Their Most Forbidden Fling
Mills & Boon Medical
As Molly Drummond’s new boss, Lucas Banning poses a challenge – he’s brooding, demanding, and far too good-looking. He’s also a living, breathing reminder of the greatest tragedy in Molly’s life – so what does it mean that her heart skips a beat every time she sees him? Before long these star-crossed lovers are caught up in a whirlwind fling that is as scorching as it is forbidden. But can their passion burn brightly enough to forge a new future…together?
An Excerpt from Their Most Forbidden Fling
MOLLY SAW HIM first. He was coming out of a convenience store half a block from her newly rented bedsit. He had his head down against the sleeting rain, his forehead knotted in a frown of concentration. Her heart gave a dislocated stumble as he strode towards her. The memories came rushing back, tumbling over themselves like clothes spinning in a dryer. She didn’t even realise she had spoken his name out loud until she heard the thready sound of her voice. ‘Lucas?’
He stopped like a puppet suddenly pulled back on its strings. The jolt of recognition on his face was painful to watch. She saw the way his hazel eyes flinched; saw too the way his jaw worked in that immeasurable pause before he spoke her name. ‘Molly…’
It had been ten years since she had heard his voice. A decade of living in London had softened his Australian outback drawl to a mellifluous baritone that for some reason sent an involuntary shiver over her skin. She looked at his face, drinking in his features one by one as if ticking off a checklist inside her head to make sure it really was him.
The landscape of his face—the brooding brow, the determined jaw and the aquiline nose—was achingly familiar and yet different. He was older around the eyes and mouth, and his dark brown hair, though thick and glossy, had a few streaks of silver in it around his temples. His skin wasn’t quite as weathered and tanned as his father’s or brothers’ back on the farm at home, but it still had a deep olive tone.
He was still imposingly tall and whipcord lean and fit, as if strenuous exercise was far more important to him than rest and relaxation. She looked at his hazel eyes. The same shadows were there—long, dark shadows that anchored him to the past.
‘I was wondering when I’d run into you,’ Molly said to fill the bruised silence. ‘I suppose Neil or Ian told you I was coming over to work at St Patrick’s for three months?’
His expression became inscrutable and closed. ‘They mentioned something about you following a boyfriend across,’ he said.
Molly felt a blush steal over her cheeks. She still wasn’t quite sure how to describe her relationship with Simon Westbury. For years they had been just friends, but ever since Simon had broken up with his long-term girlfriend Serena, they had drifted into an informal arrangement that was convenient but perhaps not as emotionally satisfying as Molly would have wished. ‘Simon and I have been out a couple of times but nothing serious,’ she said. ‘He’s doing a plastics registrar year over here. I thought it’d be good to have someone to travel with since it’s my first time overseas.’
‘Where are you staying?’ Lucas asked.
‘In that house over there,’ Molly said, pointing to a seen-better-days Victorian mansion that was divided into small flats and bedsits. ‘I wanted somewhere within walking distance of the hospital. Apparently lots of staff from abroad set up camp there.’
He acknowledged that with a slight nod.
Another silence chugged past.
Molly shifted her weight from foot to foot, the fingers of her right hand fiddling with the strap of her handbag where it was slung over her shoulder. ‘Um…Mum said to say hello…’
His brows gave a micro-lift above his green and brown-flecked eyes but whether it was because of cynicism, doubt or wariness, she couldn’t quite tell. ‘Did she?’ he asked.
Molly looked away for a moment, her gaze taking in the gloomy clouds that were suspended above the rooftops of the row of grey stone buildings. It was so different from the expansive skies and blindingly bright sunshine of the outback back home. ‘I guess you heard my father’s remarried…’ She brought her gaze back up when he didn’t respond. ‘His new wife Crystal is pregnant. The baby’s due in a couple of months.’
His eyes studied her for a beat or two. ‘How do you feel about having a half-sibling?’
Molly pasted on a bright smile. ‘I’m thrilled for them… It will be good to have someone to spoil. I love babies. I’ll probably babysit now and then for them when I get back…’
He continued to look at her in that measured way of his. Could he see how deeply hurt she was that her father was trying to replace Matt? Could he see how guilty she felt about feeling hurt? Matt had been the golden child, the firstborn and heir. Molly had lived in his shadow for as long as she could remember—never feeling good enough, bright enough.
With a new child to replace the one he had lost, her father would have no need of her now.
‘You’re a long way from home,’ Lucas said.
Did he think she wasn’t up to the task? Did he still see her as that gangly, freckle-faced kid who had followed him about like a devoted puppy? ‘I’m sure I’ll cope with it,’ she said with the tiniest elevation of her chin. ‘I’m not a little kid any longer. I’m all grown up now in case you hadn’t noticed.’
His gaze moved over her in a thoroughly male appraisal that made Molly’s spine suddenly feel hot and tingly. As his eyes re-engaged with hers the air tightened, as if a light but unmistakable current of electricity was pulsing through it. ‘Indeed you are,’ he said.
Molly glanced at his mouth. He had a beautiful mouth, one that implied sensuality in its every line and contour. The shadow of dark stubble surrounding it gave him an intensely male look that she found captivating. She wondered when that mouth had last smiled. She wondered when it had last kissed someone.
She wondered what it would feel like to be kissed by him.
Molly forced her gaze to reconnect with his. She needed to get her professional cap on and keep it on. They would be working together in the same unit. No one over here needed to know about the tragic tie that bound them so closely. ‘Well, then,’ she said, shuffling her feet again. ‘I guess I’ll see you at the hospital.’
She gave him another tight, formal smile and made to move past but she had only gone a couple of paces when he said her name again. ‘Molly?’
Molly slowly turned and looked at him. The lines about his mouth seemed to have deepened in the short time she had been talking to him. ‘Yes?’ she said.
‘You might not have been informed as yet, but as of yesterday I’m the new head of ICU,’ he said. ‘Brian Yates had to suddenly resign due to ill health.’
She gripped the edges of her coat closer across her chest. Lucas Banning was her boss? It put an entirely new spin on things. This first foray of hers into working abroad could be seriously compromised if he decided he didn’t want her working with him. And why would he want her here?
She was a living, breathing reminder of the worst mistake he had ever made.
‘No,’ Molly said. ‘I hadn’t been informed.’
‘Is it going to be a problem?’ he asked with a direct look she found a little intimidating.
‘Why would it be a problem?’ she asked.
‘It’s a busy and stretched-to-the-limit department,’ he said. ‘I don’t want any personal issues between staff members to compromise patient outcomes.’
Molly felt affronted that he thought her so unprofessional as to bring their past into the workplace. She rarely spoke of Matt these days. Even though she had lived with her grief longer than she had lived without it, speaking of him brought it all back as if it had happened yesterday—the gut-wrenching pain, the aching sense of loss. The guilt. Most of her friends from medical school didn’t even know she had once had an older brother. ‘I do not bring personal issues to work,’ she said.
His hazel eyes held hers for a beat or two of silence. ‘Fine,’ he said. ‘I’ll see you in the morning. Don’t be late.’
Molly pursed her lips as he strode off down the street. She would make sure she was there before he was.
* * *
Lucas glanced pointedly at the clock on the wall as Molly Drummond rushed into the glassed-in office of ICU. ‘Your shift started an hour ago,’ he said as he slapped a patient’s file on the desk.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she said breathlessly. ‘I tried to call but I didn’t have the correct code in my phone. I’m still with my Australian network so I couldn’t call direct.’
‘So what’s your excuse?’ he asked, taking in her pink face and the disarray of her light brown hair. ‘Boyfriend keep you up late last night, or did he make you late by serving you breakfast in bed?’
Her face went bright red and her grey-blue eyes flashed with annoyance. ‘Neither,’ she said. ‘I was on my way to work when I came across a cat that had been hit by a car. I couldn’t just leave it there. It had a broken leg and was in pain. I had to take it to the nearest vet clinic. It took me ages to find one, and then I had to wait until the vet got there.’
Lucas knew he should apologise for jumping to conclusions but he wanted to keep a professional distance. Out of all the hospitals in London, or the whole of England for that matter, why did she have to come to his? He had put as much distance as he could between his past and the present. For the last ten years he had tried to put it behind him, not to forget—he could never, would never do that—but to move on with his life as best he could, making a difference where he could.
Saving lives, not destroying them.
Molly Drummond turning up in his world was not what he needed right now. He had only recently found out she was coming to work here, but he had assured himself that he wouldn’t have to have too much to do with her directly. He had planned to become director at the end of next year when Brian Yates formally retired. But Brian being diagnosed with a terminal illness had meant he’d had to take over the reins a little ahead of schedule. Now he would have to interact with Molly on a daily basis, which would have been fine if she was just like any other young doctor who came and went in the department.
But Molly was not just any other doctor.
She wasn’t that cute little freckle-faced kid any more either. She had grown into a beautiful young woman with the sort of understated looks that took you by surprise in unguarded moments. Like yesterday, when he’d run into her on the street.
Looking up and seeing her there had made his breath catch in his throat. He had been taken aback by the way her grey-blue eyes darkened or softened with her mood. How her creamy skin took on a rosy tinge when she felt cornered or embarrassed. How her high cheekbones gave her a haughty regal air, and yet her perfect nose with its tiny dusting of freckles had an innocent girl-next-door appeal that was totally beguiling. How her figure still had a coltish look about it with those long legs and slim arms.
He had not been able to stop himself imagining how it would feel to have those slim arms wrap around his body and to feel that soft, full mouth press against his. He had his share of sexual encounters, probably not as many as some of his peers, but he wasn’t all that comfortable with letting people get too close.
And getting too close to Molly Drummond was something he wanted to avoid at all costs.
‘I haven’t got time to give you a grand tour,’ Lucas said, forcing his wayward thoughts back where they belonged. ‘But you’ll find your way around soon enough. We have twenty beds, all of them full at the present time. Jacqui Hunter is the ward clerk. She’ll fill you in on where the staff facilities are. Su Ling and Aleem Pashar are the registrars. They’ll run through the patients with you.’ He gave her a brisk nod before he left the office. ‘Enjoy your stay.’
Molly turned to see a middle-aged woman coming towards her. ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t here to greet you,’ the woman said with a friendly smile. ‘Things have been a bit topsy-turvy, I’m afraid.’ She offered her hand. ‘I’m Jacqui Hunter.’
‘Pleased to meet you,’ Molly said.
‘This has been such a crazy couple of days,’ Jacqui said. ‘Did Dr Banning tell you about Brian Yates?’ She didn’t wait for Molly to respond. ‘Such a terrible shame. He was planning to retire next year. Now he’s been sent home to get his affairs in order.’
‘I’m very sorry,’ Molly said.
‘He and Olivia just had their first grandchild too,’ Jacqui said shaking her head. ‘Life’s not fair, is it?’
‘No, it’s not.’
Jacqui popped the patient’s file, which Lucas had left on the desk, in the appropriate drawer. ‘Now, then,’ she said, turning to face Molly again. ‘Let’s get you familiarised with the place. You’re from Australia, aren’t you? Sydney, right?’
‘Yes,’ Molly said. ‘But I grew up in the bush.’
‘Like our Lucas, huh?’
‘Yes, we actually grew up in the same country town in New South Wales.’
Jacqui’s eyebrows shot up underneath her blunt fringe. ‘Really? What a coincidence. So you know each other?’
Molly wondered if she should have mentioned anything about her connection with Lucas. ‘Not really. It’s been years since I’ve seen him,’ she said. ‘He moved to London when I was seventeen. It’s not like we’ve stayed in touch or anything.’
‘He’s a bit of a dark horse is our Lucas,’ Jacqui said, giving Molly a conspiratorial look. ‘Keeps himself to himself, if you know what I mean.’
Molly wasn’t sure if the ward clerk was expecting a response from her or not. ‘Um…yes…’
‘No one knows a whisper about his private life,’ Jacqui said. ‘He keeps work and play very separate.’
‘Probably a good idea,’ Molly said.
Jacqui grunted as she led the way to the staff change room. ‘There’s plenty of women around here who would give their eye teeth for a night out with him,’ she said. ‘It should be a crime to be so good looking, don’t you think?’
‘He’s got kind, intelligent eyes,’ Jacqui said. ‘The patients love him—and so do the relatives. He takes his time with them. He treats them like he would his own family. That’s rare these days, let me tell you. Everyone is so busy climbing up the career ladder. Lucas Banning was born to be a doctor. You can just tell.’
‘Actually, I think he always planned on being a wheat and sheep farmer, like his father and grandfather before him,’ Molly said.
Jacqui looked at her quizzically. ‘Are we talking about the same person?’ she asked.
‘As I said, I don’t know him all that well,’ Molly quickly backtracked.
Jacqui indicated the female change room door on her right. ‘Bathroom is through there and lockers here,’ she said. ‘The staff tea room is further down on the left.’ She led the way back to the office. ‘You’re staying three months with us, aren’t you?’
‘Yes,’ Molly said. ‘I haven’t been overseas before. The job came up and I took it before I could talk myself out of it.’
‘Well, you’re certainly at the right time of life to do it, aren’t you?’ Jacqui said. ‘Get the travel bug out of the way before you settle down. God knows, you’ll never be able to afford it once the kids come along. Take it from me. They bleed you dry.’
‘How many children do you have?’
‘Four boys,’ Jacqui said, and with a little roll of her eyes added, ‘Five if you count my husband.’ She led the way back to the sterilising bay outside ICU. ‘One of the registrars will go through the patients with you. I’d better get back to the desk.’
‘Thanks for showing me around.’
* * *
Molly spent an hour with the registrars, going through each patient’s history. Lucas joined them as they came to the last patient. Claire Mitchell was a young woman of twenty-two with a spinal-cord injury as well as a serious head injury after falling off a horse at an equestrian competition. She had been in an induced coma for the past month. Each time they tried to wean her off the sedatives her brain pressure skyrocketed. The scans showed a resolving intracerebral haematoma and persistent cerebral oedema.
Molly watched as Lucas went through the latest scans with the parents. He explained the images and answered their questions in a calm reassuring manner.
‘I keep thinking she’s going to die,’ the mother said in a choked voice.
‘She’s come this far,’ Lucas said. ‘These new scans show positive signs of improvement. It’s a bit of a waiting game, I’m afraid. Just keep talking to her.’
‘We don’t know how to thank you,’ the father said. ‘When I think of how bad she was just a week ago…’
‘She’s definitely turned a corner in the last few days,’ Lucas said. ‘Just try and stay positive. We’ll call you as soon as there’s any change.’
Molly met his gaze once the parents had returned to their daughter’s bedside. ‘Can I have a quick word, Dr Banning?’ she asked. ‘In private?’
His brows came together as if he found the notion of meeting with her in private an interruption he could well do without. ‘My office is last on the left down the corridor. I’ll meet you there in ten minutes. I just have to write up some meds for David Hyland in bed four.’
* * *
Molly stood outside the office marked with Lucas’s name. The door was ajar and she peered around it to see if he was there, but the office was empty so she gently pushed the door open and went inside.
It was furnished like any other underfunded hospital office: a tired-looking desk dominated the small space with a battered chair that had an L-shaped rip in the vinyl on the back. A dented and scratched metal filing cabinet was tucked between the window and a waist-high bookcase that was jammed with publications and textbooks. A humming computer was in the middle of the desk and papers and medical journals were strewn either side. Organised chaos was the term that came to Molly’s mind. There was a digital photo frame on the filing cabinet near the tiny window that overlooked the bleak grey world outside. She pressed the button that set the images rolling. The splashes of the vivid outback colour of Bannington homestead took her breath away. The tall, scraggy gum trees, the cerulean blue skies, the endless paddocks, the prolific wildflowers after last season’s rain, the colourful bird life on the dams and the waters of Carboola Creek, which ran through the property, took her home in a heartbeat. She could almost hear the arck arck sound of the crows and the warbling of the magpies.
Her parents had run the neighbouring property Drummond Downs up until their bitter divorce seven years ago. It had been in her family for six generations, gearing up for a seventh, but Matthew’s death had changed everything.
Her father had not handled his grief at losing his only son. Her mother had not handled her husband’s anger and emotional distancing. The homestead had gradually run into the red and then, after a couple of bad seasons, more and more parcels of land had had to be sold off to keep the bank happy. With less land to recycle and regenerate crops and stock, the property had been pushed to the limit. Crippling debts had brought her parents to the point of bankruptcy.
Offers of help from neighbours, including Lucas’s parents, Bill and Jane Banning, had been rejected. Molly’s father had been too proud to accept help, especially from the parents of the boy who had been responsible for the death of their only son. Drummond Downs had been sold to a foreign investor, and her parents had divorced within a year of leaving the homestead.
Molly sighed as she pressed the stop button, her hand falling back to her side. The sound of a footfall behind her made her turn around, and her heart gave a jerky little movement behind her ribcage as she met Lucas’s hazel gaze. ‘I was just…’ she lifted a hand and then dropped it ‘…looking at your photos…’
He closed the door with a soft click but he didn’t move towards the desk. It was hard to read his expression, but it seemed to Molly as if he was controlling every nuance of his features behind that blank, impersonal mask. ‘Neil emails me photos from time to time,’ he said.
‘They’re very good,’ Molly said. ‘Very professional.’
Something moved like a fleeting shadow through his eyes. ‘He toyed with the idea of being a professional photographer,’ he said. ‘But as you know…things didn’t work out.’
Molly chewed at the inside of her mouth as she thought about Neil working back at Bannington Homestead when he might have travelled the world, doing what he loved best. So many people had been damaged by the death of her brother. The stone of grief thrown into the pond of life had cast wide circles in the community of Carboola Creek. When Lucas had left Bannington to study medicine, his younger brother Neil had taken over his role on the property alongside their father. Any hopes or aspirations of a different life Neil might have envisaged for himself had had to be put aside. The oldest son and heir had not stepped up to the plate as expected. Various factions of the small-minded community had made it impossible for Lucas to stay and work the land as his father and grandfather had done before him.
‘It wasn’t your fault,’ Molly said, not even realising how firmly she believed it until she had spoken it out loud. She had never blamed him but she had grown up surrounded by people who did. But her training as a doctor had made her realise that sometimes accidents just happened. No one was to blame. If Matt had been driving, as he had only minutes before they’d hit that kangaroo that had jumped out in front of them on the road, it would have been him that had been exiled.
Lucas hooked a brow upwards as he pushed away from the door. ‘Wasn’t it?’
Molly turned as he strode past her to go behind his desk. She caught a faint whiff of his aftershave, an intricately layered mix of citrus and spice and something else she couldn’t name—perhaps his own male scent. His broad shoulders were so tense she could see the bunching of his muscles beneath his shirt. ‘It was an accident, Lucas,’ she said. ‘You know it was. That’s what the coroner’s verdict was. Anyway, Matt could easily have been driving instead of you. Would you have wanted him to be blamed for the rest of his life?’
His eyes met hers, his formal back-to-business look locking her out of the world of his pain. ‘What did you want to speak to me about?’ he asked.
Molly’s shoulders went down on an exhaled breath. ‘I sort of let slip to Jacqui Hunter that we knew each other from…back home…’
A muscle in his cheek moved in and out. ‘I see.’
‘I didn’t say anything about the accident,’ she said. ‘I just said we grew up in the same country town.’
His expression was hard as stone, his eyes even harder. ‘Why did you come here?’ he asked. ‘Why this hospital?’
Molly wasn’t sure she could really answer that, even to herself. Why had she felt drawn to where he had worked for all these years? Why had she ignored the other longer-term job offers to come to St Patrick’s and work alongside him for just three months? It had just seemed the right thing to do. Even her mother had agreed when Molly had told her. Her mother had said it was time they all moved on and put the past—and Matthew—finally to rest. ‘I wanted to work overseas but most of the other posts were for a year or longer,’ she said. ‘I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay away from home quite that long. St Patrick’s seemed like a good place to start. It’s got a great reputation.’
He barricaded himself behind his desk, his hands on his lean hips in a keep-back-from-me posture. ‘I’ve spent the last decade trying to put what happened behind me,’ he said. ‘This is my life now. I don’t want to destroy what little peace I’ve been able to scratch together.’
‘I’m not here to ruin your peace or your life or career or whatever,’ Molly said. ‘I just wanted some space from my family. Things have been difficult between my parents, especially since Crystal got pregnant. I’m tired of being the meat in the sandwich. I wanted some time out.’
‘So you came right to the lion’s den,’ he said with an embittered look. ‘Aren’t your parents worried I might destroy your life too?’
Molly pressed her lips together for a moment. Her father had said those very words in each and every one of their heated exchanges when she’d broached the subject of coming to London. ‘Do you want me to resign?’ she asked.
His forehead wrinkled in a heavy frown and one of his hands reached up and scored a rough pathway through his hair before dropping back down by his side. ‘No,’ he said, sighing heavily. ‘We’re already short-staffed. It might take weeks to find a replacement.’
‘I can work different shifts from you if—’
He gave her a dark look. ‘That won’t be necessary,’ he said. ‘People will start to ask questions if we make an issue out of it.’
‘I’m not here to make trouble for you, Lucas.’
He held her gaze for an infinitesimal moment, but the screen had come back up on his face. ‘I’ll see you on the ward,’ he said, and pulled out his chair and sat down. ‘I have to call a patient’s family.’
Molly walked to the door, but as she pulled it closed on her exit she saw that he was frowning heavily as he reached for the phone…