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Текст книги "Italian Doctor, Dream Proposal"


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Автор книги: Margaret McDonagh


Жанр: Современные любовные романы, Любовные романы


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Italian Doctor,
Dream Proposal
Margaret McDonagh


www.millsandboon.co.uk

Table of Contents

Cover Page

Title Page

Praise

About the Author

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Copyright

Praise for Medical™ Romance author Margaret McDonagh:

‘Margaret McDonagh is an exceptional writer of

romantic fiction…she will tug at your heartstrings, make you cry, and leave you breathless!’—The Pink Heart Society Reviews

‘Romance does not get any better than this!

Margaret McDonagh is a writer readers can always count on to deliver a story that’s poignant, emotional and spellbinding!’—CataRomance.com

Margaret McDonagh says of herself: ‘I began losing myself in the magical world of books from a very young age, and I always knew that I had to write, pursuing the dream for over twenty years, often with cussed stubbornness in the face of rejection letters! Despite having numerous romance novellas, short stories and serials published, the news that my first “proper book” had been accepted by Harlequin Mills & Boon for their Medical™ Romance line brought indescribable joy! Having a passion for learning makes researching an involving pleasure, and I love developing new characters, getting to know them, setting them challenges to overcome. The hardest part is saying goodbye to them, because they become so real to me. And I always fall in love with my heroes! Writing and reading books, keeping in touch with friends, watching sport and meeting the demands of my four-legged companions keeps me well occupied. I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I loved writing it.’

www.margaretmcdonagh.com

margaret.mcdonagh@yahoo.co.uk

Many thanks are due to the following:

Michael & Kate Dann

www.michaeldann.co.uk

John and the

Primary Immunodeficiency Association www.pia.org.uk

and Dr Nick Edwards

author of “In Stitches”…

for their help with my research for this book

And to:

Mara

for keeping my Italian on the straight and narrow

Fiona, Lesley, Jennifer, Jackie, Christine and Irene

for their patience, encouragement, care and support

CHAPTER ONE

DR RUTH BAXTER breathed a sigh of relief as she arrived at her destination, even though the only empty space she could find in the car park was the one furthest away from the hotel’s main entrance. Having got up at stupid o’clock—after a scant few hours’ sleep following two patient callouts during her Sunday night as on-duty GP—the journey had taken longer than expected thanks to heavy Monday-morning traffic and a lengthy hold-up after an accident on the M6 motorway. All of which meant she was now late for the two-day medical conference she was here to attend.

Ruth picked up her briefcase and overnight bag, locked her car, and headed towards the hotel. Currently bathed in warm May sunshine, the impressive building stood in its own grounds and overlooked the glittering expanse of Morecambe Bay. The lovely weather was a welcome change from the grey skies she had left behind in Strathlochan—not to mention the torrential rain she had encountered once she had crossed the Scotland/England border and had skirted the edge of the Lake District on the motorway.

As she walked, Ruth reflected on the last month and the events that had brought her here. Immunology was a field of medicine she had known little about until the arrival of a new patient had set her on an unexpected journey of discovery. Instinct had led her to the Internet where her research had uncovered papers written by Dr Riccardo Linardi, a world-renowned immunologist and allergist.

She had emailed Dr Linardi about her patient and, despite the many demands on his time, he had responded at once, his detailed advice proving to be invaluable. Instead of ending there, as Ruth had expected it to, their email correspondence had increased, widening to discussions on immunology and allergies in general. When he’d told her he was speaking at this conference and had invited her to attend as his guest, Ruth had been amazed and delighted.

Dr Linardi knew she was based in the UK, and she knew he was flying in from America, but that was the extent of their exchange of personal information. Now they were to meet. And the implication had hovered, unmentioned, that this could become a kind of informal interview. A testing of the waters for both of them. For now she was keeping an open mind, and her feet on the ground, waiting to see how the next two days played out. Who knew what opportunities might lie ahead?

Entering the hotel, Ruth crossed the spacious lobby to the reception desk, where the clerk welcomed her with a warm smile before informing her that she had, indeed, missed the meet-and-greet welcome breakfast.

‘The first session of the conference has just started, but you are by no means the last to arrive, Dr Baxter. Several other delegates have also reported delays,’ the clerk reassured her as Ruth signed in. ‘May I arrange for your luggage to be taken to your bedroom? That way you can head straight to the conference.’

‘Thank you.’

Smiling, Ruth accepted the efficient young woman’s suggestion and pocketed her room key. Keeping her briefcase, she took the name badge and conference schedule the clerk gave her, then followed the directions to the adjacent extension where the conference was being held. It seemed ages since the banana and hasty cup of coffee she had managed to grab before leaving home, but further shots of caffeine would now have to wait until the mid-morning break.

Trying to stem the nervousness that always assailed her when facing people she didn’t know, Ruth took a deep breath and stepped inside, closing the door quietly behind her. She found herself at the side and near the front of the large room. The two-hundred-plus delegates sat listening to the greyhaired, bespectacled man who was talking into the microphone. Behind him on the platform was a line of several speakers and officials, and nearby was a display screen which currently depicted a super-sized illustration of the virus under discussion.

Spotting an empty chair at the end of the third row from the front, and hoping not to be noticed, or to disturb the speaker, Ruth tiptoed towards it. Once settled in her place, she wondered if the bespectacled older man still at the microphone was Dr Linardi. She suspected not, given the oldschool opinions he was sharing with the audience, opinions that were way out of sync with those expressed in his emails to her. There was also the absence of any identifiable accent, American or otherwise.

Ruth suppressed a smile. It was unlike her to indulge in fancy, yet she had built up an image of ‘her’ Dr Linardi these last few weeks. In her mind he was a middle-aged, avuncular figure, not exactly a caricature of the archetypal mad professor but certainly a paternal, kind, possibly slightly eccentric man who was respected by his peers, his students and his patients alike.

Opening the conference programme, Ruth noted that, as well as holding a two-hour workshop that afternoon and giving the final talk that would bring the conference to a close on Tuesday afternoon, Dr Linardi was also scheduled to speak next, right before the mid-morning break. Anxiety, excitement and expectation welled inside her. Soon she would see and hear the man who had made a big impact on her life this last month and who, quite possibly, could play a major role in her future.

She had no idea what might lie ahead but there was no turning back now.

Dr Riccardo Linardi sat on the raised dais at the front of the conference room, stifling a yawn as the first speaker continued his talk. After a two-month tour of lectures and consultations in North America he was tired, Rico conceded. Mentally weary. And longing for home. However, he had commitments to fulfil before he could return to Italy, one of which had brought him to this hotel on England’s Lancashire coast.

He had complicated matters by asking Dr Ruth Baxter to attend this conference, but she had impressed him from the moment her first email had arrived seeking guidance about her patient. The one hundred or more disorders that came under the category of primary immunodeficiency often went undiagnosed and were difficult to spot. Which was why he had been so surprised that Ruth, apparently a young and relatively inexperienced GP, had not only recognised what several more senior doctors had missed but had backed her intuition and pursued the matter with single-minded determination.

Ruth’s thirst for knowledge and enquiring mind had grabbed his attention, and he had continued their correspondence over the last month. The amount she had learned in a short time amazed him. He came across few people with such instinctive and innate talent as that which Ruth had displayed. If, in person, she lived up to his expectations, he would definitely offer her a job.

Catching movement from the corner of his eye, Rico turned his head in time to notice the door at the side of the room open. His weariness was forgotten as his attention became riveted on the woman who entered. She closed the door and paused for a moment before trying to slip unnoticed to a vacant chair at the end of the third row right in front of him.

But Rico noticed. How could he not? She was stunning. In her mid-to-late twenties, he guessed, she was coolly beautiful. Elegant and graceful. Polished. Not in a flashy way but with a natural style and class. Left loose, her blonde hair fell to her shoulder blades in a pale gold curtain. It shone with health and looked silky soft. His fingers itched to run through the satin strands, and he imagined how they would look fanned out across his pillow or feel feathering across his bare skin.

He tried to rein in his wayward thoughts, to turn away and ignore the woman who had immediately intrigued him. It proved impossible. He had neither the time nor inclination for a dalliance, however pleasurable, yet his disobedient gaze lingered, appraised, admired. He was just looking, he reassured himself. That was all. It didn’t mean he was going to do anything about it—even if it had been far longer than he cared to admit since he’d been with a woman.

Giving in to temptation, Rico tuned out the speaker and gave the woman the attention and appreciation she deserved. As she approached the vacant chair, he could tell she was above average height and was wearing shoes with an almost flat heel. She would be the perfect fit for his own six-foot frame.

The slate-grey trousers that encased long, long legs were impeccably tailored, fitting her to perfection, hinting at her womanly curves rather than clinging to them, teasing and tempting rather than being obvious. She slipped off the matching jacket and turned to hang it over the back of the chair. The hem of her long-sleeved, dark green jumper brushed the gentle swell of her hips, riding up slightly as she bent to untangle the jacket, allowing him a brief glimpse of her delectable derrière before she turned round again.

His gaze roamed upwards. The jumper’s cashmere fabric hugged the slight indentation of her waist, then moulded to the shape of her breasts—breasts that were not big but were natural and exquisitely formed. Just the right size to fill his palms. Rico sucked in a ragged breath, his body tightening with a rush of desire. He clenched hands that itched to caress her firm softness, shifting on his chair to mask his discomfort.

As the woman sat down, Rico noted that the demure neckline of her top served only to highlight the graceful line of her throat. Her jawline was feminine, although the tilt of her chin betrayed a hint of stubborn determination. Rosy and tempting, her mouth was designed for kissing, with a plump lower lip and an appealingly bowed top one. Her nose was straight, her cheekbones high, while her brows—a few shades darker than her hair—arched neatly above her eyes. From this distance he could not determine their colour but he guessed they would be blue. He looked forward to a break in conference proceedings so that he could get close enough to her to find out.

She looked up, a slight frown on her face as she glanced around the room. The way even white teeth nibbled at her lower lip not only had his gut clenching in response but also betrayed a nervousness endearingly at odds with her outward composure. Filled with a sense of heated anticipation, Rico waited as she scanned the row of speakers on the platform to his left. He held his breath as, one by one, she moved closer.

Finally, her gaze clashed with his—and held. Rico saw her eyes widen and her lips part in a gasp, but he was too busy trying to contend with his own fierce reaction to assess or worry about hers. All the air had been squeezed from his lungs and his heart was pounding, sending his blood careening through his veins.

He felt as if he had been hit with a sledgehammer or zapped with an electrically charged thunderbolt. Probably both at once. The eye contact sparked an immediate, intense connection, unlike anything he had experienced before. He had known attraction in the past, even basic lust, but all that paled into insignificance given what was happening now. Nothing had prepared him for this shocking, incredible moment of recognition, of knowing he wanted her, needed her, had to have her…that she was the one.

Dio mio!

Maybe lack of sleep was causing his mind to play tricks on him. There had to be some reasonable explanation for this madness. He was an intelligent man, a scientist. He dealt in facts, in reality, in logic, not in some inexplicable and implausible flight of whimsy. But their private moment of connection continued and neither of them was able to look away. Rico felt as if time was suspended, as if they were somehow being locked together by invisible bonds. Everything around him faded to a blur. He could hear nothing but the rush of blood in his ears, could see nothing but the vision a few feet away, was aware of nothing and no one but her.

Why here? Why now? How could it happen out of the blue like this? How could one look throw his whole world into confusion? Who was this woman playing havoc with his senses?

Rico had no answers. Not yet. But soon he would find out everything he needed to know about the mysterious woman who so unexpectedly touched something deep inside him. He did not understand it, but neither did he question it, because he knew it had happened to his father, and he had seen it happen to his cousin. Now, for the first time, Rico truly understood how they had felt. Because he was feeling it, too. When he was least prepared, and when he had thought it might never happen to him, he had found her.

He was all too aware that many obstacles lay ahead. Yet one look at her had been enough to know this was it…and to bring his libido raging back to life after a long hibernation. Holding her gaze, he felt the crackle of electricity zinging back and forth between them.

Impatience gripped him. It was the wrong time and the wrong place. And he never allowed anything to distract him from his work. But right now he longed to forget this conference, Dr Baxter and his responsibilities. Instead, he wanted to gather up this woman and take her away from all these people so they could get to know each other in private and see where this incredible connection took them.

The sound of the chairman thanking the first speaker and asking for questions from the floor impinged on Rico’s consciousness, but he still did not break the eye contact that made him feel so charged and aware. Soon it would be time for him to speak. If he could remember how to string two words together. Then would come the first refreshment break. It could not come soon enough. He needed to meet the woman who had just changed his life.

A shiver rippled through Ruth as she sensed that she was being watched. Looking up, she cast a surreptitious glance around the room, but everyone appeared to be focused on the speaker. Nibbling her lower lip, she switched her gaze to the platform. Starting with the person furthest away from her, she moved one by one along the row until she reached the man on the nearest end, in line with her, only to find herself staring into a pair of intense dark eyes, eyes that seemed to devour her, looking at her with…what?

From this distance Ruth wasn’t sure, but whatever it was it scared the life out of her. A gasp escaped unchecked before her breath lodged in her lungs. Her heart thudded unnaturally fast under her ribs and the room suddenly seemed far too hot. Everything and everyone around her faded from her consciousness. All she could see was him. Panic welled within her as she struggled to make sense of the overwhelming surge of emotions now assailing her. Principal amongst them was unfamiliar yet recognisable—desire. Alarmed, she tried to deny it, to banish it, but it refused to go away.

She had given up on men, Ruth reminded herself. Her only serious relationship had been at medical school. It had ended in acrimony, with Adam, a fellow student doctor, leaving her in no doubt about her many deficiencies as a woman. Since then she had never met a man who had remotely stirred her interest to try again and she had been happy to remain alone. In her albeit limited experience, sex was vastly overrated and not worth the effort. Which only served to confirm that the hurtful things Adam had said at the moment of their final parting were true.

Feeling ashamed and humiliated, she had determined never to get involved with a man again, the experience cementing her disbelief in love and romance. At least for herself. Now all that mattered in her life was her work. The only desire that bloomed inside her was to be the best doctor possible for her patients.

So why had one glimpse of this man made her feel hotter than Hades? Why was her body betraying her as everything female in her responded to him, causing all her previously redundant hormones to spring to life? Even the dozen or so feet of floor space that separated them failed to lessen his impact or temper the searing force of his gaze.

Something about the man and the way he looked at her made her tremble with awareness and caused an aching knot to tighten deep inside her. She couldn’t comprehend the potent affect he had on her. The immediate and uncharacteristic rush of arousal and blaze of sexual hunger were completely beyond her experience or understanding.

In his early thirties, she judged, and younger than the rest of the people on the platform, the man was impossibly gorgeous. He had the kind of roguish, bad-boy edge about him that gave mothers the vapours and caused fathers to lock up their daughters and throw away the key. Everything about him oozed wickedness and sinful sensuality…warning enough, if any were needed, that he was far too much man for an inept novice like her to handle. Not that she had any intention of handling him. No way.

Untamed, his dark hair was thick and over-long, brushing over the collar of his shirt almost to his shoulders, a few strands flopping across his forehead. The few days’ growth of stubble that enhanced the masculine set of his jawline added to his rakish good looks and made him appear more like some latter-day buccaneer than a respectable doctor. Those compelling eyes regarded her steadily. Another tingle feathered down her spine. It felt as if he were holding her captive, casting some kind of spell over her from which she would never escape. She had no idea what was happening to her but she sensed its importance, feared the consequences, and wanted to follow every instinct of self-preservation that was crying out for her to run away. But she couldn’t move, couldn’t break the connection between them.

Ruth was dimly aware of the first speaker taking questions from the delegates, but it was too much effort to concentrate on what was being said. All her energies and focus were centred on the man in front of her. She sensed the very real danger he posed. Somehow she had to avoid him. When everyone rose for the first break, she would find Dr Linardi, have her talk with him, thank him for his help, and then make an excuse to leave early. Then she would hightail it back to Strathlochan and the safety of home.

It was only when the chairman introduced the man she had come here to meet that Ruth was able to wrest her gaze free. Her pulse was racing in response to the intensity of the last few moments. And her hands had clenched so tightly that her short, neatly manicured nails had left crescent-moon indentations in her palms. Feeling vulnerable, her senses heightened, she waited to see who rose to their feet as the chairman handed the stage over to Dr Riccardo Linardi.

Seconds ticked by.

Then…finally…there was movement.

Ruth froze in horror as he stood up.

No!

This was not the man she had been emailing, the man who had made her feel valued, and with whom she had agreed to spend the next two days. It couldn’t be. And yet some inner part of her had recognised the danger he posed and the lifechanging affect he could have on her.

Feeling light-headed with shock, she watched him walk to the microphone with deceptively lazy strides and the catlike grace of a hunter. And then he spoke, introducing himself in perfect English but with a lilting Italian accent. A wave of fearful desire surged through her as the rich timbre of his voice electrified every nerve-ending in her body.

He briefly scanned the room, then that mesmerising gaze inexorably found her once more, calling to her, claiming her, binding her to him. Terrified, she trembled as she absorbed the enormity of what was happening. This man had jolted her out of her safe cocoon and rocked the very foundations of her world.

Ruth didn’t know what to do.

Go…or stay and face the dangerously exciting possibilities that lay ahead?

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