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The last thing Gavin Riordan had ever expected was to be a full-time father again. The family courtroom drama had been legendary over the custody of his son three years before, but in the end the judge had ruled, as was most traditional, on the side of the mother.
He shook his head at the memory that Tuesday evening, and jogged down the hall in the clinic section of Los Angeles Mercy Hospital with his son in tow.
"Bupinder, have you got a minute?" He pulled the resistant nine-year-old, Patrick, along behind him.
The allergy doctor slowed down to let them catch up.
"May I run something by you?" he asked.
"Of course," she said.
"I tell you, it's the strangest thing." Gavin accompanied the petite allergist along the clinic corridor. "One minute Patrick was fine. The next he had a huge asthma attack. Got any ideas?"
Dr Bupinder Mehta slanted her head in thought and studied Gavin's son with large brown eyes. She turned back and asked, "Has he taken any antihistamines in the last week?"
"Not since the last big attack a month ago." That asthma attack had made sense, as his mother had been leaving for England the next day and Patrick had been torn up about saying goodbye. But why had he had the asthma flare-up this time?
They'd spent the day together and gone to the movies in the afternoon. Gavin was determined to make up for not being the father he should have been all along, now that Patrick was living with him again. As usual, as soon as they'd returned home on Sunday afternoon, Patrick had run to his bedroom and slammed the door. A short time later he had come out wheezing. "This last time he just needed inhalers."
"Then let's do a skin test. Pollens, food, we can do the whole panel if he's willing and you've got the time." She brushed her long, black braid over her white lab coat and pushed on the double doors to a large, bright waiting room.
"I guess there's no time like the present." Gavin rushed ahead and held the door open with one hand and scratched his neck with the other. He sent a glance his son's way and quickly saw the pursed lips and usual defensive resolve. He was positive his ex-wife Maureen's sudden departure for England for four months had something to do with Patrick's return of asthma after all these years.
Thinking of asthma as an emotional disease had been out of favor with the experts for a long time, yet Gavin still felt there was a connection. After he got some concrete medical answers, he'd deal with the emotional triggers in Patrick's life.
On a whim, Maureen had decided to take a university extension course in art history at Oxford. She'd left Patrick with Gavin, even though it had meant putting him in a new school for the last few months before summer vacation and losing contact with all of his old friends. Maureen had always been impulsive, especially when it came to spending Gavin's money. Patrick was definitely unhappy with the situation. And Gavin was still adjusting to the added responsibility of being a full-time single dad while running the Mercy Hospital ER.
But he was determined to make things work. And right now that meant getting to the bottom of his son's new onset of asthma flare-ups.
"Beth, will you do one last skin test for me, please?" Dr Mehta's precise British accent echoed in the almost empty room.
The nurse snapped her head around and looked straight at them.
"I know it's late, but I'd like to do my colleague a favor, if you don't mind."
At first she looked startled, as if a spark of recognition flickered in her intense hazel eyes. She quickly recovered, and her stare washed over him like a cold wave. Holy smoke. She was the woman from the party.
"I think you've got the wrong person" she murmured in the hallway of the chief resident's condominium after the kiss that had made his toes curl.
"Feels pretty right to me." He tilted her chin and kissed her again. "My name's Gavin."
"I'm Bethany. Beth," she whispered over his mouth before smothering him with another brain-melting kiss.
Oh, yeah, she wanted him.
He hadn't used the best judgement that night. But he'd had no regrets. Not one. That was, until now.
She looked different with her hair pulled back into a tight ponytail, no make-up on, and baggy uniform scrubs, but she couldn't fool him. Though nothing like the wild woman he'd encountered a month ago, it was Beth nevertheless. She ignored him, while turning a deep shade of crimson, smiled at her boss, nodding her head as though no earth-shattering recognition had just occurred.
They were both adults. They'd made a choice to make love without knowing each other. So why did he feel so off balance? Because he'd never done anything as crazy as that before!
"I need to check Mr Plescia's arms, then I'll be right with you." She flicked her glance away before he had the chance to smile at her, and walked across the room to her other patient.
This could get awkward.
He'd hoped he would see her again, but he'd had to leave the party in a rush when his charge nurse, Carmen, had beeped and alerted him that Patrick had been admitted into an ER fifty miles away in Irvine with a full-blown asthma attack. That had been the Saturday night before his ex had left for Englandhis last weekend of freedom before becoming a full-time father againand he'd acted like a crazed college student at a frat party. But, damn, he'd been angry with Maureen for pulling another stunt, and nervous about having his son come to live with him, and, well, he'd decided to cut loose. Not much to be proud of.
After the news about Patrick's asthma attack, he'd been so distracted he'd forgotten to ask for her full name or to get her phone number. It was an easy stretch to assume she thought he'd used her. In a way he had. He regretfully shook his head. Damn, he was out of practice. The least he could have done was found out where she worked and called her.
Well, surprise! She worked in Allergy, five stories up from the ER and located in the adjoining clinic wing of Mercy's large campus.
Patrick squeezed his hand. "I don't want to do this test."
"We've got to find out what keeps setting off your asthma, Patrick."
"What if it hurts?"
"I'll ask the nurse to be extra-gentle." The comment seemed to work as Patrick now studied the nurse with his pewter-colored pleading eyes.
The diminutive allergist nodded her head as she meticulously wrote on a green sheet and signed the allergy testing forms.
"Beth, do a complete panel and throw in all of the foods we have. I know it's late, but I'll be sure you get overtime pay." She motioned for Gavin and Patrick to sit behind the patient interview counter. "I'll be in my office."
A huge blip crossed Beth's radar screen. This was the man from the party last month! His eyes had worked better than a hypnotist's watch while they'd stood assessing each other in the hallway at that resident's party that night, and she'd definitely been entranced by him. He'd felt so good pressing against her, good height, firm muscles spanning his chest and arms. They'd shared a first and second kiss as if a slow-motion magnet had been between them. And then
After a sudden full body blush, her heart sank to her toes, along with all her blood. There he stood, arms folded, long wide stance, narrow hips, his sturdy, muscular frame covered in faded green ER scrubs and a white coat. And how could she forget his close-cropped brown hair? She'd run her hands through it countless times that night.
Do not blush again.
They'd made crazy love in a secluded room at the party, and now she couldn't even tell if he recognized her.
Gavin had looked surprised when she'd cut him down with her killer glance in front of his son, but that's what he deserved for not having the decency to remember who she was. It hurt to think she'd been that insignificant to him. But what else was new when it came to the men in her life?
To his credit, he did look a bit confused. Or chagrined. She should be offended, right? He had been the one to seduce her. She chose to ignore the fact that she'd been a willing and enthusiastic accomplice and had thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.
He covered her mouth with a soft, warm kiss and teased her with tiny flicks of his tongue that managed to feather all the way down to her toes. She inhaled his steamy breath and parted her lips, tasting spearmint and spirits. And just when she let herself give in, he made an abrupt break away, a decisive look in his eyes. A firm grip circled her wrist. He tugged her down the hall to a room. A bedroom. Woozy from the combination of his mesmerizing kiss and peach daiquiris, she followed, knowing exactly what she was doing.
Intense, sexy eyes drilled into her when they reached the door. Decision time. Speak now or forever hold her peace. Beth hadn't felt this alive in years
Her heart jittered with the memory. A quick reality check helped her realize it was time to "forever hold her peace". Some things were best left forgotten.
He hadn't even asked for her phone number when he'd gotten beeped and had run out on her. How cold had that been? Two could play at this game. If he pretended not to remember her, she'd do the same.
All business, she ignored Gavin and bent to talk to Patrick. "My name's Bethany. I'll be your nurse for the testing today. OK?" She noticed the purple and gold basketball jersey he wore with the number twenty-four on it. "Lakers fan, huh?" The boy's eyes brightened and he smiled shyly and nodded. "Me, too." She took his hand. "Is this the shirt you wear when you need a little extra courage?"
"Don't worry, everything will be fine. Follow me."
She walked briskly toward the testing area, the boy's moist, floppy hand in hers, and forced herself to speak in a steady, soothing voice. "So what brings you to the clinic?"
"When he was a baby he had twitchy lungs." Gavin broke in. "Then for several years he was fine. Now he's started with full-blown asthma attacks again." He looked thoughtfully at his son, as if they both knew when and why the new onset of asthma had started.
"I don't want to get tested, Dad." He squirmed, his face screwed up, and tears leaked from his squinted eyes.
"Patrick, you can do this, son." He gently put his hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Maybe your father should get tested, too." She wasn't above stealth attacks.
The boy stopped protesting, and looked curiously up at his father.
Picking up on her suggestion, Gavin cast a wry glance her way and said, "Yeah. Sure. I'll go through it with you." Though he lacked obvious enthusiasm.
"The testing?" Patrick questioned in a high voice.
"Yup. We'll do it together." This time he sounded more convincing, and Beth managed to keep a straight face. Sweet revenge.
Patrick glanced cautiously at her. She smiled and lifted her brows. "What do you say?" Though Gavin did seem sincere, she tried not to credit him with any heroics. After all, she'd left him no way out.
An impish grin erupted on the boy's face, the first bright expression she'd seen from him since he'd shown up. His father nodded. "OK."
Pleased with her successful manipulation, she gave Gavin a cheeky smile. "Looks like you're on."
She gestured for Gavin and Patrick to take their seats. "Have either of you ever been tested for allergies before?"
Gavin stared at her mouth with a distracted subtle smile, while watching her talk.
Patrick's attention had been diverted to the television in the waiting room. As though on cue they both realized she'd asked them something. "What?" they said in unison.
"Pay attention, guys. I'm on overtime and we need to get this show on the road."
"Could you repeat the question, please?" Gavin's gaze drifted from her mouth back up to her glare.
Deep-set, molasses-colored eyes almost penetrated Beth's composure when she made the mistake of looking into them. Her mind went blank. An awkward staring contest ensued. Her breathing quickened. She cleared her throat. "I said, have either of you been tested for allergies before?"
"Never," he said, without releasing her from his stare.
A blush threatened. Beth willed it to stop, a futile endeavor. She ran a hand through her hair, wishing she'd fixed herself up a bit more today. Why hadn't she worn any make-up? Right, she had been running late this morning, feeling a bit queasy after her morning coffee. Obviously she'd made it too strong and her stomach had been out of sorts all day because of it. Come to think of it, she'd been feeling under the weather since last week.
"Dr Metha has ordered a lot of tests." She strode to the cabinet and removed two hospital gowns: one adult and one pediatric-sizedand discreetly glanced at Gavin's chest when she handed them over. She couldn't miss a soft patch of hair below his neck at the V of his hospital scrub top. "You'll both need to undress from the waist up. You know the drill, opening to the back."
He lifted his top over his head before she had a chance to close the curtain. A charming, boyish grin covered his face, though that wasn't where her eyes concentrated as he stood before her half-naked. She recalled how quickly he'd gotten undressed the last time they'd met. "I'm ready."
She wasn't. Beth couldn't help noticing the fine line of dark hair beginning at his trim waist and sprinkling upward across his substantial chest. She remembered how it had tickled her cheek. Her face went hot. She lifted her gaze and shot him a warning look for teasing her so openly in front of his son.
"Why don't you help Patrick with his gown?" she asked, distracted. "After that, you can sign these consents. I'll be back." She tossed the papers on the table and left before he could notice how much he'd affected her. But she suspected it was too latehow could he not have noticed?
"I'll be vaiting." His Arnold Schwarzenegger imitation wasn't half-bad.
She strode to the refrigerator and removed three trays of testing antigens, trying her best to steady her nerves.