Authors: Sarah Morgan
She walked briskly across the foyer toward him, determined to prove to herself and anyone who happened to be watching that this meeting wasn’t awkward. “Sean—” she rose on tiptoe, placed her hand on his shoulder and kissed him on both cheeks. “
I’m so sorry about Walter. You must be out of your mind worried.”
It was fine. Not awkward at all. Maybe her English wasn’t as fluent as usual, but that sometimes happened when she was tired or stressed.
As her cheek brushed against the roughness of his jaw she was almost knocked flat by a rush of sexual chemistry. Rocked off-balance, she tightened her fingers on his shoulder, feeling the thickness of muscle through the fabric of his suit. If she moved slightly to the left she’d be kissing his mouth and it shocked her just how much she wanted to do that.
Sean’s head turned slightly. His gaze met hers and for a moment she was mesmerized.
His eyes were the same startling blue as his twin brother’s but she’d never felt anything this dangerously potent when dealing with Jackson. Some people might have waxed lyrical about blue skies or sapphires but for her those eyes were all about sex. For a moment she forgot the people around them, forgot everything except the sexual energy and memories of that one night. She hadn’t closed her eyes and neither had he. Through the whole breath-stealing madness of it, they’d held that connection and it was all she could think of as she lowered her heels to the floor and stepped back.
Her heart was racing. Her mouth was dry. It took all her willpower to let go of his shoulder. “How was your journey?”
“I’ve had worse.”
“Have you eaten? I brought food. Alice has the bag.”
“I don’t suppose that bag contains a good Pinot Noir?”
It was a typically Sean response.
Even in a crisis he projected calm. It washed over her, as welcoming as cool air in a heat wave and for the first time since that awful moment when Walter had collapsed at her feet she felt her mood lift slightly. It was as if someone had taken off some of the weight she’d been carrying.
“No Pinot Noir. But there is homemade lemonade.”
“Oh, well, a guy can’t have everything. If you made it, I’m sure it’s good.” He loosened his tie with long, strong fingers, cool and composed, and she wondered if he remembered it had been Pinot Noir they’d drunk that night. “Where is the rest of my family?”
“They’re with your grandfather.”
“How is he?” His voice was gruff, those thick dark lashes failing to conceal the concern in his eyes. “Any change?”
“He looks frail. I hope the doctors know what they’re doing.”
“It’s a good hospital. And how are you?” He caught her chin in his fingers and turned her face to him. “You look like hell.”
“Is that your medical opinion?”
“It’s the opinion of a friend. If you’re asking me as a doctor I’ll have to bill you—” his hand dropped and he tilted his head as he calculated “—let’s say, six hundred dollars. You’re welcome.”
Her heart rate slowly returned to normal. “You trained all those years to tell people they look like hell?”
“It’s a vocation.” He was smiling, too, and that smile made her heart kick hard against her ribs.
“And there I was congratulating myself on looking good in a crisis.” She’d forgotten how easy it was to relax with him. He was easy to talk to and charming. And dangerously attractive.
“I have to go. I need to see Grams.”
“She won’t leave his side and she’s exhausted. She thinks you’re going to be able to perform a miracle.”
“I’ll go to her right now.” His hard features softened fractionally as he spoke of his grandmother. “You’re driving back to Snow Crystal?”
“I just wanted to see him for a few minutes, keep Kayla company and bring food.”
“You still haven’t told me how you are.” Sean’s gaze didn’t shift from her face. “You’re very close to Gramps.”
How was she?
The person she loved most in the world was in the hospital and the Boathouse still wasn’t finished and wasn’t going to open on time.
There would be no opening party. She’d let Jackson down.
She’d had bad days before, but this had been the king of bad days.
But Sean didn’t need to hear that. Their relationship didn’t involve cozy confidences.
“I’m fine,” she lied. “It’s different for me. I am not family. Although I’d also like you to perform a miracle if you have time.”
“I think my grandfather would be the first to dispute that you’re not family.”
“Walter would dispute anything. You know how he loves to argue. He is my perfect man. I love him so much.”
“Now you’ve broken my heart.”
She knew he was joking. Sean was too busy with his career to be interested in a relationship, and that suited her just fine.
“I will see you soon.”
“Are you safe to drive home?” He caught her wrist and pulled her back to him and just for a moment, standing toe-to-toe with him, she forgot the people around her.
“Of course.” She was torn between being touched that he’d noticed how badly affected she was and appalled that she was so easy to read. Why couldn’t she be cool and enigmatic like Kayla? “It has been a long day, that’s all.”
He gave her a long, searching look and then let go of her wrist. “Drive carefully.”
As she walked to the car, she congratulated herself on how well she’d handled that encounter. No one watching would have guessed that they’d once generated enough heat to melt a frozen ice cap.
They had their feelings under control.
There was nothing about Sean O’Neil that threatened her life here.
When it came to love, she was invulnerable.
.” A familiar voice came from behind him and Sean turned to find Tyler standing there holding two cups of coffee.
He took one without invitation. “Didn’t realize the whole family was here.”
“They are now that you walked through the door and that’s Jackson’s coffee you’re drinking. You look like a banker, not a doctor. What happened to the scrubs?”
“I wear those when I’m operating. The rest of the time I wear a suit.”
“Why? So you can charge more?” The banter did nothing to disguise the tension in Tyler’s shoulders and Sean felt a rush of concern.
“This may come as a surprise to you given your TV viewing preferences, but most people don’t like doctors covered in blood.” He took a sip of coffee, coughed and handed it straight back to his brother. “That is disgusting.”
“Straight from the machine, the way you hate it. That’s your punishment for stealing something that wasn’t yours in the first place. Believe me, when you’ve been in this place all day it tastes like nectar.”
“How’s the leg?”
“Behaving. I never thought I’d say this, but it’s good to see you.” Tyler gave a laugh. “Listen to me, getting all mushy on you.”
“Yeah, suddenly I’m worried.”
“Don’t be. The only reason I’m pleased to see you is because now you can do the boring incomprehensible bit of talking to the doctors and I can focus my attention on more important things.”
“Would those more important things be female?”
“They might be. Was that Élise I saw leaving? Did you know she was with Gramps when he collapsed?”
“Jackson told me. She didn’t mention it.” Which, now that he thought about it, was a little strange.
What had they talked about?
All he could remember was the brush of her cheek against his, the silk of her hair and the scent that had slid into his veins like a drug. And the chemistry. Always the chemistry, simmering in the background like a summer heat wave.
The doors to the nearest elevator opened and Sean saw Jackson standing there with Kayla.
“Élise texted me to tell me you were here. We weren’t expecting you for another hour at least.”
“I may have broken a few speed limits.” Sean wondered how long it had been since his twin had slept. “Any change?”
“Not that I can tell, but I’m not the doctor. It’s hard to get information from anyone. For all I know they might be useless at their jobs. You need to speak to them.”
“I called from the car. This place has one of the highest heart attack survival rates in the country. They took him straight to the cath lab for balloon inflation and stenting. They had him out of the E.R. in seventeen minutes. That’s impressive.” It came as a relief to discover that even though he was affected personally, the doctor in him was still able to detach and analyze.
Jackson glanced at Tyler, who shrugged.
“Don’t look at me. I never understand a word he says. It’s all those books he reads. Don’t suppose his patients understand him, either, but they’re probably reassured by the expensive suit and the astronomical fees he charges.”
It was a relief to relax with his brothers for five minutes. “You could wear a suit occasionally, Ty. If you tided yourself up you might even get laid.”
“The reason I’m not getting laid is because my teenage daughter is living with me. I’m a shining example of parenthood.”
Sean grinned. “It must be killing you.”
Jackson intervened before the conversation could degenerate. “Can we focus on Gramps for a moment? Explain again, and this time use plain language.”
“The artery was blocked, so they unblocked it by inflating a balloon against the artery wall and inserting a stent, like mesh, to hold it open—” Sean used his hands to demonstrate. “All the studies show that if they can do that within ninety minutes of the original attack, there is a better chance of survival and fewer complications. Time from the onset of symptoms to reperfusion is an important predictor of outcome.”
Jackson pressed a button on the elevator and the doors closed. “I asked for plain language.”
“That was plain language.”
Tyler rolled his eyes. “If he ever gives us the complicated version I’m going to need a large drink.”
Jackson was frowning. “So is that good news?”
Sean decided they didn’t need to know all the potential outcomes. “How did it start? Was Gramps sick? Did he have chest pain?”
“According to Élise, one minute he was standing up, the next minute he was on the ground.” Jackson watched as the buttons illuminated one by one, stopping at what felt like every floor to let people in and out. “He was working on the deck of the old boathouse.”
“We’re converting it into a café.” It was Jackson’s turn to sound irritable. “Don’t you read your emails?”
“I get a ton of emails. So why was Gramps doing the work?”
“Because there wasn’t anyone else. We’re stretched to the limit. Gramps wanted to help and I don’t have the luxury of being able to stop him, even supposing I could. Everyone has been doing what they can to keep the place afloat.”
Everyone except him.
Sean stared straight ahead, feeling the guilt cover him like sweat. He was the only one not doing anything to stop the family business from sinking.
He turned his head to speak to Jackson and wished he hadn’t because his brother was kissing Kayla. A slow, lingering kiss that had as much eye contact as lip contact.
Immediately he thought of Élise. Of that single, hot night the summer before.
The night neither of them had ever mentioned.
He looked away. “Could you put each other down just for two minutes so we can focus here?”
“You’re witnessing true love,” Tyler drawled, “and it’s a beautiful thing.”
“Sorry, but it’s been a tough day and we don’t see that much of each other.” Kayla rested her head on Jackson’s shoulder. “But that’s going to change soon. One more week!”
Sean frowned. “You’ve given up your job in New York?”
“Yes. I’m going to be working and living here full-time. You knew I was doing that.” Kayla twisted the engagement ring on her finger. “I told you at Christmas.”
At Christmas he’d been focused on surviving three days of living in close quarters with his family without revealing the rift with his grandfather. He’d given virtually no thought to the way anyone else was feeling.
“Right. I guess I lost track of time.”
So Kayla was giving up her life to come and live here at Snow Crystal. Another person sacrificing everything for love. What the hell was he supposed to say to that?
Have you thought this through?
What happens when you wake up and start resenting everything you gave up to live here?
“I hope you’ll both be very happy.”
“We are and we will be.” Jackson looped his arm around Kayla’s shoulders. “Ignore him. He’s just jealous. He can’t keep a woman long enough to learn her name, that’s his problem.”
“I’m not the one with the problem.”
Commitment meant putting your own needs second and he was too selfish to make that sacrifice for anyone. He wanted to be able to work when he needed to without feeling the constant tug of duty and responsibility. He wanted to travel without always feeling there was another place he should be. He wanted freedom. He didn’t want to feel trapped and stifled in the same way his father had.
—the elevator had to be the slowest ever. He felt like getting out and pushing.
“Tyler, you should go home.” Jackson still had his arm around Kayla. “Gramps won’t thank us if he comes home and finds the place neglected.”
“He never thanks us, anyway,” Tyler muttered and Sean slid his finger around his already loosened collar.
“I’m not expecting a warm welcome.”
“You could come home more often,” Jackson replied mildly. “That would help.”
Tyler eyed his suit. “He doesn’t have the right clothing. You can’t walk around Snow Crystal in silk shirts and Armani.”
“It’s Brioni. I bought it when I was presenting at a medical conference in Milan.” He didn’t add that moving to Snow Crystal permanently would be one sacrifice he wouldn’t be making anytime soon. “A good suit is an investment. I seem to remember you owning a decent suit once. Several, in fact. Of course, that was in the days before you let yourself go.”
The exchange with his brothers was comfortable and familiar and kept him sane until the elevator finally stopped. He strode out before the doors were fully open, relieved to be out of the confined space, trapped with emotions he didn’t want to confront.