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He could have heard a pin drop.
Dr. Marcos Pinheiro began the slow, rhythmic countdown in his head as he waited for the patient on the other side of his desk to react.
Her hands slowly tightened on the armrests of the white leather chair.
One two three four fi-
"N-no more tumor? Are you sure?"
He nodded. "Your latest CT scan came back all clear. No signs of regrowth on your pituitary, gragas a Deus. And your hormone levels are back within the normal range."
He kept his voice low and soothing, knowing she'd braced herself for bad news and was now struggling to process the fact that her worst fears were not going to be realized.
"Gragas a Deus," she repeated, making a quick sign of the cross over her chest.
Fifty-nine years old, with two children and three grandchildren, Graciela Abrigo might have been any number of patients he'd seen over the last several weeks. But she wasn't. And his little invocation of thanking God wasn't one he often made-especially not when talking to his patients.
But Graciela was special. She'd worked in the orphanage where Marcos had grown up-had put up with a lot of crap and acting out from him when his brother had been ripped from his side and adopted by some nameless family. He could still see the flash of fear in Lucas's young eyes.
"Watch your brother."
Bile rose, and he swallowed hard to rid himself of the taste.
He still didn't know what had happened to Lucas. No one by that name had shown up on any of Brazil's registries that he could find-then again, he probably had a new last name now.
But Graciela had assured him that the couple who had come for his brother had been nice. Kind. She'd seen it in their eyes. Lucas would have had a good home. "Gragas a Deus," she'd murmured, in a voice much like the one she'd just used.
As kind as this mysterious couple had supposedly been, they hadn't wanted Marcos. Hadn't seemed to care that they'd separated brothers who had still been reeling from their father's death six months after the fact.
He shook himself free of the anger that still had the power to wind around his gut and jettison him twenty-nine years into the past.
It was over. Those years were long gone.
Forcing a smile, he stood and rounded the desk. Graciela had been there for him when no one else had. And he was glad he'd been able to play a small part in doing something for her in return.
Because Marcos Pinheiro always repaid his debts.
And he always kept his promises.
Graciela stood as well and embraced him, cupping his cheeks and kissing his right one in customary Sao Paulo fashion.
The click of the door opening behind him sounded just as she said, "I have to get back to the home. Thank you, Markinho. For everything."
His smile this time was genuine, even as he tried not to wince at her use of his childhood nickname. "I haven't heard that in ages."
"Then it is time. You will always be little Markinho to me."
Turning to walk her to the door, the smile died on his lips when he saw who'd come into his office. Ah, hell.
His mind blanked out all thoughts of Lucas and the past. Hopefully she hadn't heard Graciela's parting shot.
Because Markinho was not the image he wanted to project to those working under him. Especially not to a certain fiery-haired American who'd been "under" him in more ways than one. Actually, she'd been on top, if he wanted to get really technical about it.
Which he didn't. All he wanted to do was forget it had ever happened.
He saw his patient out and then slowly shut the door, turning to lean against it.
Dr. Maggie Pfeiffer. All long legs, luscious curves and cool, collected efficiency.
"Posso te ajudar?" Marcos spoke English fluently, having made it a point to drill it ruthlessly into his head as he'd attended med school, knowing it was a necessity in today's medical fields. But he chose to address Maggie in Portuguese-though she still struggled at times with the language, even after six months at the hospital.
"Oh urn." After a moment's hesitation, she worked through her answer. "Yes. I have a question about one of our patients's treatment."
He'd been slowly letting out the reins and giving Maggie more responsibility, especially with international patients. Which served as a blessing, since it gave him some breathing space-time when he wasn't constantly aware of her scent of the soft, sexy accent when she spoke his language.
The memory of her straddling his hips in the cramped confines of his car as they'd hammered out all the reasons she should be careful about using certain hand gestures caused a visceral reaction low in his gut. One that came on so fast he had to grit his teeth to fight his way through it.
Beads of sweat broke out on his upper lip as the images of that day swept over him. Get past it, Marcos.
Forcing his thoughts back to the here and now, he focused on a safer subject: her language abilities.
She was doing well, but there were still treatment methods she wasn't familiar with words she struggled to translate in her head. And hearing her refer to his patient in a joint sense made something in his stomach shift. His eyes followed suit, moving lower for a split second to where Maggie's fingers were unconsciously fiddling with one of the buttons on her silky green blouse. Just below the swell of her breasts. Breasts that had filled his hands to perfection.
He dragged his gaze back to her face. "Which patient are you referring to?"
"What's the question?" He pushed away from the door and took a step closer, his eyes narrowing when Maggie moved back a pace, her bottom hitting the edge of his desk. She glanced down at the wooden surface in surprise then reached back and gripped it with both hands, sending all kinds of images ricocheting through his skull.
Very bad images. Of him. And her
And that desk.
"You have her physical therapy scheduled for once a week. But she's handling it well. Should we bump it up a bit and be a little more aggressive?"
He struggled to remember the patient's diagnosis, closing his eyes to pull up a physical description of the young woman. Marcos had always been a visual learner, committing things to memory in a way that most people couldn't. There'd been no books at their house, so he and his brother had both become adept at memorizing images and then trying to outdo the other.
He wondered if Lucas could still.
It didn't matter. Nothing did, except keeping his mind trained on the task at hand.
"Where's her chart?" She'd come into the room empty-handed, which was unusual. The woman was nothing if not meticulously efficient. Even the way she'd made love had been a study in efficiency-not a movement wasted. Not a sound made. Only the reflexive closing of her eyes as she'd lowered herself onto him one final time, the tightening of her hands on his shoulders and the sudden soft convulsions of her body telling him that she'd climaxed.
And her frieza, that cool, aloof manner that seemed so at odds with someone who had hair the color of burning embers had made the experience even hotter. Made him want to break through that icy wall and make her lose all control.
His body reacted again, and he took a steadying breath as he waited for her answer.
"Ana is in PT right now. I thought we might go and see her together."
"Together " His brow lifted. "Right now?" Why he felt the need to goad her was a mystery. Maybe it was irritation at the reaction she seemed to draw from him every time she was near.
Maggie's lips parted, her teeth sinking deep into the lower one.
Okay, so maybe his thoughts weren't the only ones edging toward a very dangerous cliff. Although that might not be a good thing because he might just be tempted to leap over the edge, and take her with him.
"I would like us to go and see her. Together." Said as if she needed to clarify what she wanted to do with him.
"Graciela was my last patient until after lunch, so." He put a hand on the doorknob and pulled, the normal chaotic sounds of the hospital slipping through the opening and grounding him.
Just like they always did.
Silence was not his friend. Marcos was used to sound. Lots of it. His earliest memories were of his home in the favela, where the thin walls and corrugated metal roof had done nothing to dampen the sounds of life and death. And afterwards, the orphanage where he'd been raised had been a boiling caldron of activity, the noise levels sometimes rising to the point where his ears had rung.
Which made Maggie's quiet manner and even quieter lovemaking seem otherworldly.as if a cool marble statue carved by some gifted sculptor had come to life. What would she think of his world? His background?
Not something he wanted to dwell on.
"After you." He motioned toward the open door.
"Oh. So you'll see her?"
"That is what you were asking me to do." He allowed the corners of his mouth to lift as his gaze trailed across her pale skin. "Isn't it?"
She colored, right on cue. His lips edged higher. At least that was one reaction he could wring from her. There were things that even Maggie Pfeiffer couldn't hide. The pucker of her nipples as he'd unbuttoned her blouse and let his fingers trail over her skin. The moist heat he'd discovered at the apex of those lean thighs as he'd pushed deep inside her.
"Yes. Of course it was." She let go of the desk and slid her palms down the fabric of her grey pencil skirt, drawing his attention once again to areas he should avoid. At all costs.
She swished by him, the economy of her steps matching everything else he knew of her. Maggie didn't waste her time on things that weren't important.
Like her own wants and needs?
Maybe that's why she'd fascinated him from the time he'd laid eyes on her all those months ago.
Brazilians were a hot people. And he'd grown up in an atmosphere where that heat had been fanned by the winds of desperation. People in the favelas clawed out happiness wherever they found it and devoured it whole. You didn't wait to be asked. You took. Eased whatever pain you had whether it was in your belly or in your loins.
And right now that pain was definitely south of his stomach.
But he'd sworn to himself that Maggie was off-limits from now on. He'd had her once.
And that had been more than enough.
Maggie's legs were a quivering mass of nerves, but she forced them to keep moving down the long hospital corridor to keep her body in motion. If she didn't stop, he wouldn't see her shake.
What the hell was it about the man that intimidated her? What was it about those brown eyes that made her insides heat?
Just because he reminded her of the dark knight from her dreams who came to rescue her from those horrible nights that seemed to never end- the ones where she tried so hard to keep quiet- was no excuse. Which was probably why she'd fallen prey to Marcos in the first place.
No. Prey was the wrong term. It had been nothing like that. Nothing like those nights from her past.
How she'd ended up kissing Marcos as they'd discussed a cultural mistake she'd made was still foggy in her head. Maybe it was some strange, unknown effect of embarrassment. One minute they'd been in his car in the staff parking garage, getting ready to drive to the apartment the hospital had secured for her. Nervous, she'd dropped her water bottle, and it had rolled into the well by his feet.
As they'd both leaned down to retrieve it, their cheeks had brushed, and heat had bloomed inside her. Marcos's head had come up as if he'd sensed her reaction, his brown eyes staring deep into hers. The rest had been a blur of movement. A hot, fast shifting of clothes. His hands on her hips, lifting her up and over him, undoing the buttons of her blouse-she swallowed hard-sliding into her. Her body's instant response.
The whole thing had probably been over in less than five minutes.
The repercussions, though, were still with her a month later.
The only thing she knew with certainty about that day was that it had been a mistake.
A lapse that could never happen again. He was a doctor. Her boss, for all practical purposes, even though she carried the same title he did.
Why had she been so bewitched by him? She should be used to Brazilians by now. Her hospital in New Jersey had had a high concentration of them, so many that she'd often grown frustrated by the language barrier and had struggled to understand cultural norms so different from her own.
When a chance had opened up to come to Brazil to intern under a world-renowned neurosurgeon, she'd fought to be included in the program. And had won the coveted spot.
All she needed was to ruin it by letting the man's deadly good looks get beneath her skin.
Like she'd already done a month ago?
She quickened her pace, trying to outrun the memories.
That had been a moment of weakness. She'd been insecure in the language and had used a hand gesture with a patient that had sexual connotations. Marcos had shot her a look, eyes narrowed in speculation before swooping in and correcting her faux pas. And later that day, in the darkened interior of his car, he'd shown her exactly what that misused signal meant.
And he'd been loud. So loud.
She swallowed, her stomach quaking at the memory.
But just because she'd made one mistake, that didn't mean she should follow it up with another. She was a smart woman, not a shrinking, naive teenager-at least, not any more. She'd already seen what Dr. Markinho wanted from her.
And it certainly wasn't her expertise in the exam room.
Which was why she needed to keep that cold shoulder aimed squarely at the man following behind her. Except, judging from the way her butt was growing warmer by the second, she had a feeling the good doctor was looking anywhere but at her shoulder. "Here we are."
Thank God. She turned to face him at the glass door of the physical therapy room. Damn. Maybe she'd been wrong. He looked perfectly in control, just like he always did-not a dark hair out of place, although a few streaks of grey had gathered at his temples, like clouds before a storm. And the man's gaze was definitely glued to her face, not the slightest twitch of eyes wandering to other places.
Maybe she'd been imagining things.
Or worse wishing.
"Marcos! Earth to Marcos!"
Cool fingers covered his eyes, and someone gave him a quick peck on top of the head, which almost caused him to lose his grip on his first real cup of coffee of the day. For a split second he thought it was Maggie who'd kissed him.
He gave a soft curse, then twisted his head sideways to dislodge the person's hands. "Sophia, this is not the place."
"Nossa Senhora. You're so grouchy nowadays."