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"I'm beginning to think there should be a special place in the wedding ceremony for the bride's obstetrician," Dr. Paige Brennan said as she washed up following surgery.
"I'm glad you'll be there Saturday, even though I'm nowhere near my due date." Erica Benford, the nurse who had assisted during the operation, beamed at her. Ever since announcing her engagement, she'd been glowing brightly enough to illuminate the entire Safe Harbor Medical Center complex.
The June bride was a mere four months along. Paige hoped her pregnancy turned out as well as that of Dr. Nora Franco, who had marched down the aisle exactly a year earlier at the same stage of pregnancy, also with Paige in attendance. Five months later, Paige had delivered Nora's darling little boy.
Weddings might be beautiful, but in Paige's opinion, babies were in a class by themselves. She hoped her friends didn't guess how fiercely she wished she were the one carrying a child-to-be.
As for the man waiting at the altar, Paige considered him optional. With the modern technology available through Safe Harbor's fertility program, a woman could choose the father of her baby anonymously, confident that he'd been screened for his medical and psychological health. She had a choice of his physical characteristics, interests and accomplishments, too.
With any luck She stopped her hand from drifting to her abdomen.
This was the hopeful part of the month. Her first insemination hadn't produced results, but you couldn't expect to get pregnant in one try. And her period was two days late. Maybe this time
"I can't wait to see Lock in a tuxedo," Erica chattered on. Her fiance, a private detective appropriately named Sherlock, was devoted to her and to their developing baby, eagerly attending every appointment and peppering Paige with questions.
"I'm sure he'll look smashing, but everyone's eyes will be on the bride," Paige reminded her. "You are taking a few days off to get ready, aren't you?"
"How can I? We've got a packed surgical schedule."
"It's only Tuesday. I'm sure the hospital could arrange a substitute on Thursday and Friday."
"And let everyone down? As it is, I'll be gone for a week." Erica was nothing if not dedicated. "I feel guilty staying away that long."
"Take my advice. Enjoy your honeymoon and don't give a second thought to work," Paige advised. "Speaking as your doctor, I don't want you to push yourself too hard. Turn off your cell phone, ignore your email and tell Lock to do the same."
"He might have cases pending," Erica countered.
"Let his brother handle it." Paige waved a hand dismis-sively, scattering droplets of water. "Oh, sorry."
"Lock and Mike are partners in the agency," Erica noted. "They both have obligations. And our financial future is partly tied up in its success."
"It's your honeymoon. Don't let anyone or anything intrude. Where are you going, anyway?" Quickly Paige added, "Or it might be a good idea to keep that a secret."
"The Grand Canyon," Erica said blithely. "Then we're going to spend a few days in Las Vegas."
"Sounds like fun. Just be sure to rest when you feel tired."
"Yes, Doctor!" The nurse grinned.
"Glad you agree." Paige dried off and went out, buoyed by Erica's high spirits.
In the hallway, she passed a suite set aside for the fertility project. The hospital in this small Southern California beach community had been revamped a few years ago to specialize in treating women and babies, and the fertility program was its centerpiece. When plans to acquire a separate building for those services fell through, the specialized labs and other facilities had been installed throughout the existing hospital, including the sperm collection rooms here on the second floor.
This place had special meaning for Paige. A meaning that was very private and filled with promise.
She rounded a corner and halted abruptly, her good mood fading. What was he doing here?
As detective Mike Aaron fiddled with something on the staff bulletin board located by the nurses' station, he didn't appear to notice Paige. Although tempted to change course and slip off without speaking, she refused to be intimidated, even by a six-foot-four guy who was presumably packing a gun beneath his sports jacket. At six feet herself, Paige could hold her own.
Mike glanced over. Surprise flickered in his steely eyes. "Ah. We meet again."
"That bulletin board is for staff. You shouldn't be reading it." To her embarrassment, Paige realized he might be posting some announcement about the bridal couple, at whose wedding he would serve as best man. "Unless this relates to staff."
"Just passing by." In that cocky grin, she saw a hint of smartaleck adolescence, although he had to be in his mid-thirties. He ought to adopt a grown-up attitude to match that hard, muscular body of his.
Not that she knew him very well, aside from the fact that he was Lock Vaughn's foster brother, but in a small town like Safe Harbor, it was hard to avoid running into people. The first time they'd met, a year ago at Nora's wedding, he'd rudely referred to Paige as an Amazon. Then at the beach, he'd ambled away from a party to comment on how a redhead like her needed to wear more sunscreen. Last month at the supermarket, he'd appeared out of nowhere, scanned her cart and informed her that a doctor ought to have the sense to buy more vegetables and less pasta.
Her bossy oldest sister, Juno, would have ordered Paige to give thanks for having a man interested in her. Their middle sister, Maeve, would probably claim the universe was throwing him in Paige's path. Thank goodness they were both in Texas and, for the past six months, had left Paige alone. Which was exactly what she wished Mike Aaron would do.
"I don't know what's running through your mind but it looks interesting," he said.
"Nothing that concerns you." Not exactly a lie. Her thoughts were none of his business, even if he did figure into them.
"Are you sure about that?" Mike made no attempt to hide the way his gaze swept her tan blouse beneath the white coat, down the length of her slacks to the brown sling-backs decorated with a row of tiny shells. "Unusual shoes. Quite a beach girl, aren't you?"
"Just because I ran into you there once "
"Wearing a memorable bikini," Mike murmured.
And he 'd been wearing a memorable pair of tight trunks. No place to hide a gun under those, she thought, and felt her cheeks burn at the thought.
"Redheads shouldn't blush," Mike remarked. "It shows all over." He was focusing on the thin line of chest visible beneath her V-neck.
"I suppose blonds like you never blush." The moment the words were out, she heard how lame they sounded.
"I consider my hair light brown."
"Whatever." It was sandy, in her opinion, but she refrained from any further comments about his appearance. The man already thought the world revolved around him.
Then she spotted the slip of paper in his hand. It had obviously been torn from the ad for a housemate that she'd posted on the board, and it held her phone number.
Following the direction of her gaze, Mike hoisted the slip like a trophy. "What a pleasant discovery that you live half a block from the beach. I love the sea breeze and the sound of the ocean."
"So?" She folded her arms.
"For some inexplicable reason, my current roommate is kicking me out of the house. Something about him and his bride wanting privacy."
Oh, rats. "I'm looking for a female roommate," Paige improvised.
"It doesn't say that."
"It's implied." Actually, it hadn't been, until now.
"What happened to your old roommate?" he asked, ignoring her comment.
"She couldn't take the noise. The place next door is a summer rental and the people throw a lot of parties." She decided against mentioning the halfway house for convicted drug abusers that had recently opened down the block, over the objections of those residents who occupied their own properties. That would only give Mike an opening to point out that it might be handy to have a man with a gun on the premises.
Not this man, with or without a gun.
"I don't mind noise," he replied. "I can afford the rent. And I'll bet I could charm the socks off your landlord."
"Why do you say that?"
"Landlords love renting to security experts."
"I'm the landlord," Paige said. "I own the place."
Mike barely blinked before barreling onward. "Tell me about the bedrooms. Better yet, how about a tour?"
The guy's nerve knew no bounds. "Get your own apartment," she snapped. "Preferably a two-bedroom so there'll be room for both of you."
"I know I'll regret asking this butboth of who?"
"You and your ego." She hated letting this man get to her, but the crack about touring the bedrooms was too much.
Instead of answering, he toyed with the slip of paper. She mulled the possibility of snatching it from his hand and decided the effort would be undignified.
Besides, even though he had her phone number, Mike wouldn't dare harass her. If he did, Paige would file a restraining order. Assuming the guy had a concealed-weapon license, he'd be in big trouble.
"You really do think the most interesting things," he observed. "I tried to count the expressions that fleeted across your face but I ran out of fingers."
"While I'd love to stand here discussing my facial contortions, I have patients to see." Actually, she had half an hour to spare and the medical office building was right next door, but it seemed a good excuse to end this conversation.
"See you Saturday," Mike said cheerfully. "Save me a dance."
That surprised her. He hadn't danced with anyone at Nora's wedding, which she'd noticed because she was curious about how such a big guy moved. "I don't think so."
"You don't know how to dance?"
"Of course I do!" She rarely got a chance, though. Too few guys felt comfortable dancing with a woman her height.
"Wear something pretty. People tend to stare when a couple of giants like us take the floor."
"Oh, rats. I was planning to wear scrubs to the wedding," she shot back.
Mike grinned. "Make it a slow dance. I'm sure we'll both enjoy it."
"I haven't said yes."
"It's against the law to blow off the best man." He tucked the paper into his pocket. "See you Saturday." And off he strolled.
Paige felt as if steam might shoot out of her ears. It galled her that he'd gotten the last word. And that, as he well knew, she could hardly snub him in front of friends and colleagues.
Well, what difference did it make if they took a turn around the dance floor? As for moving into her house, he didn't have a prayer.
If the universe was throwing Mike Aaron into Paige's life, the universe had better get over it.