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“And that’s how a few minor investments can significantly enhance the emergency department at St. Hilda’s Hospital. Thank you for listening.”
Grace bowed her head as thunderous applause filled the lecture hall. The gesture had the dual function of feigning gratitude while hiding the cynical twist of her mouth.
These hospital executives had no problem putting their hands together for an A&E doctor’s rousing speech, but reaching into their pockets for funding was another story altogether.
“Thank you,” she repeated as the applause died down. “As the final speaker in today’s conference, I have the distinct pleasure of announcing that wine will be served in the lobby.”
The clapping doubled in volume, and Grace’s smile became brittle as she watched the mass of overpaid suits empty through the double doors at the back. St. Hilda’s served one of the most deprived areas of north London on a shoestring budget, yet most of today’s conference speakers had focused on further cutbacks. They were probably rushing to toast another successful year of asking doctors to do more with less so they could enjoy fat Christmas bonuses.
She dropped the notes from her speech in the bin as she left the lectern. At least she wasn’t on call tonight, so she could enjoy a few glasses of wine while she made polite small talk and tried not to scream.
“I enjoyed your presentation. You have some clever ideas for reallocating funding.”
She turned toward the masculine voice, then dropped her fake smile with a combination of relief and disappointment when she realised it wasn’t an executive who’d spoken.
“Restructuring funding,” she corrected as she tried and failed to place the man before her. “Reallocating suggests taking money away from somewhere.”
She didn’t reply, just in case she got it wrong and he was a new senior manager—but she doubted it. Too good-looking, for one thing. Too tall and lean to be sat behind a desk all day. Slim-fitting jeans and snug jumper too casual for the boardroom, caramel-brown hair too rumpled to pass muster in the upper echelons of hospital management. Most importantly, his hazel-green eyes studied her too sharply, too brightly. She hadn’t seen such obvious intelligence in a single member of the executive staff since she arrived as a freshly minted specialty registrar two years earlier.
He also wasn’t wearing a lanyard with a hospital-issued ID card like she was, nor did he have one of the conference attendee name tags pinned to his shirt.
“Have we met?” she asked.
He shook his head, then indicated the laptop and projector set up for the presentations. “I’m here with the media.”
Now she recognized him. She’d had a full view of the audience from the lectern, and although he’d spent most of her speech behind a newspaper, toward the end he’d lowered it enough for her to catch a glimpse of his face.
He was certainly the sexiest IT guy she’d ever seen. He was the sexiest man she’d seen in a long time, in fact.
“Do you think the hospital’s executive committee will act on your recommendations? Did you put in a formal proposal? When? Are you planning to do so if you haven’t already?”
She blinked. “No, no, not applicable, and no. Any other burning questions?”
His smile seemed to raise the temperature in the room by several degrees as he swept an appraising gaze from her head to her feet. “Just one. Will you have a drink with me?”
If any other man had looked at her like that she would’ve rolled her eyes and walked away. After the catastrophic choice that was her ex-boyfriend she was on hiatus from the dating game—potentially forever.
Instead she hoped he’d do it again. Wanted to show him even more.
She stuck out her hand, ready to escape the suddenly stifling lecture hall. “Grace.”
“Oren.” He took her hand in his much larger one and shook it firmly.
“Well, Oren, you’re more than welcome to join me for a plastic cup of free wine in the lobby. If we hurry we might even—”
“Not here,” he said quickly, glancing over her head.
She frowned, then the explanation dawned. “Let me guess. The event coordinator asked you for help at the absolute last minute, then swore you’d lose your job if you so much as breathed near any of the senior execs. Sound familiar?”
“Sort of.” His gaze leveled on hers, keen and intent, intriguing her at the same time it put her slightly off-balance. Was he this fascinated by everyone he met?
He’s an IT guy, she reminded herself sternly. Probably spends his days getting shouted at by stressed-out managers, then calmly suggesting they plug in the printer before using it.
“Don’t take it personally. He sent me seven emails demanding I ensure my presentation matched the conference colour scheme.”
“Charming.” That smile again, the mercury seeming to rise with the corners of those lips. “We can stay here. I’m really interested in your perspective on how this hospital is managed. I’ll even pour the free wine myself.”
“Won’t you get in trouble?”
“It’ll be worth it.”
She licked lips made suddenly dry by the intensity in his voice and held up a finger.
She acted quickly, moving purposefully through the crowd to snap up two cups of wine, walking back into the lecture hall with a speed she hoped would keep her sensible, rational, risk-averse mind from catching up with her.
Because her intentions for Oren the IT Guy were none of the above.
She found him exactly as she’d left him. He raised the cup in thanks, then kept his eyes fixed on hers over the rim as he took a long sip.
He lowered the cup, his smile fading as he looked down at the pale-yellow liquid. “Those suits spent the whole day talking about budget cuts. Now they’re standing around drinking expensive French wine.”
“Have you been reading my emails?” she demanded.
His brow furrowed. “What?”
“Never mind. Let’s get out of here.”
She led him through a side entrance into the corridor and away from the braying now in full swing in the lobby.
“Where are we going?”
She shot him a curious look as they turned a corner. “Don’t you know your way around yet? How long have you worked here?”
“I’m just on assignment, not a permanent member of staff.”
That explained why she’d never seen him before today. The suspicion she’d been trying to ignore eased, and she relaxed into his company as they strolled down the long hallway. She’d deliberately turned them into a stretch of administrative offices, all of which were dark and empty by this point in the evening.
He picked up right where he’d left off, asking a series of incisive but high-level questions about her presentation. She answered carefully, keeping things simple enough to make sense to someone from outside the medical field.
Oren ran out of questions at the same time they ran out of corridor. They stopped in front of the double fire doors and faced each other.
She studied him as she drained her cup and tossed it into a bin. “Is the interview over?”
“The what?” He lowered his cup so abruptly the last of the wine sloshed over the edge. He binned the cup, and then she watched with widening eyes as he sucked the drops off his thumb and forefinger.
He caught her staring at him and smiled. “Thanks for indulging me.”
“Why so much interest in how the hospital’s run?”
“To be honest, my interest is mostly in what you think about it. Do you like working here?”
“I love it,” she replied promptly. “We’re doing important work. Love my patients, love the pace, love helping people when they need it most. And I love London. I grew up in a little village, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of living in a city as big as this one. I’m from Northern Ireland—near Coleraine.”
“I twigged from the accent.”
Was it her imagination or had he moved closer? “Are you from London?”
“Born and raised just down the road, in Tottenham.”
He had definitely moved closer. “Local boy.”
The sound he made in response was less an agreement than a rumble that suggested he’d seen something he wanted and wouldn’t hesitate to get it. She followed the movements of his eyes as he scanned her face, her neck, the swell of her breasts, his gaze snagging on her lips before landing level with hers.
Her breathing quickened. When she got a good look at him in the lecture hall, decided to lead him into an abandoned part of the hospital, she hadn’t really thought anything would come of it. Hoped, sure. Imagined, definitely. Expected, not at all.
Yet here they stood. The purpose shining hot and clear in his eyes indicated she wasn’t the only one with an ulterior motive.
“Tell me one more thing.” He deliberately crowded her now, closing the space between them. She stood her ground, not letting him back her into the wall.
He got the message. He stopped with less than an inch between them.
She smiled approvingly. Then she rewarded his restraint by narrowing the gap.
His breaths shallowed audibly as she glanced down at the sliver of daylight separating her dress from his jumper, but when he spoke again he was calm and composed.
“Is there someone who’ll try to break my nose if I touch you tonight?”
“Only try? You’re confident,” she remarked.
“Is that a no?”
God, he smelled good. Like a lungful of fresh, crisp midnight air after a chaotic twelve-hour shift. Urban power gentled into nighttime’s welcoming secrecy. Strong. Confident. Safe.
She flattened her palms on his chest, delighting in the hard planes she found beneath the soft wool.
“The answer to your question is no. For what you’re thinking, consider this my yes.”
His smile stretched into a grin of sheer excitement so infectious, she found herself matching it. In one deft movement Oren reached past her and opened the door to the office at her back.
They stepped inside, and she caught a few impressions of the unlit room while Oren shut the door and lowered the blind on the window onto the hallway. Stacks of papers. A souvenir coffee mug from Spain. A framed photo… She slapped the happy family’s disapproving faces onto the desk.
Then Oren had her, his hands on her waist backing her into the desk, then seating her on top of it. She yanked up the hem of his jumper, which he obligingly pulled over his head while she set to work unbuttoning the white shirt he wore beneath.
She’d only managed to expose an enticing strip of light-olive skin when he grabbed her wrists to stop her.
“Hang on,” he said breathlessly. “This is all wrong.”
Disappointment would’ve dragged down her shoulders if irritation hadn’t stiffened them first. How dare he come to his senses about this situation when she had absolutely no intention to do the same?
“Look at you,” he continued, doing exactly that. “You should be tasted. Savoured. Not rushed. Like that posh French wine we were drinking. I haven’t even kissed you yet.”
She grabbed a fistful of his shirt and pulled until his nose nearly met hers. “I’m thinking more along the lines of a tequila shot. Throw it back, let it burn, and it goes straight to your head.”
His smile turned wolfish.
Then he kissed her.
She closed her eyes and parted her lips and decided that if this was as far as they got—if he changed his mind or they were caught or the world ended—it would be enough. The hard press of his mouth, the hungry sweep of his tongue, the tug of his fingers knotting in her hair… It would keep her satisfied forever.
Then his thumb found the aching peak of her nipple through her clothes.
Oren pulled back, the effort of it plain in his creased brow as he motioned to her dress. “That looks expensive. You’d better find your way out of it before I rip it off you.”
Tempting, but he was right. She exhaled her frustration as she began extracting herself from the series of ties holding the wrap dress closed.
Oren watched for all of three seconds before pushing her hands out of the way, bunching the skirt around her waist and dragging her tights and knickers past her ankles.
For a few moments they simply stared at each other, the office silent save the rasping sounds of their breathing.
He’d made a big move. Virtual strangers fumbling in a dark office was one thing—full-on sexual contact was quite another. They’d gone from zero to light speed in a matter of minutes.
She didn’t know what Oren was thinking, but her own head was surprisingly clear.
She wanted him. She didn’t know whether it was pheromones, or the promise of relief during a sexual drought, or some deep-seated desire to do something reckless and impulsive, or a flailing effort to prove to herself that she could still choose a right-for-right-now man even though every other pick had gone so horribly wrong.
She didn’t know, and she didn’t care.
She braced her palms on the desk and spread her legs.
Oren made a sound like a devout man seeing a vision of his prophet. He dropped to his knees, then slowly ran the pads of his thumbs along the lengths of her inner thighs. She tilted her face toward the ceiling, biting her lip as his warm breath brushed hotter and hotter over her core. She counted the tiles, noted a crack in one, tried to calm her wildly beating heart.
At the first touch of his tongue the tiles blurred in her vision. At the second she wondered if she was dreaming. By the third she knew this was as real as it got.
Oren’s skill went beyond anything she’d ever experienced, beyond what she’d even imagined could be possible from a lover. Teasing, taunting, giving her just enough to see the edge of the cliff before pulling her back from tumbling over it. Sweat beaded on her forehead, between her breasts. The sounds issuing from her throat were unlike any she’d ever heard. She plunged one hand into his hair, leaving the other with fingertips digging at the surface of the desk, desperate for a foothold against the rising ecstasy that came closer and closer to knocking her off her feet.
She was on the brink of opening her mouth to beg for release when Oren tightened his grip on her trembling thighs. She straightened her spine to give him deeper access, to let him lead her to her own surrender.
He quickened the pace of his tongue, focusing his efforts on her tender, swollen clit. Then he moved one hand from her leg and brought it to her sex, slowly pushing one, then two fingers inside.
She lost herself. Her head fell back and she released a guttural, stomach-deep moan as an orgasm unlike any before ricocheted through her body. Her abdomen clenched, her breasts heaved, her hands clutched at anything that might keep her from falling off the desk—from falling off the world.
It took her brain some time to regain its power over the various stretches of her body. First she managed to sit up and draw in her arms. Then she found the ability to close her legs. Finally she opened her eyes.
Oren lounged on the floor, knees drawn up, shirt half-open, hair disheveled, grinning like the cat who got the cream.
“Are you all right?” he asked. “Or should I call a doctor?”
“Very funny.” She ran a hand through her hair, then dropped it back into her lap and let her eyes fall shut again. She felt wonderfully loose and weak all over. She heaved a full, contended sigh.
She managed to pry her eyes open again. Oren was on his feet, thumbing through a packet of pages stapled together.
“Hospital phone directory. Why?”
“No reason. Can you walk?”
“I very much doubt it.” She smiled lazily. “But I don’t need to—not far, anyway. Give me a few minutes to recover. Then it’s your turn.”
“That’s quite an offer. But I’ve got everything I came for.”
She looked up quizzically. Oren leaned down and brushed a kiss over her lips, then another, then deepened it. She closed her eyes, breathed in his scent, gave herself over to the pressure.
Suddenly he drew back. By the time she opened her eyes he was at the door, through it, and gone.
She blinked at the empty room. Slid off the desk. Gingerly pulled up her knickers and tights and straightened her dress. Righted the family photo, studiously avoiding what must be their horrified expressions.
“That’s that,” she decreed to no one.
Oren the IT Guy, she mused as she tidied up the office. Interested in hospital management. Advanced oral pleasure artist. Vanishes without waiting for reciprocation.
She was happy. Satisfied. Actually a bit relieved he’d left before they had to traverse any awkward post-orgasm terrain.
Hopefully he’d be reassigned before she had to ask him to help with her computer. Unless she deliberately asked for help. After hours. In the photocopy room, where—
Her train of thought screeched to a halt. The department directory had been pinned to the bulletin board next to the desk when they walked in. She was sure of it—it was in the same place in every office, including hers.
She flipped through all of the papers on the desk, on the shelves, even in the drawers, though she knew they hadn’t opened any. Then she looked again, thumbing faster, but not fast enough to keep a sinking feeling from settling in the pit of her stomach. No sign of the directory.
Finally she straightened. There was only one possible, inexplicable, bizarre explanation.
Oren the IT Guy took it with him.
End of Excerpt