Read an Excerpt
'Got a minute, Libby?'
'Sure—' She looked up and flashed him a harassed smile, but it faded as soon as she caught sight of him. 'Wow, you look rough. I heard you were busy—sounds like a grim night.'
He grunted. If he looked half as rough as he felt, he must look like hell, because grim wasn't the word. 'It was pretty dire. There were three of us in there—someone removing a blood clot from his brain while I stabilised his fractures and someone else sorted out his spleen. It was pretty touch and go for a while,' he agreed. 'We were in Theatre for hours. The kid's only seven—it was a hit and run.'
Libby winced sympathetically. 'Poor little mite. How could anybody do that?'
'Search me. I have no idea.'
'How's he doing?'
He lifted his shoulders—in truth, there wasn't much he could add. 'He's stable—sort of.' That was enough. The bare bones—all he had the energy to explain.
Libby nodded, then bit her lip. 'Can you give me a sec, Andrew? I won't be long, I just need to finish this off.'
'That's fine, you carry on, I'm not in a hurry,' he murmured.
He wasn't. He'd given little Jacob the full focus of his energy and concentration, and it was time to step back and centre himself again. The neuro had got the clot out, the GS had glued the liver and removed the spleen and he'd restored the circulation to his feet and stabilised his legs and pelvis with external fixators, and somehow Jacob had turned the corner and was now in the paediatric intensive care unit, heavily sedated and hopefully on the road to recovery.
He'd just checked on the little boy again, and he was improving slightly, and although it was far too soon to be overconfident, for now, at least, Andrew could relax.
Goodness knows, he needed to. He was exhausted, in sore need of a break, and there was nothing more he could do anyway, for now, except watch Libby, and that was fine. He was more than happy to lounge against the door-jamb and watch the pretty young ward sister finish her task while his mind free-wheeled.
Ideally he'd be at home in bed after a night like that, but life wasn't ideal, and although it was only seven-thirty he'd already spent half an hour with Jacob's parents this morning, to fill them in on his part in the proceedings— and in thirty-six hours, after another full day at work, he'd have to go home and face the weekend from hell—another excuse for his mother to trot out a whole load of single girls in the vain hope that he'd find one to settle down with and secure the future of the family line.
It didn't make any difference that his brother's wife was pregnant. If anything it made it worse, because it just made his single status all the more obvious—and his mother, ever the fixer, wanted him to be as happy as Will. So the girls would all be there, and he'd have to deal with them all, from his hopelessly infatuated cousin Charlotte to the predatory gold-diggers, via the perfectly nice girls that he just wasn't interested in, and watching it all unfold would be his beloved mother with that hopeful look on her face.
Oh, hell. He was too tired for this, sick of warding them off, sick of making excuses to his mother, and the last thing—absolutely the last thing—he needed was this party. Correction—parties. Two of them.
With a muffled groan, he shifted his shoulders against the doorframe and watched Libby thoughtfully as she entered notes onto the computer at her desk. Nice girl, he thought. Really nice girl. If things were different, he might be tempted, but they weren't. More's the pity, because she really was lovely in every way.
Her lip was caught between even, perfect white teeth, her long lashes dark crescents against her creamy cheeks as she looked down at the keyboard. A lock of rich brown hair slid down out of her ponytail and she tucked it absently behind her ear. It looked soft, glossy, as if she'd just washed it this morning—in which case it would smell of apples. It always smelled of apples when she'd washed it…
How had he registered that? Goodness knows. Not deliberately, any more than he'd deliberately noticed the freckles scattered over her nose, or the curve of her bottom as she bent over a child, or the fact that even the hideously unflattering tunic couldn't disguise her perfectly proportioned breasts.
He wondered what she was doing this weekend. Something normal, he'd bet. The washing, or going to the cinema with friends. Curling up with a good book on the sofa next to her boyfriend.
He frowned. Scrub that last image. Although he'd never heard her talk about a boyfriend, he thought, his mind ticking over. And if all she was going to be doing was pottering about at home—
'Doing anything exciting this weekend?' he found himself saying before he could stop himself, and then held his breath for her reply.
Libby looked up from the notes she was finishing off and leant back in her chair, finally allowing herself the luxury of looking at him again. He looked exhausted—exhausted and rumpled and sexy, even more so than usual, so she took her time, enjoying the view.
'Now, then, let me think,' she said with a teasing smile. 'Flying to Paris, dinner in a fabulous restaurant, then going to the top of the Eiffel Tower to see the lights, strolling along the Seine by moonlight—or then again, maybe I'll just stay at home and tackle my laundry basket before it suffers a fatal rupture, and then get the duster out of retirement.'
He chuckled and shrugged away from the doorframe, with a lazy, economical gesture that did odd things to her pulse rate, and sauntered over, propping his taut, firm buttocks on the edge of her desk, folding his arms and staring down at her thoughtfully, long legs crossed at the ankle.
He'd had a hellish night, but he still managed to look drop-dead gorgeous. He was wearing theatre scrubs, drab and sexless and unrevealing, but on him they just looked amazing. He was so close she could feel his warmth, smell the subtle, masculine fragrance of his skin. If she moved her hand just a fraction to the right—
'Just your own laundry?'
'Well, I don't take in washing to supplement my income, if that's what you're implying!' she joked, convinced that it couldn't possibly be a corny chat-up line. Not from Andrew.
He grinned wearily. 'God forbid! Actually, I was trying in my rather clumsy and unsubtle way to find out if you live alone.'
Good heavens. So it was a chat-up line? Surely not. She didn't get that lucky—did she? She felt her mouth go dry and her heart hitch in her chest before she talked herself out of believing it, and then she couldn't resist the urge to poke a little fun at herself. 'Actually, no,' she said, pausing, then went on, 'but the cat doesn't generate a lot of washing—and before you say it,' she added quickly as he started to chuckle, 'I know that makes me a sad old spinster, but I love my cat and she's good company—even if she does shed all over my clothes and wake me up in the night for food. And—no, there's nobody else if that's what you were asking, either live-in or otherwise.'
One side of his mouth kicked up a fraction more. 'In which case, if the cat doesn't mind, I don't suppose I can persuade you to put the laundry on hold and come away with me to the country for the weekend? I can't promise you the Eiffel Tower, but we can certainly stroll by a river and I can guarantee the food will be good.'
Her heart lurched again and she sucked in a quiet breath and saved the file on the computer, then swivelled the chair round and made herself look calmly up at him, convinced she'd misheard. Either that or gone mad. But he'd wanted to talk to her, so maybe—
'Run that by me again? Did I imagine it, or did I just hear what sounded like an invitation for a dirty weekend?'
He gave another soft chuckle, then pulled a face and rubbed his jaw with his hand. Goodness knows when he'd shaved. Not that morning, anyway, and she heard the tantalising rasp of stubble against his fingers and nearly whimpered.
'Tempting thought,' he said, 'but no. I have—' He broke off and let out his breath on a gusty laugh that was half-sigh. 'It's my mother's sixtieth birthday party, and I can't get out of it. She's having a house party and a ball and the whole shebang, and I just know that all the single women she knows of childbearing age and the seventh cousin eight times removed will be dragged out of the woodwork and paraded in front of me—again. And there's nothing wrong with any of them, but—you know, if I wanted to have a relationship with any of them, I would have done it by now, but I don't, and I'm too tired for it, Libby,' he said with a sigh, scrubbing his hand round the back of his neck. 'I've been up all night, I'm going to have damn all time to take it easy before tomorrow night when it all kicks off and I really can't be bothered with making endless small talk and then because I haven't been downright rude, having to find excuses for not meeting up for coffee or going for drinks or having dinner or going to the races.'
'So,' she said slowly, torn between pity because he was so tired, wondering how big his ego really was, and trying not to drool too badly as he flexed his shoulders again, 'you want me as—let me get this right—some kind of deflector to shield you from this rampant horde of women that most men would give their eye teeth for a crack at?'
He chuckled softly, the sound rippling through her and turning her to jelly. 'Hardly a rampant horde, but, yes, if you like,' he said with a grin. 'But mostly I need someone to deflect my mother's attention from my single status— which incidentally I have no intention of changing in a hurry, much to her great disappointment.'
He was single? Amazing. How? And more to the point, why? What a tragic waste!
He tipped his head on one side, rolling his shoulders again as if he was easing out the kinks. 'So—will you?'
'Will I—?' she asked, distracted by those shoulders, her fingers itching to dig into the taut muscles and ease away the tension she knew she'd find there.
'Be my deflector? Let me drag you away from the laundry basket and the duster and take you away with me to the country for a strictly no-strings weekend?'
Her heart hiccuped at the thought, and she sat back and looked up into his eyes. His piercing, ice-blue eyes with the navy rims round the irises and the fetching, sexy little crinkles in the outer corners. Eyes that even bloodshot with exhaustion could turn her legs to spaghetti and her brains to mush with a single glance.
'So what's in it for me?' she asked bluntly, knowing in advance what her answer would be and how with the best will in the world she didn't have it in her to turn down an invitation from the most gorgeous man she'd ever met in her life—even if she didn't stand a chance, even if she was beating her head against a brick wall and getting that close to a work colleague ever again was top of her list of taboos.
He shrugged, wondering how he could sell it to her, suddenly desperate for her company, for her to say yes. 'A fabulous dinner tomorrow night, a lazy weekend in the beautiful Suffolk countryside, peaceful walks by the river with the dogs, a glittering formal ball on Saturday night.'
'Good food, you said?'
She was hooked. Andrew smiled and felt his heart thud with what had to be relief. 'Good food, good wine— good company…'
'Yours, I take it—not that you're vain or anything,' she said, her voice rich with mockery, and he chuckled and straightened up, refusing to be insulted. Actually he was refreshed by her blunt straightforwardness and teasing good-humour, and, oddly, incredibly fascinated by the tiny spangles of gold in the depths of her extraordinary sea-green eyes.
'Absolutely not. But I have it on good authority that I can be a charming companion, I can dance without treading on your toes—and unlike your cat, I won't moult on your clothes or demand food in the middle of the night. I'm even housetrained.'
She smiled, but her eyes were searching. 'No strings, you said?'
He felt a tug of disappointment and dismissed it. 'With the great and the good of Suffolk chaperoning us? Not a chance. Just you, me, and every single woman in a hundred miles.'
'And good food.'
And good food. Excellent food. Mum uses a brilliant caterer for these functions.'
She nodded thoughtfully. 'So—this weekend. How dressy is it?'
He thought of the women who'd inevitably be there in their designer originals, and pulled a face. Libby probably didn't have anything like that, not on a nurse's salary. 'Dressy. Black tie tomorrow for dinner, white tie on Saturday for the ball.'
Libby's eyes widened. 'Wow. That's pretty formal. Tailcoats and floor-length gowns, isn't it?'
He nodded, studying her thoughtfully, hoping she wouldn't use it as an excuse to turn him down—or that she'd come and be embarrassed by the other women. He'd hate that for her.
'Right,' she said, after a short, considering pause.
Right, what? Right, she'd come, or right, it sounded like a nightmare and she wouldn't be seen dead near the place? 'Is that a problem? Do you have anything suitable?'
'I'm sure I can dredge up the odd rag,' she said drily, and he felt some of the tension ease out of him as she went on, 'So where will we stay?'
'At the house,' he said without hesitation. 'I'll tell my mother I'm bringing you. She'll be delighted.' Ridiculously delighted.
'Does she even know who I am?'
He felt his mouth twitch. 'No. I've never mentioned you. Or anyone else, come to that, so you're safe. You can be as inventive as you like, so long as you let me in on it.'
Libby sighed and rolled her eyes. 'Don't you go spinning your mother porkies, now, Andrew, or I won't come. We work together, you've asked me up for the weekend. End of. No inventiveness. I don't want to spend the entire weekend like a moonstruck teenager pretending to be in love with you.'
He was tempted to ask if it would be such a hardship, but thought better of it at the last second and smiled reassuringly. 'Of course not. I'll just tell her I'm bringing aplus one. I'll let her make any further leaps herself. Don't worry, you won't have to pretend to smile while I grope you for effect.'