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"That bridesmaid keeps checking you out. Do you know her?"
"Who?" Matthew Cooper turned from the huge skyline window, transferring his attention from the stunning seventy-eighth-floor view of Queensland's Surfers Paradise to his sister, Paige. Her familiar teasing grin remained firmly in place as he gave a cursory glance at the impressively decked-out bridal party. The group of six was slowly making the rounds as a glorious sunset illuminated the aptly named Sunlight Room, Q-Deck's premier reception area.
"The redhead," Paige answered.
He shrugged, snagged a glass of champagne from the passing waiter's tray, then went back to the commanding view. "I don't know anyone here. The happy couple are your clients."
Paige frowned. "And you're depressing me. It's a wedding, Matt. A celebration of love. Loosen up a little. Have a bit of fun." She scanned the crowd again. "Go and chat up a bridesmaid."
He raised one eyebrow, jammed a hand into his pants pocket and took a slow sip from his glass. "The redhead?"
"She is definitely interested."
Matt murmured something noncommittal.
Paige sighed. "You are one sad guy. Here you are, thirty-six, prime of your life, attractive, single, excruciatingly rich"
"And still work-obsessed," she concluded as she watched him check his phone for the third time in half an hour. "I thought you left Saint Cat's to get away from that."
He frowned. "Running GEM is totally different."
"Hmm " Paige's brown eyes blinked as she popped an appetizer in her mouth, then held up her palms, indicating scales. "On the one hand, heart surgery. On the other, running an international global rescue company." She tipped one hand down, the other up. "Saving lives for the family businessparents overjoyed. Training emergency medical response teams in developing countriesparents pissed off."
"I'm still saving lives, Paige. And I don't need you on my case, too."
"Seeing nasty, lying ex-wife every few weeks." One of Paige's palms dropped. "Skiving off to exotic locations and even more exotic women." Her other hand shot up as she smiled. "Yet you're still not happy."
"You're not." She touched his arm. "I may live in London but I still know you."
Before he could answer, the bridal party shifted, a solid mass of movement and noise flowing in a singular wave.
It was Friday night in the middle of an unseasonably warm August, and instead of finalizing project details before he flew out to Perth on Monday, he was in a room full of strangers, celebrating the union of two people so obviously in love it was kind of nauseating.
A vague, irrational anger swept over him. The last wedding he'd attended had been his ownand look how that had turned out.
People parted to reveal the newlyweds, Emily and Zac Prescott, sharing a grinning kiss. As the guests cheered, Matthew's jaw tightened, uncomfortable emotions welling in his throat. Why the hell had he agreed to be Paige's plus-one?
"Your ring looks good," he said to Paige, who'd fallen silent.
"As if you can tell from this distance." Still, she visibly preened as they both studied the intricate, handmade Paige Cooper diamond band on Emily's ring finger. "Look," she added, sharply elbowing him in the arm. "There's the redhead."
The woman in question was partially hidden by Emily's dress. Her head was turned, body angled away so he could only make out the sweep of neck and bare shoulders, the fiery red hair bundled up in a sleek knot at her nape.
Then she moved and a spear of golden sunlight sharpened her profile.
He gasped as everything went out of focus.
"You know her?" Paige asked sharply.
"No. Excuse me for a moment." Ignoring Paige's frown, he shoved his glass into her hand and moved purposely forward.
She was five feet away, lagging behind the rest of the wedding party and talking to a smooth-looking guy. He paused, head spinning as the past flooded in to seize his senses. Angelina Jayne ReynoldsAJ. Angel, he'd whispered in her ear, deep in the throes of passion as she'd writhed beneath him. The nickname suited her. From her pale ethereal skin, long elegant limbs and ice-blue eyes, to the deep auburn shock of hair that tumbled down her back in flaming waves, she was a mixture of heaven and hell all rolled into one. A woman who'd set his blood boiling with her joyous laugh and come-hither grin. A woman who'd driven him crazy for six whole months, burned up his sheets, then walked out of his life without a word. It had taken him close to a year to forget that.
But you didn't really forget, did you?
He knew the moment she sensed him staring. Her back straightened and then her shoulders as she scanned the crowd with a faint frown. His gaze remained fixated on her nape, that spot where her gathered hair revealed vulnerable skin. He remembered kissing that spot, making her first giggle in delight, then sigh in rapturous pleasure .
Finally, she turned and the reality of all those missing years slammed into him, making the air whoosh from his lungs.
AJ had been gorgeous at twenty-three. But now she was breathtaking. Life and experience had sharpened her features, accentuating her jaw and chin. Creamy skin and high cheekbones emphasized those blue cat's eyes, the corners slanting up in a permanent air of mischief.
Then there was her mouth a luscious swell of warmth and seduction painted a glossy shade of magenta that conjured up all sorts of dirty images.
Finally, her gaze met his. It registered brief feminine appreciation, skipped away then snapped back to him in wide-eyed shock.
He couldn't help but smile.
Somehow, the distance between them disintegrated and he was suddenly standing right in front of her.
"AJ Reynolds. You look " He paused, only half aware of the noise and movement pulsing around them. "Good."
"Matthew Cooper." Her voice came out rushed, slightly breathy, stirring something he'd buried long ago. "It's been a long time."
"Nearly ten years."
She threaded her fingers in front of her, the perfect picture of demureness. He frowned, his eyes skimming over her elegant ice-blue dress, the small butterfly necklace at her throat, the tiny diamond stud earrings. Something was off.
"You're not used to seeing me dressed like this."
Visions of tangled sweaty limbs and hot breathless kisses caused a zing of desire to shoot through him. She must've sensed it because she quickly added, "I mean the gown."
With an inward curse, he got himself under control. "It is kind of."
Her mouth twisted as she glanced fleetingly across the room. "I know you don't know my sister. So how do you know Zac?"
The bride was her sister? "Through Paige Cooper." Her eyes widened. "The ring designer?"
"Your wife is very talented." She smiled politely.
"Ah." She glanced at the bridal party, her expression unreadable. "I didn't know you had a sister."
"There were lots of things we didn't talk about."
She simply nodded and smiled at a passing guest, her fingers still threaded in front of her.
Had she ever been this restrained? He remembered AJ as a colorful, passionate talker, using expression and movement to engage. But now it felt almost painfully polite.
Not surprising, considering how they'd parted.
He shoved his hands deep in his pockets.
"Well " She shot a glance past his shoulder and when he followed it, he spotted Zac and Emily being seated at the bridal table. Off to the side, Paige was deep in conversation with a blinged-out teenager. "It was nice seeing you, Matthew."
"Wait," he said, curling his fingers around her arm. She stilled, her eyes snapping up to his, and he quickly released her. "Can I buy you a drink?"
She gave a slight laugh. "We have an open bar."
"Later." He held her gaze pointedly.
"No, I don't think so," she said, her smile slowly fading.
"A dance, then."
Her directness startled him for one second before he remembered that it was just one of her many appealing traits. "Because I'd like to."
What the hell was he doing? The rational part of his brain was telling him to just let her go. But the unsatisfied, some-thing's-missing part that had survived his marriage's collapse and last week's agonizing new client contract negotiations egged him on.
AJ wasn't a part of his reality. She was a bright memory from his pastan idealistic, purposeful past full of ambition for the future. She was the beach, short shorts, laughter and sensual lovemaking. His present was vastly different. It was endless meetings and lonely foreign countries, the occasional life-threatening situation, a deceitful ex-wife and nosy parents who just couldn't let the past go. He couldn't let her leave. Not yet.
"A dance," he repeated, fixing her with a firm look.
She studied him in silence. Odd. Wasn't this the woman who gave new meaning to impulsive? Yet now she seemed downright cautious.
"Matthew, I'm being as polite as possible, given we're at my sister's wedding. But let me make this clearI do not want to drink or dance with you. Now if you'll excuse me "
She smiled, then turned on her heel and headed over to the bridal table, leaving him speechless and frowning in her wake.
He glared at her gently swaying backside and the swish of ice-blue skirts billowing around her ankles.
Huh. Guess she's still pissed off with you, then.
* * *
Two long hours crawled by, one hundred and twenty agonizing minutes in which AJ wished more than once she still drank alcohol. A champagne buzz would definitely help get her past this irritating awareness of her ex.
His hair is longer, she reflected as she ate dessert. The shaggy style lent a romantic air to his bold features: the wide Roman nose, the dark eyebrows framing dreamy chocolate-brown eyes, the firm jaw shaded with stubble and the dimpled chin. Oh, he was still lean and angular, with elegant hands and expressive eyes that reminded her of chivalrous knights and romantic poets from days gone by, but in those ten years he'd broadened and matured. It suited him.
Not only was he gorgeous and hyper-smart, he was also a doctor. An actual heart surgeon, for heaven's sake, every girl's McDreamy with a deep, soothing English accent that made her shiver. Yet no TV character could hold a candle to the reality that was Matthew Cooper.
Maybe it was the memory of their mutual past. A past based purely on sexthey hadn't been together long enough to crash and burn under the weight of inevitable relationship complications. Instead, Matthew had brutally cut her off at the knees.
Amazingly, she made it through her toast and then the official bridal party dance without a hitch. Her partner dutifully waltzed her around the dance floor as Zac and her sister glided by, smiling and whispering in that enviously intimate way of all newlyweds.
Eventually the DJ cranked up the music, the lights dimmed and everyone flocked to the dance floor. After refusing to dance with a chisel-jawed blond, she made her way to the bar and ordered a virgin cocktail.
"Having a good time, gorgeous?"The bartender grinned.
"Sure." She smiled halfheartedly.
He placed the drink in front of her, but when she reached for it his hand lingered, his gaze intent. "Hey, what do you say to"
Suddenly Matthew was there, easing onto the stool next to her, his polite smile aimed directly at the bartender. It was almost funny the way the other man yanked his hand away and quickly asked, "What can I get you, sir?" But when the bartender went to fix a coffee and Matt turned to face her, amusement was the last thing on her mind.
After the year she'd had, she was so not up to facing the man who'd dumped her nearly ten years ago.
AJ stared into her drink, watching the bubbles rise to the surface as she stirred it with the straw. She'd been good enough to have hot holiday sex with but not good enough to introduce to his parents or take out on an official date. To advertise as girlfriend material.
Ah, but it had been amazing sex.
The memories made her cheeks flush. With a small sigh she shoved the straw between her lips and took a sip, ignoring his gaze.
The bartender placed the coffee on the barespresso, no sugarand her eyes were drawn to Matt's long fingers curling around the cup. His scrutiny was beginning to unnerve her. Sure, he'd always been intense, examining things from every possible angle. It was part of what made him such a brilliant surgeon. But this this singular attention, as if he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing, was something different.
"Stop staring. I haven't changed that much," she finally said, irritated.
"You have." He lifted the cup to his lips and took a chug, then carefully replaced the cup on the saucer.
One eyebrow went up. "Fishing for compliments, AJ?"
His expression changed. "Yeah, I remember that about you. You look.. " He paused, and an inexplicable rush of anticipation stilled AJ's breath. "Thirty-two suits you," he finally said. "Very much."
Oh. Perversely disappointed, she took another sip of her drink and smiled politely. "Thank you."
"So how've you been?"
If you don't count my surgery, my screaming biological clock and the fertility clinic appointment tomorrow? "Fine." She eased off her chair and smiled once more, only this time it felt as if her face was about to crack. "Well. It was nice seeing you. Again. I" When he muttered something under his breath, she frowned. "Sorry?"
"I said, crap. What the hell's gotten into you, AJ? It wasn't 'nice' seeing me again and you know it. So stop faking."
AJ took a step back and crossed her arms, trying to rein in her irritation. "You know what? I'm not doing this with you. Not here, not now." And she abruptly turned and stalked off.
Her heels barely made a sound on the stucco dance floor, the thumping music drowning out everything except the anger in her head. She managed to dodge a handful of dancers, then a tipsy guest, before making it through an archway at the far end of the room. With a vicious yank she pulled a door open and stepped inside the luxurious foyer that led to the rest-rooms.
Pausing at one of the full-length mirrors, she stared at her reflection, then cupped her cheeks, heat flaring beneath her palms.
Matthew Cooper was an arrogant ass. He was a trust-fund kid with upper-crust parents and a British ancestry dating back to the Battle of Hastings. An insanely intelligent silverspooner who never knew what it was like to truly struggle, for a life, for control, for his next meal. He was the most self-centered, overbearing
No. This wasn't about him. Her life had been one insane rollercoaster ride since April: in the space of a week she'd gone from her normal checkup to being prepped for surgery to remove ovarian cysts. Determined to keep Emily's happy prewedding bubble intact, she'd told no one, but her luck had run out when she'd run into Zac at the hospital, where he'd been donating some huge sum to the children's ward and she'd been coming out of post-op. She'd sworn him to secrecy, but then the rat had insisted on paying for everything, including a week's recuperation at a private health facility.
It's highly unlikely you'll be able to bear a child, Miss Reynolds.