What started as a fling…could lead to forever!

 

When fate conspires repeatedly to throw together kindhearted nurse Ella Reynolds and deliciously sexy documentary filmmaker Aaron James, it's not long before this unlikely couple finally gives in to their irresistible chemistry. Their hearts might be locked away, but what does it matter when it's only a fling…? 

 

Spending time and saving lives together is bound to break down barriers. Yet with so much heartbreak and loss to overcome, can their fling ever lead to forever?

 

Excerpt - Chapter 1...

 

Weddings.

 

Ella Reynolds had nothing against them, but she certainly didn’t belong at one. Not even this one.

 

But her sister Tina had insisted she not only attend, but trick herself out as maid of honour in this damned uncomfortable satin gown in which there was no stretch. The ridiculous high heels. Hair twisted into a silly bun that was pinned so tightly against her scalp she could practically feel the headache negotiating where to lunge first.

 

And then there was the stalker. Just to top everything off.

 

She’d felt his stare boring into her as she’d glided up the aisle ahead of her sister. Throughout the wedding service, when all eyes should have been on the bride and groom. And ever since she’d walked into the reception.

 

Disconcerting. And definitely unwanted.

 

Especially since he had a little boy with him. Gorgeous, sparkly, darling little boy. Asian. Three or four years old. Exactly the type of child to mess with her already messed up head.

 

Ella looked into her empty champagne glass, debating whether to slide over the legal limit. Not that she was driving, but she was always so careful when she was with her family. Still… Tina, pregnant, glowing, deliriously happy, was on the dance floor with her new husband Brand – and not paying her any attention. Her parents were on the other side of the room, catching up with Brand’s family on this rare visit to Sydney – and not paying her any attention. She was alone at the bridal table, with no one paying her any attention. Which was just fine with her. Much easier to hold it all together when you were left to yourself. To not let anyone see the horrible, unworthy envy of Tina’s pregnancy, Tina’s life.

 

And – she swivelled around to look for a waiter – easier to snag that extra champagne.

 

But the sound put paid to the champagne quest. A cleared throat.

 

She swivelled back in her chair. Looked up.

 

The stalker.

 

Oh-oh.

 

“Hi,” he said.

 

“Hello.” Warily.

 

“So…you’re Ella,” he said.

 

Oh dear. Inane stalker. “Yep. Sister of the bride.”

 

“Oh,” He looked surprised. And then, “Sorry, the accent. I didn’t realise…”

 

“I speak American, Tina speaks Australian. It does throw people. Comes of having a parent from each country and getting to choose where you live. I live in LA. Tina lives in Sydney. But it’s still all English, you know.” Good Lord – this was conversation?

 

He laughed. “I’m not sure the British see it that way.”

 

Okay – so now what? Ella wondered

 

If he thought she was going to be charmed by him, he had another think coming. She wasn’t going to be charmed. And she was not in the market for a pick up tonight. Not that he wasn’t attractive in a rough sort of way – the surfer-blond hair, golden tan, and bursting muscles that looked completely out of place in a suit, was a sexy combination. But she’d crossed the pick up off her to-do list last night – and that had been a debacle, as usual. And even if she hadn’t crossed it off the list, and it hadn’t been a debacle, her sister’s wedding was not the place for another attempt. Nowhere within a thousand miles of any of her relatives was the place.

 

“Do you mind if I sit and talk to you for a few minutes?” he asked, and smiled at her.

 

Oh crap. “Of course you can sit,” she said. Infinitesimal pause. “And talk to me.”

 

“Great.” He pulled out a chair and sat. “I think Brand warned you I wanted to pick your brains tonight.”

 

She frowned slightly. “Brand?”He smiled again.

 

“Um…your brother-in-law?”

 

Oh, a smartass! “Noooo, I don’t think so.” Ella glanced over at Brand, who was carefully twirling her sister. “I think he’s had a few things on his mind. Marriage. Baby. Imminent move to London. New movie to make.”

 

Another smile. “Right, let’s start again and I’ll introduce myself properly.”

 

Ella had to give him points for determination. Because he had to realise by now that if she really wanted to talk to him, she would have already tried to get his name out of him.

 

“I’m Aaron James,” he said.

 

He seemed to think that was an important announcement from the hello? look he was giving her.

 

Ella went blank for a moment. And then, “Oh. Of course. The actor. Tina emailed me about a…a film?” She frowned slightly. “Sorry, I remember now. About malaria.”

 

“Yes. A documentary. About the global struggle to eradicate the disease. Something I am very passionate about, because my son… Well, TMI, I guess. Not that documentaries are my usual line of work.” Smile, but looking a little frayed. “Maybe you’ve heard of a television show called Triage. It’s a medical drama. I’m in that.”

 

“So…” She frowned again, shook her head as if to clear it. “Is it the documentary or the TV show you want to talk to me about? If it’s the TV show, I don’t think I can help you – my experience in city hospital emergency rooms is limited. And I’m a nurse – you don’t look like you’d be playing a nurse. You’re playing a doctor, right?”

 

“Yes, but-”

 

“I’m flying home tomorrow, but I know a few doctors here in Sydney and I’m sure they’d be happy to talk to you.”

 

“No, that’s not-”

 

Ella reached for her purse, anxious to finish this. “The numbers are in my phone. Do you have a pen? Or can you-”

 

Aaron reached out and put his hand over hers on the tiny bronze purse. “Ella.”

 

Her fingers flexed, once, before she could stop them.

 

“It’s not about the show,” he said, releasing her hand. “It’s the documentary. We’re looking at treatments, mosquito control measures, drug resistance, and what’s being done to develop a vaccine. Shooting in Cambodia primarily, where I know you’ve worked. We’re not starting for a month, but I thought I should take the chance to talk to you while you’re in Sydney.”

 

She said nothing. Noted that he was starting to look impatient – and annoyed.

 

“Brand told me you worked for Frontlne Medical Aid,” he said.

 

She controlled the hitch in her breath. “Yes, I’ve worked for them, and other medical aid agencies, in various countries. But not at the moment. And I’ll be based in Los Angeles for the next year or so.”

 

“And what’s it like? I mean, not Los Angeles – I know what- Um. I mean, the aid work.”

 

Ella shifted in her seat. He was just not getting it. “It has its highs and lows. Like any job.”

 

He was trying that charming smile again. “Stupid question?”

 

“Look, it’s just a job,” she said shortly. “I do what every nurse does. Look after people when they’re sick or hurt. Try to educate them about health. That’s all there is to it.”

 

“Come on – you’re doing a little more than that. The conditions. The diseases that we just don’t see here. The refugee camps. The landmines. Kidnappings, even.”

 

Her heart slammed against her ribs. Bang bang bang. She looked down at her hands, saw the whitened knuckles, and dropped them to her lap, out of Aaron’s sight. She struggled for a moment, getting herself under control. Then forced herself to look straight back up and right at him.

 

“Yes, the conditions are not what most medical personnel are used to,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I’ve seen the damage landmines can do. Had children with AIDS, with malnutrition, die in my arms. There have been…kidnappings involving my colleagues, murders even – this is rare, but-” She stopped, raised an eyebrow. “Is that the sort of detail you’re looking for?” She forced herself to keep looking directly into his eyes. “I imagine you’ll be insulated from the worst of it. They won’t let anything happen to you.”

 

“I’m not worried about that,” Aaron said with a quick shake of his head. Then, suddenly, he relaxed back in his chair. “And you don’t want to talk about it.”

 

Eureka! “It’s fine, really,” she said, but her voice dripped with insincerity.

 

The little boy Ella had seen earlier exploded onto the scene, throwing himself against Aaron’s leg, before the conversation could proceed.

 

“Dad, look what Tina gave me.”

 

Dad. So, Asian wife? Or…adopted?

 

Aaron bent close to smell the small rose being offered to him.

 

“It’s from her bunch of flowers,” the little boy said, blinking adorably

 

.“Beautiful.” Aaron turned laughing eyes to Ella. “Ella, let me introduce my son, Kiri. Kiri, this is Tina’s sister, Ella.”

 

Kiri. Cambodian, then. And he’d had malaria – that was Aaron’s TMI moment. “Nice to meet you Kiri,” Ella said, with a broad smile, then picked up her purse. “Speaking of Tina and flowers, it must be time to throw the bouquet. I’d better go.”

 

She got to her feet. “Goodbye Aaron. Good luck with the documentary. Goodbye Kiri.”

 

***

 

Well, that had been uncomfortable, Ella thought, as she left the table, forcing herself to walk slowly. Slooowly. Calm, controlled, measured – the way she’d trained herself to walk in moments of stress.

 

Clearly, she had to start reading her sister’s emails more carefully. She recalled, too late, that Tina’s email had said Aaron was divorced; that he had an adopted son (although not that the boy was Cambodian because that she would have remembered). A reference to the documentary. And there probably had been a mention of talking to him as a favour to Brand, although she really couldn’t swear to it.

 

She just hadn’t put all the pieces together and equated them with the wedding, or she would have been better prepared for the confrontation.

 

Confrontation. Since when did a few innocent questions constitute a confrontation?

 

Ella couldn’t stop a little squirm of shame. Aaron wasn’t to know that the exact thing he wanted to talk about was the exact thing she couldn’t bring herself to discuss with anyone. Nobody knew about Sann, the beautiful little Cambodian boy who’d died of malaria before she could even start the adoption process. Nobody knew about her relationship with Javier – her colleague and lover, kidnapped in Somalia and still missing. Nobody knew because she hadn’t wanted anyone to know, or to worry about her. Hadn’t wanted anyone to push her to talk about things, relive what she couldn’t bear to relive.

 

So, no, Aaron wasn’t to be blamed for asking what he thought were standard questions.

 

But he’d guessed…something. Had clearly sensed something was wrong with her. Because he’d gone from admiration – oh yes, she could read admiration – to something akin to dislike, in almost record time. Something in those almost-sleepy, silvery-grey eyes told her she just wasn’t his kind of person.

 

Ella’s head had started to throb. The damned pins.

 

Ah well, one bouquet-toss and last group-hug with her family, and she could disappear. Back to her hotel. Throw down some aspirin. And raid the mini bar, given she never did get that extra glass of champagne.

 

Yeah, like raiding the mini bar has ever helped, her subconscious chimed in.

 

“Oh shut up,” she muttered.

 

***

 

Well, that had been uncomfortable, Aaron thought, as Ella Reynolds all but bolted from the table. So okay, she didn’t bolt. She’d been walking slowly. Too slowly. W.E.I.R.D. slowly.

 

Or maybe he was just bummed because of ego-dent. Because one woman in the room had no idea who he was. And didn’t care who he was, when she’d found out. Well, she was American – why would she know him? He wasn’t a star over there.

 

Which wasn’t the point anyway.

 

Because since when did he expect people to recognise him and drool?

 

Like – never!

 

But celebrity aside, to be looked at with such blank disinterest… It wasn’t a look he was used to from women. But Ella Reynolds hadn’t been overwhelmed. Or deliberately underwhelmed, as sometimes happened. She was just…hmmm, was ‘whelmed’ a word? Whelmed. Depressing.

 

Ego, Aaron – so not like you.

 

Aaron swallowed a sigh as the guests started positioning themselves for the great bouquet toss. Ella was in the thick of it, smiling. Not looking in his direction – on purpose, or he’d eat the damned roses.

 

She was as beautiful as Tina had said. More so. Staggeringly so. With her honey-gold hair that even the uptight bun couldn’t take the gloss off. The luminous, gold-toned skin. Smooth, wide forehead. Finely arched dusky-gold eyebrows, and wide-spaced purple-blue eyes with ridiculously thick, dark lashes. Lush, wide, pouty mouth. No visible freckles. No blemishes. The body beneath the figure-hugging bronze satin she’d been poured into for the wedding was a miracle of perfect curves. Fabulous breasts – and silicone-free, if he were any judge. Which he was, after so many years in the business.

 

And the icing on the cake – the scent of her. Dark and musky and delicious.

 

Yep. Stunner.

 

But Tina had said that as well as being gorgeous, her sister was the best role model for women she could think of. Smart, dedicated to her work, committed to helping those less fortunate regardless of the personal danger she put herself in regularly.

 

Well sorry, but on the basis of their conversation tonight, he begged to differ. Ella Reynolds was no role model. There was something wrong with her. Something that seemed almost…dead. Her smile – that dazzling, white smile – didn’t reach her eyes. Her eyes had been beautifully empty. It had been almost painful to sit near her.

 

Aaron felt a shiver snake down his spine.

 

On the bright side, he didn’t feel that hot surge of desire – that bolt that had hit him square in the groin the moment she’d slid into the church – any more. Which was good. He didn’t want to lust after her. He didn’t have the time or energy or emotional availability to lust after anyone.

 

Nope – from now on, Aaron James was living by the KISS principle. He was Keeping It Simple, Stupid!

 

He turned to his beautiful son. “Come on Kiri – this part is fun to watch. But leave the bouquet catching to the girls, huh?”

We’re not going down that road again, bouquet or not, he added silently to himself.