Now he's back—and even more irresistible than ever! But Tessa's life has changed drastically in the past four years. She's a mother now, to her adorable adopted daughter Poppy, and she needs more than a fleeting affair—she needs someone who can be a father…
Dare she dream that Drake's the one for her and for Poppy?
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They had made love for the last time with the evening sun laying strands of gold across them. It had been as good as it had always beensweet, wild and passionate. But there had been sadness inside Tessa because deep down she'd known it was the end of the affair, although neither of them were prepared to put into words that it was over.
It had been the agreement when they'd metno commitments, take what life offered and enjoy it. Wedding rings were a joke, brushed to one side with babies and mortgages. Having spent her young years amongst her parents' quarrelling, unfaithfulness and eventual divorce, she was wary of the kind of hurts that a gold band on the finger could bring.
So she'd kept her distance from the men she'd met until Drake Melford had appeared in her life and everything had changed. He hadn't asked anything of her except to make love and when they had it had been magical. There had been no suggestion of any kind of commitment and in the beginning she'd been totally happy.
The attraction between them had been intense. So much so that when they'd been together at either of their apartments they'd made love on the rug, the kitchen table, and even once on a park bench in moonlight when the place had been empty, giving no thought to the future. Only the present had mattered.
So what had gone wrong? Something had changed the magic into doubt and misgivings, telling her in lots of ways that it was over, and whenever she'd wanted to ask Drake what was happening to them there had been the 'no strings' pact that had made the words stick in her throat.
Her only comfort had been in knowing that she wasn't competing against another woman, that it was his career that was going to take him away from her, and ever since then Tessa had kept the memory of that time buried deep in one of the past chapters of her life.
But a fleeting glimpse of the back of a man's neck and the dark thatch of hair above it as he'd got into a taxi outside a London railway station had been a reminder that anything as memorable as the time she'd spent with Drake Melford would never stay buried.
She brushed a hand across her eyes as if to shut out a blinding light. It wasn't the first time she'd given in to wishful thinking, and she knew how hard she had to fight to keep sane once the raw and painful memories were allowed to intrude into the life she had worked so hard to build in Drake's absence.
She groaned softly and an old lady next to her in the taxi queue asked, 'Are you all right, dear?'
Managing a smile, Tessa told her that it was just a stitch in her side instead of a thorn in her heart.
It was a Friday. She was in London for an important meeting and at the moment of seeing the man at the front of the queue getting into the taxi her thoughts were on what lay ahead and any surprise announcements that might be made.
She'd travelled up from Gloucestershire, where she was employed for the yearly AGM that was held in the city, and intended on staying the night at a hotel and catching an early train back in the morning.
Horizons Eye Hospital was on the edge of the elegant town of Glenminster, with the green hills of the county looking down on it, and was renowned for its excellence in specialised treatment. Tessa was employed there in a senior management position and was deeply committed to every aspect of it.
She'd heard it said that the health service had more managers than doctors. Though she, of course, respected the fantastic work done by the medical teams, at least a doctor didn't have to get up in the middle of the night when a patient who had arrived with valuables in their possession and asked that they be put in the hospital safe was unexpectedly being discharged and wanted their belongings returned to them. As the only key holder, this meant a deal of trouble for Tess.
It had also been said that she must wish that her position there was more connected with healing than organising. But Tess had always believed that a clean, healthy and efficient facility with good, wholesome food did as much for a patient's recovery as the medical miracles performed there.
As her taxi pulled up outside the building where the meeting was to take place, she was remembering a veiled comment that the chairman of the hospital board had made to her.
The top consultant of the hospital was retiring, so would be saying his goodbyes at the AGM, and the chairman had remarked that, much as the hospital was already famous, the man who was to replace him was going to take it even higher on the scale of excellent ophthalmology. When she'd asked for a name he'd just smiled and said, 'All will be revealed at the AGM.'
And now here she was, still too bogged down with the past to be curious about the present, until she walked into the conference room and realised that this time she hadn't been wrong in thinking she'd seen him. Drake Melford was there, chatting to some of her colleagues in his usual relaxed manner. It was history repeating itself.
Tessa turned quickly and made her way to a powder room, where a face devoid of colour stared back at her from the mirror. She closed her eyes, trying to shut out what she'd seen out there, telling herself that she should have known it was Drake that she'd glimpsed at the taxi rank.
She'd caressed his neck countless times, pressing kisses on to the strong column of it, raking her fingers through the dark pelt of his hair But the meeting was due to start any moment and the chairman would not be expecting her to be skulking in the powder room.
The hospital board was already seated around a big oval table when she went back into the room, with Drake, the chairman and the retiring consultant seated centrally. When he saw her, Drake felt his heartbeat quicken and wished that their meetingafter what felt like a lifetime of regrethad been a more private one. But a part of him knew it was better this way, as a casual meeting of old friends, rather than Rather than what? he asked himself.
As she eased herself into a seat at the far end of the table, Tessa listened to what was being said as if it were coming from another planet.
The chairman was making a presentation to the retiring consultant, who was following it with a short farewell speech, and then Drake would be introduced to those who would be working with him at the famous hospital.
He received a warm welcome from the chairman, who described him as a local man, top of his field in ophthalmology, and who, having fulfilled his obligation to a Swiss clinic, had agreed to accept the position of chief consultant at the Horizons Hospital.
There was loud applause. Tessa joined in weakly. Then Drake was on his feet, speaking briefly about the pleasure of being back in the U.K. and how he was looking forward to being amongst them. For Tessa it was like a dream from which she was sure she would awaken at any moment.
After that, routine matters were discussed and soon the assembled members retired to a nearby hotel where an evening meal had been arranged for all those present.
So far the two of them hadn't spoken, but when she was chatting to one of the members of the hospital board, Drake went past with some of the bigwigs and called across, 'Hi, Tessa. You're still around, I see.'
She made no reply, just smiled a tight smile at the thought of being referred to as part of the fixtures and fittings. It was hardly the reunion her fevered brain had imagined during all those nights of tossing and turning.
As the evening wore on it seemed that quite a few of those at the meeting were booked in at the hotel for the night, Drake amongst them. Every time she thought of him being under the same roof she had to pinch herself to believe it.
Leaving most of them settled in the bar after they'd eaten, she went to her room and tried to come to terms with the day's events. The first time she'd met him had been mesmerising and today had been no different, though for a different reason, she thought, lying wide-eyed against the pillows.
The most mind-blowing thought was that after three years of being denied his presence, she would now be seeing him on a daily basis. How was she going to cope with that? Their agreement had made it easy for him to leave her when the opportunity for a promotion had landed at his feet, and there had been no word of any kind from him since he'd left. Not one. And now they would be colleagues again. Tessa groaned into her pillow.
Drake had gone to his hotel room shortly after her and there was no smile on his face now. When he'd received the offer to work in Switzerland everything else had faded into the background. It had been a chance to improve his expertise and he'd been so keen to get over there he had given no thought to what he and Tessa had shared, so obsessed had he been with his own affairs.
It had only been as the months had become years without her that he'd realised what he'd lost in his arrogance. Too much time had passed for him to get in touch with her again, and he had felt what? Regret? Shame?
For all he knew, she might be married with a couple of little ones, he'd told himself whenever the desire to be with her had surfaced. He'd hoped it wouldn't stop him from making amends if the opportunity ever presented itself, and almost as if the fates had read his mind had come news of the vacancy at Horizons Hospital. Discovering that Tessa was now a senior manager at the hospital was only an additional bonus, he told himself.
He'd been anticipating her arrival at the meeting and observed the dismay in her expression when she'd seen him. There would be no warm welcome or happy reunion.
Then, fool that he was, he had made it a certainty by the patronising manner in which he'd greeted her when the meeting was over, as if she had been stagnating while he'd been on top of the world. Some of the Swiss Alps had actually seemed like the top of the world, but he'd had no chance to explore them because he'd always been too busy fulfilling his contract. He could no longer deny that he had been hoping for a different homecoming, and was plagued by flashes of memory of how things had once been between them.
In her room just down the corridor Tessa was also remembering when she and Drake had first met. It had been at a hospital staff meeting when he'd come to talk about some advances he had made in his work.
She'd arrived not intending staying long as her job was in Administration, but had been curious to see the man who was making a name for himself in eye surgery.
He'd been chatting laughingly to a group of nurses who'd been hanging on his every word as they'd waited for the meeting to begin, and Tess had been struck by dark good looks.
Having seen her arrive, he'd stepped to one side to get a better look and from the way his glance had kindled she'd known that he'd liked what he'd been seeing. Slim, elegant, with hair the colour of ripe corn, and wearing a black suit with a white silk top, Tessa Gilroy had been used to the appraisal of the opposite sex, but had rarely allowed it to proceed further than that. Her job had taken up most of her time and she'd accepted that.
But the stranger, tall and straight-backed with eyes of warm hazel and a thick, dark pelt of hair, had seemed different from any man she'd ever met, and when he'd been introduced to her as Drake Melford she'd known why.
His name had been mentioned frequently in medical circles because he'd been new, different, with a vivid, unorthodox approach that had got results, and she was to find that his attitude towards her would be the same.
Their only contact on that occasion had been a brief handshake on being introduced, and when the meeting had ended she'd left, leaving him encircled once again by admiring medical folk.
Her doorbell had rung at six the next morning and she'd found Drake Melford on the step. 'I couldn't sleep for thinking about you,' he said. 'Can I come in?'
Barefooted in a white cotton nightdress, she nodded and stepped back to let him pass, as if welcoming a man she barely knew into her apartment at that hour was something she did all the time.
She made a breakfast of sorts and they ate without speaking, eyes locked over every mouthful of food, and halfway through he pushed his chair back, lifted her up into his arms and carried her into the bedroom.
The first time they made love was rapturous. She was so in tune with his desires and the magic of his presence that it felt as if she had been waiting all her life for him to appear in it.
For the rest of the time it was slower and more sensual, and when at last Drake lay on top of the silk coverlet with his arms behind his head, he said with a slow smile on his face, 'Wow! I haven't felt like this in years, Tessa. You are incredible.'
It was then that they made the pact, still drowsy with fulfilment but not so sated that they couldn't think straight.
They would take it as it came, they agreed. No ties, no commitments, no promises. There would be no babies or mortgages . An openended affair.
And when Drake got dressed after that last time and slung his things into a couple of suitcases Tessa watched him in mute misery, eyes shadowed, mouth unsmiling. She didn't speak because there was nothing to say. It had been what they'd agreed from the start no ties.
But one of them had discovered that they didn't want it to be like that any more and it hadn't been him. She'd fallen in love with him, totally and for all time, and to find him back in Glenminster and part of her working life was going to take some adjustment.
Whether Drake's life had changed since then or not, she didn't know. But hers certainly had, because now there was Poppy. Poppy was the small bright morning star that Tessa had adopted after getting to know her while she'd been in the children's ward in Horizons. On the strength of that, Tessa had done two of the things that they'd vowed to steer clear of all that time ago: allowed a child into her life on a permanent arrangement and taken out a mortgage.
She had moved out of the apartment where she'd lived and loved so passionately, bought a cottage built of golden stone not far from the hospital and life had been good again because there'd been love in it. A different kind of love, maybe, but love nevertheless.