't usually let himself think about—women tended to agree to what he wanted.

And right now he wanted her.

Serena had a beautiful mouth—a perfect rosebud. She wasn't wearing a scrap of make-up, but she really didn't need any. She had a fresh, natural beauty. Flawless skin that made him itch to touch it, feel how soft it was under his fingertips. And he couldn't help wondering what that mouth would feel like against his own.

'So you think I'm a shallow, charming playboy? I'm hurt,' he said, batting his eyelashes at her. 'Deeply wounded.'

'Sure you are.' That glint of amusement was back in her eyes.

'Oh, but I am.' And the suggestion was too much for him to resist. 'And, as you're the one making me feel bad right now, Serena, maybe you should be the one to kiss me better.'

She simply smiled at him. 'I'm afraid that's not part of the treatment, Mr Somers.'

He noticed that she'd switched back to formality with him. Well, it was his own fault for being too pushy. Time to backtrack. 'I apologise for teasing, Ms James—or should that be Mrs?'

'Ms is fine.'

Which still didn't tell him whether she was married—or at least committed elsewhere. Though he had a feeling that she wasn't. A feeling that wasn't based on any actual information: simply his gut instinct. And his gut had rarely led him wrong in the past. Only with Rebecca, and that had been his fault for wanting what she couldn't give him.

Meet the Author

Kate Hardy always loved books and could read before she went to school. She discovered Harlequin books when she was twelve and decided this was what she wanted to do. When she isn't writing Kate enjoys reading, cinema, ballroom dancing and the gym. You can contact her via her website: www.katehardy.com

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