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Miranda Dean paid no heed to the man getting into the lift as she searched through her bag for her room key. This was the problem with having bags big enough to throw a party inyou could never find anything.
Why hadn't she just slotted it into the back of the nametag holder hanging around her neck, like everyone else?
She felt a nudge at her elbow and a deep voice asking, 'Yours?'
She looked up to see a fluffy pink miniature teddy in the palm of a big tanned hand. Pinky!
'Oh, yes, thank you,' she murmured, reaching for the toy that looked particularly girly in stark contrast to the very male hand.
Her gaze wandered higher, and higher, a grateful smile on her face for the finder of such a precious item. Her breath caught at the very sexy man who smiled back. He looked tired. Lines around his eyes, tie pulled askew, unshaven jaw, dark, rumpled hair suffering from a bad case of finger-combing, but his gaze was lit with laughter, and the dimple in his chin? Well, that was plain sinful.
Not to mention the intoxicating scent of him spicing the air around her.
'You take it everywhere you go?' he teased as he relinquished the object then buried his hand in his pocket.
Miranda blushed as the humorous note in his voice did strange things to her equilibrium. Was he flirting with her? Or just being nice?
She really didn't have enough practice with this kind of thing.
'It's not mine it's Lola's,' she clarified. Well, attempted to anyway but obviously failed as one nice thick manly eyebrow kicked up. 'My daugh-ter's.Lola is my daughter,' she explained, her fingers stroking absently along the soft pink satin patches delineating Pinky's paws. 'She's four well, nearly five actually She's not with me.' she ended lamely, wishing the lift doors would just open already before she sounded any more socially inept.
The universe obliged.
'This is my stop,' she prattled, apparently now unable to stop with the talking.
He smiled at her and Miranda wished she could tell if he was amused with her or by her. 'Me too,' he murmured, and indicated for Miranda to precede him.
Excellent! Somehow her legs kicked into gear and she exited, aware of him falling in beside her. Aware of his height and his breadth and the way he moderated his long-legged stride to match hers. Aware of his scent againspicy man times ten with an end note of sweetness that tickled her senses.
And her hormones.
'So you're at the conference?' he asked.
Miranda nodded, dragging her brain away from the alluring smell of him. She'd been thrilled when the hospital had sponsored her, a lowly new grad, to attend the two-day international medical symposium being held in Brisbane for the first time ever. It had been a veritable smorgasbord of exciting new information. 'You?' she asked.
He nodded. 'I'm presenting a paper tomorrow.'
Miranda's step faltered. Good lord, she'd been prattling on like a mad woman about a pink teddy to some hotshot bigwig! She was probably supposed to know who he was on sight.
'Oh,' she said absently, as her brain busily flicked through the programme pages she'd consulted about a hundred times that day, trying to place him.
He chuckled. 'I promise it's not that boring.'
Miranda turned to him as they walked, reaching for his arm automatically and touching it briefly. 'Oh, no.' She shook her head. 'I'm sorry I didn't mean it like that. I'
He chuckled again and she could see he was teasing her once more. She almost sagged against him in relief. 'You mock.'
He smiled back at her in reply and Miranda's legs suddenly felt as if they were filled with jelly. It was the kind of smile that could make her forget she was a single working mother of a four-nearly-five-year-old. That could make her wonder what it might be like to have his wicked looking mouth on hers.
It really ought to be illegal to smile in such a way.
She was grateful when her room loomed and she could break away from the pull of him. It was titillating and unnerving in equal parts. She wasn't in a position to give in to her weak knees or to the butterflies in her belly.
Why, suddenly, did that feel like a regret?
'This is me,' she announced as she stopped at her door.
He smiled that illegal smile again and said, 'We're neighbours. I hope you don't snore.'
Miranda felt her stomach turn over several times. He needn't worry about that. She probably wouldn't get to sleep at all now! 'I've had no complaints.'
The humour that had sparkled in his eyes morphed into a rich glitter as Miranda realised what she'd said.
Dear Godhad she taken a stupid pill?
Now the man probably thought her mattress was a veritable hotbed of vice. Which couldn't be further from the truth. The only pleasure she'd got there in years had been an extra lie-in on Sunday morningsif she was lucky!
'Ah okay that came out all wrong,' she said.
Why she felt the urge to put it straight she had no idea. The man already knew she had a daughter, he surely didn't expect her to be a virgin. And, anyway, what the hell did it matter what he thought? He didn't know herthey'd only just met, for crying out loud.
He looked at her for a prolonged moment and Miranda felt her nipples bead against her bra as the heat from his gaze fanned over her. 'Sounded okay to me,' he murmured. Then he inclined his head and ambled off, throwing, 'Goodnight, Miranda,' over his shoulder.
Miranda? She stared after him. He knew her name? She stood unmoving by her door, watching him take the five paces to his door and then reach inside his jacket pocket for his key.
'How do you know my name?'
He turned towards her, shoving his biceps against the door and giving her that smile again. Like he could see right through her clothes to the knot her knickers were tying themselves into.
He pointed at her chest and said, 'Your nametag.'
Miranda looked down. The item in question swung slightly against her breasts from the movement. 'Oh.'
He grinned. 'Happy dreams.'
And by the time she looked up again, his door was clicking shut.
Patrick Costello flopped fully clothed back on his bed, a smile on his face. Four nights of interrupted sleepthree with an ill child and last night in the operating theatre with a kidney transplanthad left him utterly wrecked.
But Miranda Dean's cute little blush had perked him up considerably.
He lay in the dark, the lights off, staring at the ceiling. It was so quiet. The low hum of the air-con was all that could be heard in the well-insulated room and it was unnerving. Back home in suburban Sydney he was surrounded by the constant chatter of a four-year-old and the blare of the television as his mother-in-law settled in for her nightly shows. Silence was a novelty.
It should be bliss, he supposed, but it just felt wrong. It always felt wrong when he was away from Ruby.
He sat up and flicked the television on, clicking the remote until he came to a news station. But the noise wasn't the same and the room felt cold and empty.
He wondered if it felt like that next door. Was Miranda missing her daughter too?
He'd noticed her as soon as the lift doors had openedhard not to as she had been the only occupant. But he'd have noticed her through a crowd with that curtain of wavy ebony hair falling forward as she trawled through her voluminous bag. A sleek navy skirt with fine pinstripes clung to hips and thighs that could only belong to a woman. A glossy dark grey blouse fell against very nice breasts, her nametag swinging enticingly between them.
Did she always carry the little pink teddy or was it just one of those things that seemed to find their way into bags when a child was in the mix?
Interesting that she too had a four-year-old daughter.
He caught himself smiling again and groaned as he flopped back. Get a grip. You have a presentation to embellish and sleep to catch up on.
Now have a shower and get to work!
Patrick obeyed the stern voice in his head, knowing it was right. He wasn't here to swap baby photos and funny kiddie stories with a woman he barely knew just because he was missing Ruby. It was only one night and two days. He could get by without mentioning her name, surely?
He jumped in the shower, dunking himself under the spray, washing away some of the exhaustion but knowing no matter how long he stayed it could never wash away the accumulated hours of lost sleep and worry over the last four-plus years.
They went bone deep.
He got out, dried off, ruffled his damp hair, pulled on some jeans, snagged a beer out of the fridge and headed for the desk, the flickering light from the television guiding the way. He switched on the desk lamp as he sat and opened his laptop then took a deep swallow of his beer and got to work.
Two hours later he'd checked his emails, added some slides to his presentation and done some literature reviews for a new study he and three other anaesthetists were trying to get off the ground.
It was ten-thirty and he was yawning. He dropped his head from side to side, stretching his neck and knowing that it was useless going to bed this early. Bitter experience had taught him that no matter how tired he was, he'd lie in bed and think and overthink until he was too wound up to drift off.
Nope. Going to bed before midnight never worked out well for him.
He stood and stretched some more. Maybe some of his colleagues would still be hanging around the bar. A bit of relaxed conversation a couple of whiskies.
Now, that was the recipe for sleep.
Miranda gently swirled the red wine round and round her glass as she tracked her sexy neighbour's progress across the bar. She'd spied him the instant he'd walked in and their gazes had locked within seconds. He'd smiled at her and she'd smiled back.
And where her heart had been hammering at the sight of him it settled instantly as he started to walk towards her. There was a surrealness about it. But at the same time it felt natural.
It felt a lot like fate.
Which was a big thing for someone who didn't do bar pick-ups. Who didn't do anything rash or spontaneous.
Not since she'd been seventeen, anyway.
Yet strangely she didn't seem to be able to stop watching him.
He sat on the stool next to her. 'Couldn't sleep, Miranda Dean?'
That teasing tone of his was so charming and flirty it stole her breath. 'Someone was snoring next door, Patrick Costello,' she murmured.
'Ah you've been looking me up. Should I be flattered?'
Miranda shook her head. 'Not by that mug shot of youyou look like a criminal.'
He gave a chuckle and it was deep and rich and Miranda found herself wanting to move in even closer. His hair curled in wisps around his ears and at his nape. He was wearing jeans and a casual long-sleeved T-shirt.
'I think that was taken after a particularly heinous nine-hour op,' he said as he motioned to the bartender for a Scotch on the rocks. 'Plus I'm not very photogenic.'
Miranda found that exceedingly difficult to believe. He had that laid-back sex appeal that cameras adored.
'So, Miranda, are you from around here?'
It was Miranda's turn to laugh. 'I'm from Brisbane, yes, but I should let you know right from the start that I am a responsible single mother of one and do not let guys in bars pick me up. I don't even go to bars.'
Patrick smiled. So she was single. 'Would you believe me if I told you I don't either?'
Miranda shook her head. 'No.' He looked exactly like he hung out in bars. And never went home alone. Drinks with colleagues after work. Flirting with the nurses. Smiling that sinful smile at the waitresses.
He gave her a faux wounded sigh. 'Sad but true.'
And somehow she found she believed him. 'So how come you're here now?'
'Can't sleep.' His drink arrived and he held his glass up. 'To insomnia.'
Miranda clinked her glass against his. 'I'll drink to that,' she said, taking a sip of her Shiraz, watching him over the rim as a slug of amber liquid slid down his throat.
Patrick felt the burn all the way down to his stomach. He placed his glass on the bar and turned to face her. Up this close her smoky green eyes and heart-shaped face, free of lines or any kind of adornment, were even more appealing.
He was attracted to her. But more than that, he wanted to talk to her.
There was no harm in that, right?
'So where's your daughter tonight? Lola, right?'
He watched her fiddle with the stem of her wine glass.
'Her first sleepover. It's why I've got Pinky. Lola didn't want to take her favourite toy because she's apparently a big girl now. But she didn't want Pinky to be home all alone so I have her.' Her mouth kicked up around the rim of her wine glass as she took a sip. 'Four-year-old logic is hard to explain.'
Patrick knew that intimately. He pulled up his sleeve a little to reveal the dyed macaroni bracelet Ruby had made him a month ago. 'It's okay. I speak four-year-old too.'
Miranda blinked at the lurid colours and before she knew it she was reaching out to touch the made-with-love creation. 'Oh that's just gorgeous,' she murmured.
It looked so sexy against the dark hairs of his wrist and she was reminded of how she'd admired his broad palm when he had held Lola's miniature pink teddy bear.
Patrick cleared his throat as her light touch had an alarming effect on the artery that pulsed nearby. 'The matching necklace had an unfortunate run in with the shower. Luckily Ruby understood.'
Miranda laughed, looking up from his wrist. His eyes were browny-gold, like autumn leaves amidst his olive complexion and they were staring right at her. She realised she was still touching him and quickly withdrew her hand, her cheeks growing warm.
Patrick shook his head, liking how easily she blushed. 'Don't be.'
Miranda felt the breath in her throat grow thick as their gazes locked. 'It's very sweet of you to wear it.'
Patrick shrugged. 'I'm a sweet guy.'
Miranda blinked, breaking the spell. Sweet was not how she would describe him. Sexy, charismatic, masculine. Sweet was too passive for him.
She took a sip of her wine. 'So Ruby that's your daughter?'
Patrick nodded, grateful to Miranda for pulling them back from the edge. He barely knew her yet there was something very hypnotic about her. She was sitting in a bar at close to midnight in jeans, sneakers and a navy V-neck sweaterlike Cinderella after the ball. She wasn't loud or effusive like the table full of women over near the window. She wasn't flashing a lot of skin or leaning in close and flirting.
If anything, there was a reserve about her that was intriguing. On the one hand she blushed like a girl but on the other she sat with quiet dignity of a woman well beyond her years.
'Yes.' He smiled when he realised she was waiting for an answer. 'She's five in January.'
'Oh. Lola's five then too.'
Patrick raised his glass to her. 'A good year for babies, obviously.'