Italian Surgeon To The Stars

Available: 06/01/2015

ISBN-13: 9780373070459

ASIN: B00SFS2AR0

Celebrity heart surgeon Dr. Alessandro Lucioni might be gorgeous, but I will never forget what we shared in Paris five years ago…or how he broke my heart!

And now he’s standing in front of me, asking for my help with his young niece—and determined to pick up where we left off! But this time I won’t be his consolation prize. I will remain strong. Yet with memories of those magical blazing nights swirling through my mind, he’s just so very hard to resist…

An Excerpt from Italian Surgeon To The Stars

CHAPTER ONE

Even though I’m a fully qualified teacher I still hate getting called into the headmistress’s office. I get this nervous prickle in my stomach, like a bunch of ants are tiptoeing around in there on stilettoes. My knees feel woolly and unstable. My heart starts to hammer.

It’s a programmed response from my childhood. I was rubbish at school. I mean really rubbish. Which is kind of ironic since I ended up a teacher at the prestigious Emily Sudgrove School for Girls in Bath, but that’s another story.

Being called in to the office nearly always means there’s a problem with one of the parents—a complaint or a criticism over how I’m handling one of their little darlings. Everyone knows helicopter parents are bad news. But, believe me, fighter pilots ones are even worse.

I stood outside the closed door and took a calming breath before I knocked on the door and entered.

‘Ah, here she is now,’ said Miss Fletcher, the headmistress, with a polished professional smile. ‘Jem, this is Dr Alessandro Lucioni—a new parent.’

The words were like a closed-fist punch to my heart. Bang. I’m sure it missed a beat. Maybe two. Possibly three. I stood there with a blank expression on my face…or at least I hoped it was blank. God forbid I should show any sign of the shock that was currently rocketing through me.

Alessandro was a parent? A father? He was married? He was in love?

The words were like a ticker tape running through my head. But then it flipped off its spool and flickered in a tangled knot inside my head. One of the stray tapes wrapped itself around my heart and squeezed until it hurt.

Alessandro gave a formal nod and held out a hand. ‘Miss Clark.’

I stared at his hand. That hand had known every inch of my body. That hand had coached me to my first orgasm. Those long, clever fingers had made me feel things I hadn’t felt before or since. The sight of that hand made memories I’d locked away twist and writhe and wriggle out of their shackles and run amok with my emotions. I could feel the spread of heat flowing through me. Furnace-hot heat. Heat that made me acutely aware of my sexuality and the needs and urges I usually staunchly, stubbornly, furiously ignored.

I brought my gaze up to his unreadable one. So he wasn’t going to let on that he knew me. Biblically or literally. Fine. I would play the same game.

‘Welcome to Emily Sudgrove,’ I said, and put my hand in his. His fingers were cool and strong, and closed around mine with just enough pressure to remind me of the sensual power he’d once had over me.

Okay. Forget about once. I admit it. He still had it over me. I felt the tingle of the contact. The nerves of my fingers and hand were lighting up like fairy lights on a tree. Sparking. Fizzing. Wanting.

‘Thank you,’ he said, with a brief flicker of his lips that passed for a smile—but I noticed it didn’t make the distance to his eyes.

Oh, dear Lordy me, his eyes! They were a dark lustrous brown. Darker than chocolate. Strong eyes. Eyes that could melt frozen butter like a blowtorch. Eyes that could be sexily hooded and smouldering when he was in the mood for sex. Eyes that could make my blood sing through my veins with just a look.

I felt his gaze move over my face in an assessing manner. I hoped he wasn’t noticing my eyebrows needed shaping. Why hadn’t I made the time for a bit of lady landscaping? Why, oh, why hadn’t I used the hair straighteners that morning? My hair is my biggest bugbear. I hate my corkscrew curls. For most of my life I’ve had to endure dumb blonde jokes. At least when I tame my hair it gives me a little more credibility, or so I like to think.

Think. Now, there’s an idea. But my brain wasn’t capable of rational thought. I was in fight-or-flight mode. I wanted to get away from Alessandro—as I’d been doing for the last five years.

I’d seen glimpses of him from time to time. He’d saved the life of a London theatre actor a couple of years ago, which had made him into a celebrity doctor. He’s a heart surgeon. A pretty darn good one too—I have to give him that. He ripped my heart right out of my chest without anaesthetic. Oh, and the reason he’s called ‘Dr’, and not Mr like other surgeons, is because he’s done a PhD on top of his arduous training.

Talk about an over-achiever. And people think I’m a workaholic. I reckon his business card would have to be one of those fold-out concertina ones, like those old-fashioned postcards, to accommodate all the letters after his name.

I saw him just a couple of weeks ago in Knightsbridge, when I was having lunch with my younger sister Bertie. He didn’t see me, thank God. He was with a blonde. A gorgeous supermodel type, with legs up to her armpits and perfect skin, perfectly shaped eyebrows and perfectly smooth straight hair. The type of woman he’s been seen out and about with ever since our relationship. Luckily my sister didn’t recognise him—or if she did she knew better than to say anything.

Urgh. I hate thinking about my relationship with Alessandro. I hate even using that term. It wasn’t a relationship—not for him, anyway. I was a rebound. That’s another word I loathe. I was a consolation prize. Not Miss Right, but Miss Will Do.

‘Dr Lucioni has enrolled his niece into your class, Jem,’ Miss Fletcher said into the canyon of silence.

Niece?

An inexplicable sense of relief collided with shock. He had a sister? A niece? Relatives? He’d told me he was an orphan.

I’d been amazed at how well he had done for himself when he had no one to back him. Not many people get to where he has without a leg-up somewhere along the way. But on the rare occasions when he spoke of his past he’d told me his parents died when he was a teenager and he had put himself through school and then medical school by working three jobs. There was no family money. No extended family support.

What other lies had he fed me?

I looked at him with a quizzical frown. ‘You have a sister?’

Something moved at the back of his eyes, like a stagehand darting back into the shadows behind the curtains between acts.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘She’s currently unwell, and I’m taking care of Claudia until she recovers.’

His voice… Holy guacamole. His voice was like a caress to my sex-starved body. It stroked over me like a sensual hand, making the base of my spine melt like a marshmallow in front of a campfire. The deepness of it, the mellifluous tone of it, the Sicilian accent even years living outside his homeland hadn’t been able to remove.

That voice had told me things I had no business believing. I had fallen for every word. Every shallow promise I had taken to heart. I was ashamed of how stupid I’d been. Deeply and cringingly ashamed.

I’d spent years scoffing at my hippy parents for falling for the latest fad and then I’d gone and done the same. I’d latched on to Alessandro like a directionless follower does a guru. I’d worshipped him. I’d been prepared to give up all I had to be with him. I would have walked—no, crawled on my knees—over glass or razorblades or burning coals or a pit of hissing vipers to be with him.

But what I’d thought we had was a sham. It was all smoke and mirrors. He hadn’t loved me at all. I was payback to the woman who’d dumped him for a richer man.

‘Claudia will be boarding with us,’ Miss Fletcher said.

I swung my gaze back to Alessandro’s. ‘Boarding?’

His expression gave nothing away. ‘I work long, sometimes unpredictable, hours at the hospital.’

I teach six and seven-year-olds. Key Stage One as we call it in the UK. Grade One in the US and other parts of the world. I know children in the UK go to boarding school a lot younger than anywhere else, but sometimes it’s a good thing. Sometimes. If a family is dysfunctional or not coping with the demands of kids then a well-run boarding school is a good option. Maybe even the best option in some cases. But I worry about kids who are shunted off before they’re emotionally ready.

Boarding school can be a brutal place for a child who is overly sensitive. I have a history of oversensitivity, so I kind of know about these things.

Mind you, I never went to boarding school. Maybe if I had my childhood would have been a little less chaotic. My sister and I were hauled out of school when we were six and seven respectively and taken off to live in a commune in the Yorkshire moors, where we were supposed to learn through play. We were there two whole years before the authorities tracked us down and stepped in.

My sister Bertie’s playing and learning was clearly of a much higher standard than mine, because she was a year ahead of her peers when she was placed back in the system. Unfortunately I was behind. Way, way behind. It took me years to catch up, and even now whenever I don’t know the answer to something I get that same sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach—a feeling of inadequacy, of not being smart enough, of not quite making the grade.

It doesn’t take a psychotherapist to understand why I chose to teach at a posh girls’ school. I needed to prove to myself that I was good enough to teach in one of the best schools in the country. But the thing I’ve come to realise is that it doesn’t matter how rich or poor your parents are—children are the same the world over. Some are strong academically; others, like me, can wangle the social side to their advantage. I made the art of fitting in into a science. I totally nailed it. Even though at times I compromised myself.

Alessandro was watching me with that same unfathomable expression on his face. Why had he chosen my school? There were dozens of boarding schools across the country. Why The Emily Sudgrove School for Girls in Bath? He worked in one of London’s top hospitals. He lived in Belgravia. Yes, Belgravia. I told you he’d done well for himself. Why didn’t he enrol his niece in a school closer to where he lived?

‘Dr Lucioni would like a tour of the school,’ Miss Fletcher said.

Her name was Clementine, but no one was allowed to call her that. She was proudly single and preferred Miss to Ms. She believed in formal address from her staff to establish respect, although she always called us by our Christian names when the children weren’t around.

‘Will you see to that, Jem?’ she added.

‘Sure,’ I said brightly.

See how good I am at playing the game? Show no fear. That was my credo. It comes in pretty useful as a teacher too. You’d be surprised at how knee-knockingly scary some six or seven-year-olds can be. Although nothing compares to a six-foot-three hot Sicilian guy you once had monkey sex with, but still…

‘Come this way,’ I said.

I felt him just behind me as I walked out of the office. If I stopped he would cannon into me. I was tempted to stop. It had been a long time since a man had touched me, even by accident. I’m no nun, but neither have I been getting out there much. Not lately. Not since…

I had to really think before I could remember. Ah, yes, I remember now. I had a blind date with a friend of a friend’s older brother a couple of years ago. God, what a disaster that was. No wonder I don’t like remembering it. He was on something illegal and kept leaving the table where we were having dinner to have another snort. It took me a while to realise what was going on. The third time he said he needed the bathroom I ordered the most expensive wine on the wine list, drank half a glass and then left him to sort out the bill. I don’t let men walk all over me any more. I get in first.

Speaking of illegal… There should be a law against men as good-looking at Alessandro Lucioni. I know the tall, dark and handsome tag is a bit of a cliché, but he’s exactly that. Tall and olive-skinned, and with the sort of looks that would make any woman between the ages of fourteen and fifty throw herself on the nearest bed and beg to be ravished by him.

He has sharply chiselled cheekbones and a prominent brow that gives him a slightly intimidating air whenever he frowns. His hair is thick and plentiful and not quite short, not quite long, but somewhere fashionably in between. He looks like one of those dishy European aftershave models. That day his hair was brushed back off his forehead, and it looked like the last time he’d done it he had used his fingers.

I wished I could stop thinking about his fingers. I was breaking out into a hot flush. I could feel it deep in my core. That subtle tensing of my girly bits as I recalled the way he had stroked me there. I pressed my knees together, but that only made it worse.

‘This is the…erm…library,’ I said as I pushed open the door.

He stood waiting for me to go in before him. He had excellent manners. That’s another thing I have to give him. Ladies first—that’s his credo. Yikes, why couldn’t I stop thinking about sex?

I turned on my heel and walked in with my head high, waving my hand to encompass the shelves and shelves of books. ‘We at Emily Sudgrove Academy pride ourselves on giving our girls a broad choice in reading material which is both age-appropriate while giving them the opportunity in which to extend their reading range.’

I sounded like I was reading it from the school information booklet—which is not surprising since I was the one who rewrote the latest edition.

‘Jem.’

I get called by my name, or at least the shortened version of it, all the time. There should be no reason why my legs should suddenly feel as if the bones had been taken out. Or for my heart to beat extra quickly and my chest to feel tight, as if something rapidly expanding had taken up all the space in there. But something about the way Alessandro said my name made the base of my spine tingle.

I took a slow deep breath and turned to face him with my Key Stage One teacher face on. My sister Bertie calls it my Miss Prim and Proper face. Apparently I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid, which is kind of ironic since nothing about our childhood was anywhere close to being prim and proper.

‘Miss Clark,’ I said, with a tight smile that didn’t reveal my teeth. ‘We at Emily Sudgrove believe in teaching our girls proper forms of address, so as to equip them with the necessary tools to—’

‘Why did you run away the other week in London?’

I tried to keep my expression composed. I hadn’t realised he’d seen me that day. It made me cringe to think he’d witnessed my panicked bolt via the kitchen of the restaurant Bertie and I had been lunching in. But I hated seeing him with his lovers, either in the press or in the flesh. He was in and out of relationships like a cab driver in and out of his cab. I swear to God he should have a revolving door in his bedroom. Or a ticketing machine—like the ones in the deli to keep people from jumping the queue.

‘I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ I said. ‘You must have mistaken someone else for me.’

The corner of his mouth tipped up in a knowing smile. It was only a slight hitch of his lips but it was enough to set my pulses racing.

‘I could never mistake you for anyone else, cara mio.’

This time I didn’t bother with the composed expression. I frowned. I glared. I bristled. ‘Do not call me that. It’s Miss Clark.’

The hitch of his lips went higher, as if he found my stand-off amusing. ‘How long have you been teaching here?’ he asked.

I made an effort to relax my shoulders. Keep it cool and professional. I could do this as long as I forgot about our history. ‘Five years.’

His brows moved together over his dark eyes. ‘Since Paris, then?’

Paris. The city of love.

Yeah, right. The city of bitter disappointment, if you ask me. I hate Paris now. I can’t even bring myself to look a baguette without wanting to throw up or hit someone over the head with it. Or both.

I brought up my chin. ‘I was ready for a change.’

His frown had melted away as if it had never been, but I got the feeling he was thinking about our time together. Shuffling through the memories like someone searching for something in a long neglected drawer. I could see the distant look in his gaze. I got the same look in mine if I allowed myself to think of that whirlwind month in Paris.

But then he blinked and rearranged his features into a cool mask. ‘I chose this school because it’s close to where I live.’

My heart gave a lurch. ‘You live nearby?’

‘I’ve bought a property in the countryside, just outside of Bath,’ he said.

‘Then why are you boarding your niece?’

‘It’s being renovated at present,’ he said. ‘I don’t think it’s a safe place for a young child.’

‘So what will you do once it is?’ I asked. ‘Take her to live with you? Or will you be too busy travelling back and forth to London?’ And sleeping with anyone with a pulse, I wanted to add but didn’t.

He’d selected a book from the bookshelves and was turning it over in his hands. It was a Beatrix Potter book. My mother had a thing about Beatrix Potter. Hence Bertie’s name—Beatrix, but don’t call her that unless you want her to hate you—and my name. Had he chosen the book deliberately? Reminding me of the connection we’d once had?

I hadn’t told him everything about my childhood but I’d told him a lot. Well, maybe not a lot—more like a bit. There was stuff I hadn’t even told Bertie, close as we were. There were some things it was best not to talk about. Best not to even think about. I’m good at avoidance. Avoidance is my middle name… Well, it’s not—but it could be.

Bertie and I don’t have middle names. Our parents didn’t believe in them. I suspect it’s because they have about four or five apiece and can never remember them. My parents both come from aristocratic backgrounds. I figure it’s a whole lot easier being a hippy when someone else is paying the bills. But don’t get me started…

I watched as Alessandro slid the book back into place on the shelf. As his index fingertip slowly slid down the slim spine I felt a traitorous quake of lust roll through me. I squeezed my thighs together to stop the thrumming sensation. Like that was ever going to work. Just being in the same room as him was enough to make me come. That voice. Those eyes. Those hands. That delicious body…

I drank in the sight of him. The broad shoulders, the strong back and lean hips, the long legs and taut buttocks. I had run my hands and lips and tongue over every inch of that body. I had learned how to give and receive pleasure instead of being frozen with fear. A fear I hadn’t told him about. Well, not the truth, anyway.

I told him my first time had been ‘a bit unpleasant’. I didn’t go into the details of exactly how unpleasant. I refuse to see myself as a victim. I don’t even see myself as a survivor. I’m a fighter. I’m strong and tough and I take no crap from anyone.

Alessandro turned and his gaze locked with mine. ‘You look good, Jem.’

That’s another thing I hate. Compliments. I never believe them.

I’ve never considered myself beautiful. Even though I’m blonde and blue-eyed and slim, with a decent set of boobs—who I am to talk about clichés?—I have hang-ups about my looks. I’ve got my father’s nose and my mother’s cheekbones. I’ve got my maternal grandmother’s hair and my paternal grandfather’s chin. I don’t know whose eyes I’ve got, but I sure hope they can see without them! Seriously, it’s like all the bad bits of everyone in my family were cobbled together to make me. Thanks a bunch, God, or whoever it is in charge of genetics.

Bertie’s the beautiful one in our family—not that she thinks so or anything. She would say I’m the good-looking one, but that’s because she’s a sweetheart. She has gorgeous brown hair and brown eyes, and the cutest smile with tiny dimples. When I smile it looks more like a grimace.

I have to remind myself that’s it okay to show my teeth because for most of my childhood my teeth were like a picket fence. They were so wide apart I could have flossed with hessian rope. My parents went through a ‘no medical intervention’ phase, which unfortunately included dentistry. They believed my teeth would eventually find their rightful position all by themselves. Well, let me tell you they didn’t. I had to endure braces and a night-time plate for three and a half years during my late teens and early adulthood. Yes. Three and a half years!

God, talk about excruciating torture—socially and physically. No wonder my sex life was a little on the barren side when I met Alessandro. Not that I cared about it all that much then—or now. If I remove my memory of Alessandro’s lovemaking—which is darn near impossible to do—I think sex is horribly overrated.

I shrugged off his compliment like I did everyone else’s. ‘I’ll show you the boarding house. Please come this way.’

I led the way out of the library, but before I could get through the door he put a hand on my arm. I was wearing a silk shirt and a cotton cardigan, but even so I could feel the heat of his long fingers as they wrapped around my wrist like a set of handcuffs. I looked at his hand on my wrist like someone would look at a cockroach on a piece of cake. I brought my gaze up to his. How had I forgotten how tall he was? I was going to have get myself a decent set of heels or a neck brace.

‘Do you mind?’ I said, with a crisp note to my voice. Bertie calls it my schoolmarm tone.

His fingers didn’t budge. If anything I thought they tightened a fraction. I lost myself for a moment in the bottomless depths of his coal-black gaze. I could feel his eyes drawing me in, like a magnet does a piece of metal. I could even feel my body leaning towards him, as if an unseen force was pushing me from behind.

Hell’s bells. I’m starting to sound like my mother, with her paranormal take on things. She would have a field-day with his aura. He was sending off vibes even I could read. Although his eyes were dark and inscrutable it felt like he was watching me from behind a closed a door that had once been open.

But hadn’t I always felt that way about him? He had shadows in his eyes I had chosen to ignore five years ago. I hadn’t liked to press him because I knew how awful it was to talk about stuff you didn’t want to talk about. I figured that, him being an orphan and all—how had I fallen for that lie?—meant he wasn’t comfortable talking about his childhood.

Why had he lied to me? What sort of family did he come from? Surely it couldn’t be half as weird and wacky as mine.

Alessandro’s thumb found my leaping pulse. Damn. No way of hiding that involuntary reaction from him. It didn’t matter how determined I was in my brain to armour up, because he could always find a way to ambush my senses. That was why I’d so assiduously avoided him over the years. I didn’t go to places I knew he frequented. I didn’t want to run into him like we were old friends. Making polite conversation, talking about the weather or current affairs, as if he hadn’t torn my heart out of my chest and ground it under the heel of one of his handmade Italian leather shoes.

I had way more self-respect than that. No second chances was another credo of mine. One strike and you’re out. You don’t get to screw over Jem Clark more than once.

I suppressed a shiver as his thumb began a slow stroke, back and forth, making every nerve beneath my skin shiver and shriek out for more. He had a mesmerising touch, gentle and yet strong. Confident. Assured. As if he knew my body like a maestro knows his favourite instrument.

Actually, it was a pretty accurate analogy, because I was as strung up as an over-tuned violin. I could feel every nerve and muscle in my body pulling taut. My insides practically shuddered with longing.

How could he possibly have that effect on me after all this time? I hated him for how he’d used me. I detested his smooth-talking artifice. Saying he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me when all he’d wanted to do was send a message to his stunningly beautiful ex that he’d moved on.

Why had I been so dumb as to fall for that? I wasn’t proud of my history for falling for charming lies. The event during my early teens which I refuse to mention came about  because of my naivety when it came to men and their lies.

But I’m older and wiser now. Tough as old goat’s knees, that’s me. No one can charm me nowadays—which is kind of why I haven’t been out on a date in years. I don’t care if men are put off by me. I’m fine with it. I don’t want the fairy tale, like my sister. I’m not hankering after some guy to lock me away in the suburbs with two-point-five kids and a mortgage.

Besides, I have more than enough kids to take care of at school. Mothering at a distance. I can handle that. I’m darn good at it too.

I unpeeled Alessandro’s fingers as I gave him a look of utter contempt. ‘I don’t think you heard me, Dr Lucioni.’

Dr Lucioni? Snort. Who was I kidding? No amount of formality was going to wipe away the memory of our affair. It was a presence in the room.

Sheesh. There I went with the paranormal thing again. But really—it was. I felt the erotic tension in the air like a singing wire. The memories of how we were together were swirling around inside my head. From behind the wall of my resolve I caught glimpses of our bodies locked together in passion. Rocking together, straining, writhing, climbing the summit of human pleasure until we both came apart. His long, tanned hairy legs entwined intimately with mine. His arms wrapped around me, holding me to him as if he never wanted to let me go. His mouth…

I should not have thought about his mouth. His mouth had wreaked such havoc on my senses. He had used his mouth in ways I had not experienced before. No one had ever pleasured me that way. I hadn’t allowed them to. But with him it had felt natural. Damn it, it had felt like he was worshipping my body. It had added a level of sanctity to our lovemaking that was sadly lacking in my past experiences…especially the one I refuse to mention.

Alessandro gave me one of his half-smiles—a twitch of his lips that was borderline mocking. ‘You think you can erase what we had?’

I rubbed at my wrist as if it had been stung, glaring at him so hard my eyes hurt. ‘I would appreciate it if you would refrain from referring to our…association whilst within the parameters of this school.’

I sounded so priggish I almost laughed out loud. Bertie would have been doubled over at me.

His eyes took on a glint that did serious damage to my equilibrium—if indeed I had any in the first place, which I suspect I didn’t.

‘I’ve told my niece we’re old friends,’ he said. ‘I thought it would help her to feel less threatened by coming here.’

I widened my eyes. I’m not talking cup-and-saucer-wide. I’m talking satellite-dish-wide, like those ones on the International Space Station.

What?

‘You have a problem with making a small child feel a little more secure?’

I whooshed out a stormy breath. ‘I have a problem with you fabricating a relationship between us that doesn’t exist.’

‘It did once.’

I sent him another death adder stare. ‘I beg to differ. How can you stand there and say we had something together when you failed to mention the fact that you’d recently broken up with your gold-digging fiancée? Not to mention your lies about not having a family. You lied to me from day one, Alessandro.’

I mentally kicked myself for using his Christian name. It was too personal. Too informal. Too intimate.

‘You have a sister and a niece and God knows who else. That’s not what people in a relationship do. They share stuff. Important stuff.’

I felt a teeny-weeny twinge of guilt at my statement. I hadn’t told him my important stuff, but I refused to see it as important. It was not worth thinking about. I hated thinking about it. It gave me nightmares to think about it. It was so long ago. I had packed away the sickening memories behind layers of I’m-a-tough-girl-don’t-mess-with-me bravado.

‘I would’ve told you in time.’

I rolled my eyes in disdain. ‘Like when?’ I said. ‘On our fiftieth wedding anniversary?’

Ack! There’s another word I loathe. Wedding.

‘But there wasn’t going to be a wedding, was there? Or even an engagement. Our quick-fire affair was all for show. After you’d achieved your aim of royally annoying your ex you would’ve neatly extricated yourself from our—’ I put my fingers up in air quotation marks ‘—“relationship” and moved on to your next conquest. You’re just annoyed I saw through you and got out first.’

His eyes held mine in a dark, unreadable lock. ‘I’m not here to talk about the past. I’m here to talk about my niece’s future.’

I gave him a narrow look. ‘Why this school?’

His eyes didn’t waver as they held mine. ‘I told you. It’s convenient for where I’ll be living.’

‘So you’re thinking of settling down at some point?’

Why are you asking that? I thought. You. Do. Not. Care.

‘At some point.’

I was like a dog with a bone. A terrier, that’s me. Now I had him here I wanted to know everything—even the stuff I didn’t want to know. Maybe it wasn’t a bone I was hanging on to. It was a smelly old carcass I was rolling in.

‘Are you in a relationship with someone at present?’ I said.

‘No.’

‘What about the blonde the other week?’

His eyes glinted as if in triumph. ‘Was that your sister with you?’

I glowered at him. Why had I allowed myself to fall into his trap so easily? But then, I thought, what was the point in denying I’d seen him? It was making me look foolish, and the last thing I wanted was to appear foolish and gauche in front of him.

‘Yes. Who was your date?’

‘The practice manager from my consulting rooms.’

I only just managed to stop myself from rolling my eyes. I could just imagine the ‘practice’ they’d get up to.

‘I’d love to see her job description.’

His jaw tensed as if he found my comment irritating. ‘It was her birthday. Now, let’s get on with the tour, shall we?’

It annoyed me that he’d made me look petty and unprofessional. ‘This way,’ I said, and turned smartly on my heels.

But I was all too acutely aware of his tall, commanding frame following close behind.

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