From E.R. doctor to high-society bride?
Registrar Alyssa Ward is not pleased when she wins a date with the E.R. consultant, Honorable Sebastian Radley. She's not in the market for a relationship—especially not with a renowned womanizer like Seb. But, then again, he is devastatingly handsome—and, after all, it's only one date.
Seb has never been one for monogamy. So why does he find that one date with Alyssa just isn't enough? There's so much more to her than just another woman he's dated. And when she gives him some life-changing news, he finds himself reassessing who he really wants to be—every woman's honorable playboy, or Alyssa's honorable husband?
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"JUST why," Alyssa asked the emergency department charge nurse, "would I want to win a night out with Sebastian Radley?"
"The real question is, why wouldn't you? Hmm, I think there's something wrong here." Tracey took Alyssa's hand and checked her pulse while looking at her watch. "Well, you're definitely alive, and your pulse is normal." She made a show of taking Alyssa's temperature. "No, that's normal, too—so it can't be delirium."
"Oh, stop it." But Alyssa couldn't help laughing. "How about temporary insanity?" Tracey suggested. More like Alyssa would be insane to want to go out with Seb. "No. But I'll give you a donation for the fundraiser anyway.'Alyssa turned the key in her locker, fished out her purse, and took out some money. "Here. It's for a good cause."
Tracey raised an eyebrow. "That's enough for three tickets." Alyssa shook her head. "I don't want any, thanks." 'But, Alyssa, why not? I mean, the whole reason we're selling tickets is to give everyone an equal chance of winning. If we'd done it as an auction, only the super-rich would be able to keep up in the bidding."
Alyssa understood that. But there was one big flaw in Tracey's plan. "Maybe some women don't want to win a night out with Seb." Alyssa certainly didn't.
"Why? He's charming, he's witty, he's TDH."
Alyssa looked blankly at Tracey.
Tracey rolled her eyes. "Tall, dark and handsome. Honestly. Don't you read the Lonely Hearts columns?"
"I'm not that desperate," Alyssa said dryly.
Tracey winced. "I didn't mean it like that. I mean, we all look through them and wonder and... Oh, forget it." She waved a hand dismissively. "I know I'm digging myself into a deeper hole here. Seriously, a night out with Seb is worth winning. He knows how to show a woman a good time."
"Only because he's had plenty of practice." Alyssa raised an eyebrow. "In the six months he's been at the Docklands Memorial, he must have dated every single woman in the hospital under the age of thirty-five."
"Maybe he's just looking for the right one,'Tracey suggested. "Maybe he's the male equivalent of a right tart.'And Alyssa definitely wasn't interested in someone like him. She'd already learned that lesson the hard way, with Scott Cooper.
Tracey whistled. "You really don't like him, do you?" 'As a doctor, he's fine." Thorough, decisive, charming enough to reassure their patients yet at the same time managing to remain detached. Alyssa admired that. It was the way she worked, too. "But as a date...no, thanks. He's not my type."
"So what is your type, Alyssa?" Tracey asked. "I can't remember you ever going on a date in the three years you've worked here."
Alyssa damped down the stream of impulses—to tell Tracey to mind her own business, to claim that she was gay, to say that she was looking for someone special and would know when she met the right one... Ah, it wasn't fair to take out her bad mood on the charge nurse. Tracey meant well. But the truth was embarrassing, and Alyssa didn't want any gossip about herself doing the rounds. Nobody at the Docklands Memorial Hospital knew about the mistake she'd made, and she intended to keep it that way.
And she didn't repeat her mistakes. Ever. Sebastian Radley might be charming, handsome and witty—and, yes, she'd admit that he was the sexiest man she'd ever met, with those slate-blue eyes and a mouth that was just designed for sin—but he was a walking disaster where relationships were concerned. Which made him a man to be avoided in her book.
"Hey, I'm a busy medic. I don't have time to date,'Alyssa said lightly. She took a note from her purse. "Here you go. More hush money. Is that enough to stop you nagging me?"
"Hmm," Tracey said, and smiled. "Thanks for supporting the fundraiser, anyway."
And as Alyssa walked away, Tracey filled the registrar's name neatly in on three ticket stubs. Alyssa Ward. Their registrar worked far too hard, in Tracey's opinion, and needed to let her hair down.And Seb was just the man to help her do that.
Their consultant, on the other hand, needed to be a bit more serious, to realise that life wasn't just party after party. And Alyssa was just the woman to help him see that.
In fact, Tracey thought, this fundraiser could fix a few problems. All she had to do now was have a little chat with Vicky Radley, Seb's sister, who was joint co-ordinator of the fundraiser. If Tracey could get Vicky on her side, then the Docklands Memorial Hospital was just about to become a much more interesting—and much happier—place.
"This was a really, really stupid idea," Seb informed his sister. "Remind me again. Why did I agree to do this?" 'Because you just lur-r-rve your picture being in the papers, and the papers love you even more when you're wearing your tux," Vicky said with a grin. "The Hon. Sebastian Radley raises money for emergency department equipment: you're guaranteed tons of column inches with this one. Posh but caring. It's a winner."
"Oh, ha." He scowled at her. "Why couldn't I just have made a large donation to hospital funds?"
"Because that's not proper news—it wouldn't have been enough to get the press off Charlie's back. So he'd have ended up trying to sort things out with Sophie while the paparazzi was trying to bang her door down, and she'd have run a mile, instead of agreeing to marry him.'Vicky shrugged. "It was the best idea I could come up with at short notice. And, may I remind you, you couldn't come up with a better one. You went along with it."
"Hmm, well. You owe me for this. So does our big brother," Seb warned.
"Relax," she soothed, making a last-minute adjustment to his bow-tie. "You look fantastic. If you weren't my brother and the world's biggest louse to women, I'd be tempted to buy a ticket myself."
"It was supposed to be a promise auction." Seb's blue eyes narrowed.
"It is, for everything else. But a night with you... Seb, this is a hospital. The debs can afford a bidding war—or, rather, their fathers can—but we need to give everyone a fair chance. That's why we're raffling you instead."
"If you'd kept it as an auction, you could've bid for me." He sighed. "I would have funded you to do it."
"You'd have bought yourself?" Vicky snorted. "Oh, come on. Don't expect me to believe that one. You love dating women. You live to party. This is you we're talking about.'She paused and gave him a speculative look. "Unless you've fallen in love and you're going to settle down?"
"Of course not. What do you think I am, stupid?'Seb frowned 'No. I just... Look, I hope those tickets made it clear it was one single night out and not a promise of wedding bells. And that there's absolutely no possibility of an ongoing relationship."
"Seb, you're the prize." She ruffled his hair. "Everyone knows the rules."
"I'd prefer them spelt out, to be on the safe side." 'Too late. We've sold all the tickets. Just stop fussing, will you?"
"I just hope you pick a ticket for someone matronly who'll love being treated as a star for a night—a make-over, a limo, a swish meal out," Seb said, his mouth thinning. "And I'm never, ever, ever going to be suckered into doing anything like this again."
Vicky waited a beat. "Seb?" 'Yes?" 'Stop being so grumpy, put a smile on your face, and go charm some money out of the crowd."
Charm. It was what he was good at. And that was the point of tonight after all: raising money for hospital funds. He took a deep breath, and followed his sister's instructions.
By the time he was halfway through the evening, Seb was enjoying himself hugely. He'd persuaded everyone to up their bids just that little bit more. He'd auctioned a professor as a household maid for a day, a charge nurse as a car valet for a week, three Indian head massages, six home-cooked dinners, one very staid head of surgery to wear a silly tie for a week, kisses—one of which he'd bought at an outrageously high price and claimed there and then on the stage, because the nurse who'd promised the kiss was seriously cute—several cakes, four make-overs, two leg-waxes and a case of champagne. The money was just pouring in for the hospital, and the room was humming with expectation and laugher and verve.
This was great. Maybe he shouldn't have been a doctor after all. Maybe he should have been a TV presenter, with the crowds around him like this... Except there was a good chance he'd have ended up in his worst nightmare. Working with kids. Adults, yes; you knew where you stood with adults. But kids? If it was a choice between having his legs plucked—one hair at a time—and working with kids, Seb would choose the plucking. No hesitation.
He was on a high until his sister walked onto the stage with the ward's charge nurse, Tracey Fry.
"This is the moment you've all been waiting for," Vicky said. "Tonight's raffle. A night out with the Honourable Sebastian Radley."
There were cheers, whistles and catcalls. Seb felt his face heat and started calculating the chances of the earth opening up and swallowing him.
The odds weren't good. "And the winning ticket is..." Vicky had even managed to dredge up a drum roll from somewhere as she turned the tumbler on the drum full of tickets. Oh, he'd pay her back for that.
Tracey opened the little hatch at the top and reached into the drum. She made a big show of digging in deep. And an even bigger show of waving the folded ticket to the crowd.
He'd make her pay, too. Couldn't they just get this over with? Tracey unfolded the ticket. "Number 457," she announced. There was a rustling of tickets and a general murmuring of disappointment.
Please, please, let it be someone who'd take the whole thing at face value and wouldn't expect his undying love, Seb begged silently.
"Alyssa Ward," Tracey called.
Alyssa Ward? Seb tried to put a face to the name, and failed. "Um, Alyssa's not able to be here tonight," Tracey said. She wasn't here? But... Oh, she must be on duty, Seb realised. Night shift.
"So I'll tell her the good news in the morning,'Tracey added. "Fix," someone called teasingly.
Fix? Sebastian didn't like the sound of that. What did they mean, fix?
"The ED can't possibly win Seb for a night. He's staff!" someone else called.
Tracey just laughed. "That's the luck of the draw. Over to you, Seb."
He smiled sweetly and pretended to be delighted, and finished auctioning the last few promises. All the while, his mind was ticking over.AlyssaWard? ED—emergency department—staff?
Ah, yes. Alyssa Ward. Their very serious and quiet registrar. He'd worked with her for six months now and still barely knew her. Although she came on team nights out, she always seemed to be sitting at the opposite end of a very long table. Almost, he thought, as if she was avoiding him—but, then again, if she wanted to steer clear of him, why would she have bought a ticket to win a night out with him?
Completely illogical. But that was women for you—his sister excepted. Vicky, Seb thought, was completely logical.
Well, at least he wouldn't have to face Alyssa in the morning. He was on a late—and as she must be on nights, they wouldn't be in the department at the same time. Which would give him a few hours to find out more about her and decide how to play this.
It was one date. And it wasn't even a date date. It was going to be fine.
So why did he have this uneasy feeling prickling the back of his neck?
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