Everything I Hoped For
A Journey's End Billionaire Romance
Journey's End Billionaires, Book 3
The Queen’s grandson. A beautiful American doctor. An unforgettable royal love story…
Opposites attract. But for how long?
At thirty-five, with both her training and medical challenges finally behind her, Dr. Melody Harrison no longer believes in fairy-tale romances, handsome princes or even online dating. Her single passion? A blossoming career as a pediatric surgeon.
Given his painful past, sexy but awkward Londoner Anthony Scott no longer believes in much of anything at all. Until the night he lays eyes on Melody at a glittering gala in small-town Journey’s End.
Sparks fly when opposites attract. As for happily ever after between star-crossed lovers? Anything’s possible in Journey’s End…
If you love hot and emotional contemporary romance, grab this two-part romantic saga today!
1. No Ordinary Love (Baptiste & Samira #1)
2. Beyond Ordinary Love (Baptiste & Samira #2)
3. Everything I Hoped For (Anthony & Melody #1)
4. Everything I Need (Anthony & Melody #2)
5. Untitled (Nick’s Story #1)
6. Untitled (Nick’s Story #2)
Read an Excerpt
Bloody black-tie events.
Scowling as he leaned against the nearest pillar, Anthony Scott ran his fingers under his starched collar as discreetly as he could, trying to overcome the feeling of a noose tightening round his neck. The glittering ballroom overflowed with exactly the sorts of yammering society nobs and suck-ups he normally encountered back in London. The sorts that set his teeth on edge. One would think that crossing the Atlantic and traveling all the way to tiny Journey’s End in upstate New York would solve this particular problem, but no such luck. One might also think that, given his age (thirty-four) and his background, he might be more comfortable with chatting up complete strangers but, again, no such luck. Honestly, he wouldn’t mind giving a nice chunk of his fortune for the pleasure of escaping up to his suite and being done with the whole event.
The only bright spots on his otherwise dreary horizon?
Half the crowd were Yanks, which meant they had no idea who he was.
And she might be there.
His skin tightened pleasantly with anticipation, but a quick scan of the crowd revealed no one nearby with that glowing golden skin or tumbling corkscrew hair. No one with that direct gaze, which was as challenging as it was compelling. No one with the smiling eyes and banked laughter that suggested she was the woman you wanted whether you were watching a Wes Anderson movie or sharing secrets in the dark.
A tinge of disappointment made him scowl again before he raised his whisky glass to his lips and drank deeply. He somehow resisted the urge to pull out his phone and stare at her pictures for the millionth time since his longtime mate from boarding school, Jean-Baptiste Mercier, first alerted Anthony to her existence, but it took a great deal of effort.
But Anthony gave his breast pocket a reassuring pat with his free hand, just to make sure the phone, and her smiling face, were still there—
Startled, Anthony glanced around to discover an exasperated looking Baptiste beckoning to him from several feet away. A surprise because Anthony had thought that Baptiste and their other school chum, Domenico “Nick” Rossi, were still right there beside him.
Anthony snapped to attention, realizing that he had, perhaps, lapsed into a daydream. About her.
Baptiste raised a brow and beckoned again. “Do you want to join us, or do you want to continue being rude?”
Anthony hesitated. What he wanted was to leave this gala celebration of Baptiste’s new winery merger, go upstairs to his hotel suite, shed the monkey suit and stretch out in bed to watch football with another whisky and a nice slice of New York style pizza. Then he could fall asleep with his Ruth Bader Ginsberg biography, which was really starting to get good.
Actually, strike that. What he really wanted was to be upstairs rolling around in that same bed with the object of his growing obsession, but since what he wanted didn’t seem to be on the menu tonight, he braced for another round of small talk and calibrated his expression for polite interest as he walked over.
That was when the crowd shifted and he realized that Baptiste and Nick were standing beside two beautiful women, one with dark skin and short hair, the other with—
Christ. It was her.
His mouth dried out. His feet simultaneously turned leaden and clumsy, like flippers on land, and his steps slowed to the point where it was a wonder he didn’t trip over himself and plant his face on the floor.
Still, he eventually got there, his mind empty of all intelligent thought.
Well…except for the galling knowledge that he’d probably screw things up. The way he always did.
Put that thought aside for now, Anthony, he told himself, taking a bracing breath.
“Could you be a bit more sociable?” Baptiste snapped when he arrived. “I thought you were with us. Not standing over there holding up some pole.”
“I’ll try.” Anthony cleared his throat and decided that coherence was all anyone could request of him at the moment, let alone good manners or a smile of greeting. He also decided it was best not to look directly at her until he got his features and hoarse voice under control. “I’m not very good at these events, I’m afraid.”
“He’s a Brit,” Nick interjected apologetically, flashing the wide smile (blindingly white and readily available) that always made Anthony seem that much more a buffoon in comparison. Freaking charming Italian. “They show no emotions, ever. What can you do?”
“Don’t start, you two,” Baptiste warned Anthony and Nick in that silky accent of his, green eyes bright and twinkling for the ladies’ benefit. “I’d prefer for Samira to think I have nice friends.”
Freaking charming Frenchman, Anthony thought, glaring at Baptiste with rising despair. Moments like these always made Anthony wonder why he’d ever befriended these two suave fellows in the first place. Thirty seconds with them in a social setting and Anthony inevitably sank to bottom of the class in terms of interpersonal skills and making a good impression.
Lobbing a final glare at Anthony and Nick, Baptiste commenced with the introductions. “Anthony Scott, meet Samira Palmer and Dr. Melody Harrison.”
Oh, Anthony knew who Dr. Melody Harrison was, all right.
Because Baptiste had texted him a few weeks ago, saying that if Anthony was still in the market for surgeons willing to volunteer for one of the foundations he chaired, which provided medical services for children in need around the world, then Baptiste had a lead on someone for him to consider. And he had provided a link to Melody’s hospital bio.
Since Anthony was always in the market for volunteers, he’d clicked on the link. Seen Melody’s hospital bio and picture. Been immediately smitten and researched everything he could find online about her.
And suddenly found himself in the midst of a growing fascination with this stunning woman standing in front of him.
Melody Harrison, thirty-five. A single, Harvard University-trained pediatric surgeon born and bred here in Journey’s End, now practicing at the local medical center.
Anthony had, naturally, watched all her online video snippets for parents, where she discussed topics like the necessity of vaccinations and vision and sight screenings. He’d discovered that she was sharp, funny and compassionate, with a brisk and lovely American accent.
One might think that, with all that information and growing curiosity under his belt, he would be more than ready to meet Melody. One would be sadly wrong. Especially with his heart pounding its way up his throat.
So he focused on Baptiste’s new girlfriend, Samira, first.
“How do you do?” he said, noting Samira’s doe eyes, gleaming dark skin, high cheekbones and open smile. Baptiste had chosen well. Anthony could absolutely see why Baptiste had lost his head over her. “Pleasure.”
Samira murmured something in response. He had no idea what. Why? Because his brain exploded as soon as he turned to Melody and looked into her face at close range.
Surely no one present could blame him for needing a moment to adjust to being in the presence of this angel in their midst, much less smile or make conversation. Not with his face frozen like this.
Where to start?
Well, she was of average height, but that was where anything remotely average about her ended. She had luminous brown eyes that dominated her heart-shaped face. A cute nose. A lush fantasy of a mouth. Black corkscrew curls, piled on top of her head tonight, with a tumble trailing down one side of her face and along her neck. Honeyed skin, a gift from her white mother and black father (he’d seen them in her social media pictures), that glowed gold in the ballroom’s romantic lighting. A filmy and fiery strapless red dress that left a healthy portion of her cleavage visible to admiring eyes, like his.
For a couple of the most deliciously excruciating moments of his life, he had zero idea what to do or say.
But then a small portion of his brain returned from break and reported for duty.
Right, then. Greet her, Anthony, you bloody moron. Don’t screw this up.
Everything happened in slow motion.
He nodded at her.
A smile turned up the corners of her mouth, revealing the promise of dimples.
Excitement swooped low in his gut.
They shook hands, her soft palm sliding against his.
Her eyes widened as a shiver of something passed between them.
A secondary explosion racked his brain, leaving nothing useable in its wake.
Her lips moved.
He heard nothing.
She waited, a flicker of something indefinable crossing over her expression.
And…that was when everything zoomed to regular speed again and full awareness slammed back into his body.
Just in time for his social awkwardness to be revealed in all its glory.
She said something, you dolt.
“Pleasure,” he said, dropping her hand and stepping away from this female flame before he truly hurt himself.
She stared at him, her expression inscrutable, before hastily looking away and smoothing her hair where it ran down her cheek.
With that, all the air seemed to go out of the room. He knew he’d taken it with him, but he couldn’t quite figure out how to get it back. He never could.
A long and uncomfortable pause followed.
“So…” In a valiant attempt to get the mood back on track, Melody took a deep breath and encompassed all the men in her sweeping glance. “I have one dance partner for later, thanks to Nick. Who else is with me?”
“I am, as long as Samira can spare me,” Baptiste said. “She’s so easily eaten alive by jealousy. You understand.”
“You wish,” Samira told Baptiste, and the two lovebirds made eyes at each other.
Melody looked to Anthony, her expression hopeful. “What about you?”
His heart sank. Every time he stepped onto a dance floor, he somehow managed to expand his two left feet to his entire body, generally spasming about like a man being electrocuted.
The only thing worse than his social graces? His dancing.
“You’ll have to do without me,” he said. “I don’t dance.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Anthony wanted to find a shepherd’s hook and yank them back. He’d meant to sound regretful. Instead, he’d sounded like a curt arse, even to his own ears. His poor sinking heart bottomed out at his feet.
“You don’t dance? Well, there’s a surprise,” Melody said tartly.
“Mel…” Samira said, shooting her a look.
Ignoring this interruption, Melody stared up at Anthony with an open combination of amusement and mild irritation. Not at all the kind of thing he usually encountered with society women, who fell about simpering at him and laughing at every half-baked joke he told.
He stared at Melody, feeling a powerful surge of adrenaline as everything in him waited at strict attention to see what she would say.
“Pardon me?” he asked, his voice acquiring a husky edge.
“The life of the party, such as yourself?” Melody asked sweetly. “Hard to believe you don’t enjoy dancing.”
Anthony gaped at her.
“You might want to try dancing, Anthony,” Baptiste said. “Samira and I danced together the night we met, didn’t we, Samira? You never know when chemistry will strike.”
“Well, it’s not striking here.” Tipping up her nose, as though she found the merest whiff of Anthony intolerable, Melody pivoted on her sky-high heels, firmly turning her back on him. “So don’t waste your time.”
She. Turned. Her. Back. On. Him.
Oh, she was spicy, this one.
Anthony liked that. He liked that a lot. And God help him, but she smelled like some heady and expensive combination of lemons and flowers. His belly tightened with spiraling desire.
He watched her, bemused and speechless.
“I think I need more champagne,” she added. “Great to meet you, Nick.”
The subtle emphasis was lost on no one, Anthony was sure, least of all him. He choked back a startled laugh.
With a final scowl in his direction, Melody swept off, giving Anthony the time and the opportunity he needed to admire her backside and shapely legs through the slit in her dress as she walked off through the crowd.
“I believe I mentioned that Melody is the surgeon who wants to donate her time and talents to your foundation? The one that treats sick children?” Baptiste asked Anthony blandly. As if Anthony hadn’t told him, earlier this very evening, that Anthony was keen to meet the lovely Melody for reasons that had nothing to do with the foundation. “Or perhaps you’ve forgotten already?” Baptiste continued, eyes glimmering with mischief.
Anthony frowned at him, but couldn’t get worked up about the teasing. Not when he felt this vibrantly and unreasonably alive in the wake of Melody’s set down.
And also—let’s face it—ridiculously deflated and disappointed with himself.
His entire body sagged with the weight of his failure. What a royal cockup.
He discreetly tried to keep Melody in sight, blinking and looking away only when Nick thumped him in the stomach with the back of his hand.
“Well done,” Nick said brightly. “Now you’ve alienated people on six of the seven continents. We must book a trip to Antarctica so you can finish the job. Come on. We need drinks.”
“We’ll see you in a bit,” Baptiste said, clearly eager for a minute alone with Samira.
“Great to meet you,” Samira called after them.
“You, too,” Anthony and Nick told her, setting off.
Anthony scanned the crowd again for signs of Melody, some of his surging hormones easing back until he felt stunned by the speed at which he’d crashed and burned. See? He’d screwed it up, just as he’d feared.
In his mind, meeting Melody could have unfolded so differently tonight.
He’d envisioned it all perfectly:
He would arrive and have a drink or two to shore up his courage and help overcome his embarrassing awkwardness with new people. He and Melody would lock eyes from across the room and somehow drift closer to each other, equally trapped in a haze of sensual awareness and magnetically drawn to each other. They would have a drink. Laugh. She would be every bit as beautiful and intriguing as her photos and videos promised. He would, for once in his misbegotten life, be as witty and smooth as Baptiste, Nick or, hell, George Clooney. She would like him for him, not knowing or caring about his family fortune or his grandmother. And then—he was a little hazy on this part—he and Melody would somehow find themselves upstairs in his suite, where they would fuck and fuck and then fuck some more, ravaging each other until the sun came up.
He could almost laugh.
In that entire well-spun fantasy, the only part that had come true was that Melody was far sexier and more intriguing than his poor mind could ever imagine.
And now she thought he was the toilet paper that got stuck to the bottom of her spiky heels when she visited the loo.
And he felt frustrated. Defeated. But also determined to try again.
What was it that Nelson Mandela had said about just such a situation? Ah, yes.
A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.
“I want you to know,” Nick said, clapping a hand on Anthony’s shoulder to steer him to the nearest bar, “that that was a pathetic performance—”
“I know,” Anthony muttered.
“—and you have embarrassed yourself—”
“—and your family.” Nick tipped his head and studied him with thoughtful concern. “Possibly for generations to come.”
“Yet you stood silently by and watched it all happen,” Anthony said bitterly. “Why haven’t you and Baptiste taught me anything after all these years, I wonder?”
“We try!” Nick cried. “But you are absolutely unteachable.”
“Fair enough,” Anthony said, turning to the bartender. “Two whiskies. Neat.”
They took their drinks and waded back into the crowd. Still no sign of—
“Stop craning your neck,” Nick said around a sip of his drink. “You’ll give yourself an injury. And it’s pathetic.”
“Yes, all right. We’ve both agreed that that was not my finest performance.” Anthony shot daggers in his direction. “Perhaps we could move on.”
Nick shrugged, sipping again. “Agreed. But I of course reserve the right to talk about it again with Baptiste.”
“Wouldn’t blame you.” Anthony tossed back his entire drink, relishing the head-clearing burn as it worked its way down his throat. “I’ve got to go back in and try again.”
“Yes. Because you’ve been wanting to meet that woman, staring at her videos and mooning over her—”
“I didn’t moon.”
“—and you can’t let someone else swoop in and steal her out from under you tonight. You’re as good as anyone else.”
“Well, the jury’s still out on that one,” Anthony said, wishing he had another drink.
Nick snorted. “Just tell her who you are. I would. I would tell every woman within seconds of meeting her, and then just collect the panties the way people collect neckties or shoes.” He paused, making a show of smoothing his hair and preening. “Of course, I do already collect the panties. But I would collect more.”
This was the kind of thing that always made Anthony flare up.
“Yes, well, I’m not you, am I? I don’t have the whole Sophia Loren smile—”
“My smile is excellent, I admit,” Nick said, grinning in a blinding display of teeth.
“—nor do I want women who only want me for my family connections or money—oh, for God’s sake.” Spying the pair of women headed toward them, Anthony winced and wished he was back at his pillar so he could hide behind it. “Speak of the devil.”
“What?” Nick asked quickly, dropping his voice and leaning closer.
“It’s a bloody matchmaking mama from London who thinks I should marry her daughter. She stalks me at all these—oh, hello, Mrs. Carmichael.” Anthony pieced together about 30 percent of a pleasant smile and plastered it on his face. “Lovely to see you both tonight.”
“How are you, sir?” Mrs. Carmichael, whose plump face was difficult to make out what with all the sparkling diamonds ringing her neck and dangling from her ears, beamed at him as they shook. “I was hoping you might be here tonight.”
“Indeed?” More like the old bat had hired someone to hack into Anthony’s personal assistant’s computer and steal Anthony’s engagement calendar. “But you mustn’t call me sir, Mrs. Carmichael. We’ve talked about that. I’d prefer Anthony.”
“Oh, I couldn’t.” Mrs. Carmichael flapped a hand, tittering like a finch on a power line. Then she all but planted her hand between her daughter’s shoulder blades and shoved her forward in her eagerness to put her in front of Anthony. “And you remember my Annabella, don’t you?”
As if he could forget.
Annabella was actually rather lovely in a toothy, freckled and outdoorsy sort of way, which was fine if one overlooked the fact that she was only twenty-one or so (one of these days, Anthony would have to verify that the girl was, in fact, of age) and had the personality of Sleeping Beauty before the kiss.
Anthony’s interest in her, accordingly, ran far more toward adoption than marriage.
He shook the girl’s hand. “Of course. How are you, Annabella?”
“I’m really good.” She giggled. “We’re going to Eleuthera for the holidays.” Giggle. “So I can’t wait for that.”
Anthony nodded, wishing both the Carmichael females would notice, just the once, that he had absolutely zero interest in either of them, take the hint and leave. But then it occurred to him that he might be demonstrating the kind of rude behavior that frequently got him in trouble and decided to make more of an effort.
“And have you both met my school chum, Domenico Rossi?” he asked tiredly, motioning Nick forward.
And there went the wide and startling flash of Nick’s smile, right on cue, leaving both the women looking a bit dazed.
“Delightful to meet you, Mrs. Carmichael. Annabella.” Nick’s discreet once-over, honed to a razor’s edge by years of practice, skimmed Annabella from head to toe, assessing her for relative fuckability. “Such a pleasure. Call me Nick.”
“And you, Nick.” Mrs. Carmichael’s cheeks, normally rosy, went bright red as she beheld the Roman god. “And what a lovely accent you have. I take it you’re from Italy?”
“Forgive me, Mrs. Carmichael.” Anthony didn’t have the patience to keep the crisp finality out of his voice, but painful experience had taught him that the matchmaking mama wouldn’t hear it anyway. “But I’ve just spotted, ah, someone I need to introduce to Nick. You’ll excuse us, won’t you?”
Without waiting for any response, he clapped a hand on Nick’s shoulder and steered him away.
“Dio Santo,” Nick muttered when they were out of earshot, shuddering. “Fucking that one would be as exciting as a blow-up doll. Is she even a legal adult?”
“I was afraid the mama was going to offer you a fifty-thousand-pound dowry and some cows for her.”
“I’m sure Mrs. Carmichael has considered it,” Anthony said darkly. “She’s not exactly subtle—hang on. There she is again. Melody.”
Anthony froze as he watched Melody join the end of the queue at one of the carving tables, his heart skittering like a fox mid-hunt. Nick followed his line of sight, then eagerly turned to face Anthony, placing both hands on his shoulders and leaning in close.
“Now, listen,” Nick said, skewering Anthony with that gray-eyed look of his. “This is your second chance, eh? Don’t blow it. You’re a good guy. A handsome guy. Stop being your own worst enemy. You’re too old to be this shy. Go over there, talk to her and be yourself. And if that doesn’t work? Pretend you’re me. Okay? Andare.”
With that, he took Anthony’s face between his hands, gave him smacking kisses on both cheeks and turned him loose with a slight shove to get him moving.
Anthony glowered over his shoulder at him. “Stop kissing me. I’m British. We hate that.”
A shrug from Nick. “I’m Italian. That’s why I do it.”
Chuckling, Anthony hurried the rest of the way. He slipped into line behind Melody and helped himself to a plate, praying she wouldn’t notice him for a second or two. Just long enough for him to think of something to say.
But Melody, naturally, saw him immediately.
She stiffened, stabbing his flagging morale directly in the heart with her dinner fork.
That was when he shored up his courage and gave himself a swift kick in the arse. He’d been a captain in Her Majesty’s service, for God’s sake. He’d served overseas. He wasn’t going to let a case of nerves keep him from getting to know Melody better while the opportunity presented itself. He could be brave when he needed to. This was clearly one of those moments.
He took a deep breath.
“It seems we’ve got off on the wrong foot,” he told Melody.
“We did not get off on the right foot.” Melody shot him a sidelong glance as she also took a plate from the stack. “I think we can agree on that. In fact, why don’t we just pretend we don’t see each other here in line and call it a day?”
Ouch. Another direct hit to his ego.
“That would be the best thing you could do,” he said, his pulse thumping in his ears. “Obviously. But then I might miss out on getting to know an interesting new person. Not very fair to me, is it?”
“You’re the one who dug this hole for yourself.” She reached for a roll. “I was very pleasant to you.”
“Yes, and pleasant persons, such as yourself, often give, ah…”
“I believe you Brits call them arses?” she supplied delicately.
She had him there.
“Fair enough. I believe you like to give arses like me a second chance now and then.”
“Well, I would. Just because you and I will probably be seeing each other a fair amount—”
His pulse rate sped up like the horses out of the gate at Ascot.
“—if things keep up at this rate with Baptiste and Samira. But the problem is, I don’t know what kind of arse you are.”
“Maya Angelou—you know her?”
“Of course I know her. What kind of a cretin do you take me for?”
“Not sure you want me to answer that right now. Anyway, she said that when a person shows you who they are, you should believe them the first time.”
“Ah.” His pulse rate crashed and burned. “I see where you’re going with this.”
“I figured you would. So are you an arse down in your soul, or are you a situational arse?”
She stared up at him as she waited for his answer, all wide-eyed and amused interest with those glorious brown eyes. He eased closer, happy to have this woman reel him in. Honestly, if he were a fish, he’d hook her line through his own cheek just so he could be on the boat with her.
“I’m strictly a situational arse,” he said, doing his best to remain undistracted by the plump swells of her baps where her dress dipped in front. But he did have quite the spectacular view. He’d hardly be a man if he didn’t notice. “You have my word.”
“Hmm.” She studied him closely. “That remains to be seen. And unfortunately for you, you can’t just announce what kind of person you are. You have to demonstrate it.”
“Understood. But can I offer a tiny explanation? About my gruffness earlier?”
“Feel free.” She craned her neck and looked around, noting all the people still waiting to be served. “Since this line doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon and we may be forced to order a pizza if we want to get fed tonight.”
“You see, the problem is that I’m a very poor dancer. The kind who leaves carnage across the dance floor and ruins parties.” He shuddered. “No one here wants that.”
“Ah.” Dimpling, she passed him a set of silverware from the basket as the line finally shuffled toward the chef carving his giant roast. “Well, thank you for saving several lives tonight.”
Anthony stared at her, feeling a bit lost. The sight of one almost-smile from this woman should not make his blood surge and hum through his veins, heating him from the inside out like some sort of emotional microwave.
But it did.
He studied her downturned face as he watched her spoon potatoes and horseradish sauce onto her plate, wondering if he should call the night a triumph. He’d spoken to her again; she’d given him half a chance; he’d seen a glimpse of her smile. Why not retire with full honors before he mucked it up again and said something to convince her he was as beastly as she’d initially feared?
But he didn’t want to retire.
He wanted to bask in her glow for a few minutes longer. See if he could earn a full smile from that amazing mouth.
After all—no guts, no glory.
So he helped himself to potatoes and salad, thinking hard as the line inched forward.
Keep it nice and easy, Scott, he reminded himself. Don’t blather.
He cleared his throat. “You should probably know. I’m not at my charming best at big parties like this. Or with new people in general. That’s what makes me an arse.”
More dimples, then she looked up, her bright eyes smiling even if her mouth wasn’t.
“Do you have a charming best?”
“No. Not that anyone’s ever detected.”
That did it.
To his immense gratification, she burst into laughter. The kind that made her eyes dance and lit up not just her face but, honest to God, this entire corner of the ballroom and the darkest corners of his being. And he would have smiled back, but he was frozen inside the twin possibilities that he might get to know her, just a little bit more, or that he still might cock this whole thing up before she ever smiled at him like that again.
“See?” She nudged him with her elbow. “That was charming and funny.”
More of her laughter.
His heart skittered like beads of water across a hot griddle.
Then she sobered, giving him a crisp nod. “I really like Baptiste. He’s got great taste in girlfriends—”
“Yes, because you and Samira are best friends, I believe?”
“—right. And if he’s got good taste in girlfriends, maybe he’s got good taste in best friends, too.”
“That is the case with me. Not at all the case with Nick.”
“Ah, Nick.” She grinned again. “I knew he was trouble.”
“You’ve no idea,” he said, wincing dramatically.
“Well, anyway. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve decided to give you another chance.”
Oh, the irony. If she knew exactly how happy he was to know she hadn’t completely written him off, she’d probably drop her plate and run screaming from the room.
“I’m delighted to hear that, Melody,” he said, relief and excitement making his voice husky.
Nodding with unmistakable satisfaction, she balanced her plate and cutlery in her left hand and extended her right to him. “Melody Harrison. Great to meet you.”
He frowned. “Doctor Melody Harrison, isn’t it?”
She shrugged that away, flushing. “No need to be pretentious. My title isn’t who I am.”
Whoa. Had truer words ever been spoken?
He blinked, fighting the sensation that he’d received a mild shock from an outlet. He also battled the urge to look up and ask God if he could possibly be serious by sending Melody across his path, or whether He was just messing with Anthony the way He had during the holidays when Anthony was thirteen. That was the year his beloved mother had seemed to suffer no ill effects following a rough fall on the slopes in Klosters, then died the next morning from a brain bleed.
Melody couldn’t possibly be the spectacular woman she appeared to be.
Somehow Anthony shook off the dazed sensation. Then he shook this remarkable woman’s soft hand for the second time that night, praying that some of the tightness in his throat would ease up a bit, at least enough for him to continue talking to her.
As for the prickling nerve endings in his nape and the goose bumps still flaring up and down his arms?
Nothing to be done about that.
“Melody Harrison.” He said her name with relish. “It’s a great pleasure to meet you.”
She stared up at him, her smile fading as that indefinable thing arced between them again, twice as strong as before.
He held her hand, lingering in the moment—
“Excuse me,” the woman behind him said in her harsh New York accent, “but the line’s moving.”
Sure enough, behind Melody’s back, the line had moved ahead a meter or so, and the chef was serving the man in front of Melody.
Melody blinked and flushed, dropping Anthony’s hand and hastily closing the gap.
He flexed his fingers, feeling deliciously scalded.
Good God. Electrified and scalded. What on earth had got into him tonight?
“Do you have a rare piece?” Melody asked the chef as he sliced for her. “That’s perfect. Thanks.”
And she stepped away from the carving table with her dinner, lingering several feet away as she searched the ballroom for an empty place to sit without ever looking back over her shoulder at Anthony.
“Rare for me, too,” he quickly told the chef, wishing the man would hurry up a bit and not daring to hope that Melody might be waiting for him, let alone that she might feel the chemistry between them as acutely as Anthony did. “Great. No, that’s plenty. Thanks.”
Good fortune was with him. A couple walked away from one of the high-top tables surrounding the dance floor just then, giving him the opportunity he needed.
He hurried over to Melody. “I’ve found a table. Now that we’re practically best friends, I feel certain you’ll want to share it with me.”
Melody looked round, her expression brightening. Perhaps the whisky he’d drunk had begun to distort his reality, but he could swear she looked excited to spend more time with him.
“You’re finished being an arse for the night? Because we’ve still got a fair amount of gala to go,” she said very seriously.
“I’ll do my best.” He steered her to the table, deciding there was no time like the present to make sure she was single. The Internet and Baptiste had already told him that she wasn’t married, but that didn’t mean she had no significant other. “And are you here with someone? Do you want to go find him and let him know where you are?”
Repressed laughter made her eyes gleam as she set her plate down. “I’m good.”
There was only one response to this nonanswer: a doleful look.
“You’re sure you’re not a barrister or a politician?” he wondered. “I’ve rarely heard such an evasive reply.”
“And I’ve rarely heard such a poorly veiled question.” Her lips twitched at the corners. “If you want to know something, why not ask a direct question?”
Anthony tried to look innocent. “I thought I did.”
“No, you didn’t—Baptiste. What’s wrong?”
Baptiste hurried over to their table, looking pale and worried.
“There you are. I’ve been looking for you,” he told Melody.
“What’s wrong?” She put a hand on Baptiste’s forearm. “Where’s Samira?”
“She is, ah…” Baptiste ran a hand through his hair, making the waves stand on end. “She’s not feeling very well all the sudden. It’s her, ah, stomach.”
“Oh, no,” Melody said. “There’s a nasty virus going around. Do you want me to take a look at her, or…?”
Shaky laugh from Baptiste. “I would love for you to take a look at her, but she’d have my head for suggesting it. She insists she’ll be fine.”
“I’m sure she will be fine in a couple days. As long as she gets some rest and keeps pushing clear liquids so she doesn’t get dehydrated. Are you taking her home?”
“Yes, but she’s insisting on staying until after the remarks on the winery merger.”
“Well, she works for the winery,” Melody said. “It’s her job.”
“Yes,” Baptiste said shortly, looking distracted.
Melody and Anthony exchanged concerned glances. Anthony was about to say something when Melody took the words out of his mouth.
“Baptiste, is there something else going on? Do you think it’s something other than a stomach bug? You look so worried.”
Baptiste blinked and came out of it, dividing his attention between them and trying to give them a reassuring smile. “I’m sure she’ll be fine.”
“Will you be fine?” Melody asked, squeezing Baptiste’s arm. “That’s the question.”
Baptiste frowned. Shot a wary glance over his shoulder at Anthony.
“I’m not going to tease you, Bappy,” Anthony said quickly. “We’re not in school anymore, and even I’m not that big a prat.”
Baptiste’s tense face eased into the beginnings of a smile to accompany his nod of thanks. Then he turned back to Melody, sobering.
“The thing is, Samira’s everything to me.” He swallowed hard, making his Adam’s apple bob, and if Anthony didn’t know better, he’d almost think he saw tears in his mate’s eyes. Which would be the first time ever. “Everything. If anything happened to Samira—”
“Nothing’s going to happen to her,” Melody said firmly. “And she can’t take care of herself if she’s worried about you falling apart. You need to get it together, okay?”
Baptiste took a deep breath and stood a bit straighter. “Yes, of course. You’re right. I’m okay now. I’ll take good care of her.”
“I know that.” Melody beamed at him and patted his face. “Why do you think I’ve been your biggest supporter, Bappy?”
“Merde.” Baptiste scowled over his shoulder at Anthony, who tried to look apologetic, before leaning down to give Melody a double-cheeked kiss and big hug. “If I’d known we were using school nicknames tonight, I would have told Melody yours earlier, Stocky.”
Anthony froze, wishing he’d kept his fat mouth shut. He shot Baptiste a warning glance as threatening as he could make it. Baptiste had the decency to look somewhat chagrined, but the damage was already done.
Melody looked at the both of them with keen interest and open amusement. “Stocky? I can figure out where Bappy comes from, but what’s Stocky about?”
“Old family name,” Anthony said quickly, before Baptiste revealed any further information that Anthony preferred to keep quiet for now. “Please give Samira my best. She’s very lovely. I can see why you’re so taken with her.”
“Indeed.” Baptiste’s eyes narrowed with speculation, which was never a good sign. “Melody is also very lovely. But you seem to have already noticed that.”
Anthony’s face and ears burned white hot. He tried to look politely puzzled and regretted that they were out of school, where it would have been more acceptable for him to lunge for Baptiste’s throat and wrestle him to the ground.
“Don’t let us keep you,” Anthony told Baptiste through gritted teeth.
Chuckling now, Baptiste clapped him on the back and hurried off through the crowd, leaving Anthony to wish he had a fire extinguisher to put out the flames of his embarrassment as he faced Melody again.
“I’ve never seen him like that over a woman,” he said, jerking his head in Baptiste’s direction. “I’d had the impression that things between him and Samira are quite serious. This proves it.”
“I think you’re right. I’ve heard people talk about feeling like they got zapped by electricity or lightning or something—”
Anthony tensed, his hand hovering over his silverware.
“But this is the first time I’ve ever seen it in action. I probably shouldn’t speak out of turn, but I’d be surprised if they don’t wind up getting married.”
As the child of divorced parents who’d scorched most of the earth beneath his feet leading up to and following their split back when Anthony was ten, he’d spent a lot of time alternately insisting that he wasn’t ready to get married and/or feigning deafness when people like Mrs. Carmichael or, God forbid, his grandmother raised the topic.
So it was with a great deal of surprise, on what had already been a surprising night, that he found himself loosening up enough to spread some horseradish sauce on his meat and say the following:
“Well, we’re all in our mid-thirties, Baptiste, Nick and I. I’ll be thirty-five next year. Probably long past time for us to settle down and start families.”
She glanced up from her careful arrangement of prime rib on her bun. “You like children?”
“’Course. What about you? Do you want to get married one day?”
“Nope. I’ve sworn off men,” she said blithely. “I’ve decided to embrace my old maid status.”
“Excuse me?” He choked on his bite and had to cough. “What the bloody hell are you talking about?”
“I’m serious. I work roughly a million hours per week. When I’m not working, I’m too tired to play online dating games with men who may or may not want a real relationship and may or may not even bother to show up on time for coffee or drinks after I’ve gone to the trouble of putting makeup and a nice outfit on. I’m over it. I’d rather stay at home and catch up on my medical journals. I’ve been married to my career for years. Now I’ve accepted that that’s the way it’s going to be. In fact, my dream house might be hitting the market soon—it’s a gorgeous Colonial about a mile from here—and I’m hoping to buy it. I’m damn sure not going to hold off on that while I wait for a man to show up in my life. I might even get a cat or two. I’ve always wanted one.”
Anthony had a great deal of difficulty getting his lower jaw off the floor. The idea of this intriguing woman rattling around in some lonely house with only a couple of cats and a stack of medical journals to occupy her because of a lack of worthwhile male companionship struck him as every bit as wasteful as tearing down Sandringham House because it had so many windows to clean.
Just in case his head hadn’t completely exploded off his shoulders, she went back in to finish the job.
“It would take a great guy to make me jump back into those waters,” she said, slathering more horseradish sauce on her sandwich and completely unaware of the consternation she’d just caused him. “A really. Great. Guy. Cheers.”
With that, she took a bite of her sandwich with relish.
He put down his fork, appetite ruined.
“And what about children?” he demanded. “Don’t you like children?”
“Me? I hate children.” She wiped her mouth. “That’s why I became a pediatric surgeon. Now I can cut on them all day and hear their little screams.”
He burst into startled laughter that helped dissipate some of the clouds that had just settled over him.
Melody watched him as her own smile slowly faded.
“What?” He rubbed his mouth with his napkin. “Don’t tell me I have food in my teeth. I’ve barely eaten anything.”
She blushed, all that golden skin taking on a rosy glow that seemed to steal all the ballroom’s light from other sources and concentrate it on her face.
“You have great smile. I’m just wondering why you keep it on such strict lockdown.”
Most of the air whooshed out of his lungs. She’d sworn off men, yet she complimented him like that? Was this a mixed message, or had he let his ego run away with him? And why did it feel so important to get the bottom of the matter?
He cleared his throat, determined to stay on topic. “And how do you expect to have children if you’re single at the ripe old age of…?”
He already knew her age, of course, but he waited for her to supply it. They were almost the same age. That seemed like an important fact.
“Thirty-five,” she said.
“Thirty-five. What’s your plan, then?” he asked, recovering some of his appetite and taking a bite of potato.
She shot him a disbelieving look. “You may not realize this, but in the twenty-first century, women can adopt or use sperm donors.”
The potato turned to rancid roadkill in his mouth. This just got worse and worse.
He dropped his fork with a clatter.
She looked up from her food, frowning at him.
“Children need a father,” he said flatly.
She shrugged. “Plenty of children of divorce turn out just fine.”
He was Exhibit A on that point, he supposed. Still, he felt the inexplicable but powerful urge to take up arms and vigorously defend this point.
“Nevertheless, a male presence in the household—”
“I’m too busy to think about that now,” she said, waving a hand. “And there’s a bit more to my story. I wouldn’t care if I never dated again, but Samira got a bee in her bonnet about wanting me to find someone and not be a single mom. So she signed me up for Doctor Love dot com. We’ll see what happens.”
“Doctor Love dot com?” he blurted on a surge of outrage. “What, some crackpot page for online hookups?”
A cold front swept into the ballroom. The eye of the storm centered over Melody’s face. She put her sandwich down.
“It’s not a crackpot page for online hookups,” she said slowly, icicles trailing spiky points from every word. “It’s a well-respected dating website where doctors are matched with other doctors. Their statistics on successful matches are well above industry standards. Samira thinks I should check it out.”
What a disaster. This woman planned to either never date or only date men from the Internet. He couldn’t think when he’d heard a more ridiculous idea. And what about him? A decent looking real-world man with a credential or two sitting right in front of her! What, was he no better than spoiled haggis?
She had him so flustered that he couldn’t think straight. Or at all.
Which perhaps explained why he didn’t pick up on social cues and keep his fat mouth shut.
“Yes, but why would a glorious woman like you need to stoop to such nonsense?” he cried. “Now every unworthy man with a medical degree and a computer with Internet access gets a go at you? And what if your best match isn’t a doctor? You’d miss him entirely, wouldn’t you?”
Melody’s expression closed off.
“Does it even occur to you that you’re complimenting me and insulting me in the same breath?”
He leaned in, his words clipped and his face hot.
“Does it even occur to you that your plan is illogical nonsense?”
She stiffened. “And the insults just keep on coming.”
He belatedly realized that he’d veered into awkward territory again and winced. Impatiently flapped a hand.
“I obviously don’t mean to insult you. If I did—”
“It’s purely by accident—hang on. Why are you taking your plate? Where’re you going?”
“I’m leaving.” She stood, her face the vivid red of the guards’ jackets during their changing ceremonies outside Buckingham Palace. “And thank you for only wasting ten minutes of my time while you show me that you are, in fact, an unmitigated arse. And for us Americans in the crowd, you’re also a jackass.”
Hurt and anger at himself—because he was always his own worst enemy, wasn’t he? —made him sharper than he needed to be.
He also stood. “And you, Dr. Harrison, are a judgmental hothead.”
Another humorless laugh. “Yeah, okay. Screw you.”
She moved so abruptly as she turned to go that the one side of her hair shifted away from her face.
That was when he saw them:
The raised and mottled marks that ran over her cheek and down the side of her neck like the fingers of a hand.
The sight of the pink and brown striations next to her radiant golden skin was so jarring and unexpected that he couldn’t hold back the words as he put a hand on her arm to stop her.
“My God, what’s happened to your face?” he said, even though he’d spent more than enough time in overseas war zones to recognize scars like this when he saw them. He’d seen his men alight. Heard their screams in the field, their moans in the hospital and smelled the sizzle of their flesh. And Melody had…? He couldn’t even let himself finish the thought. It was far too painful. “Were you burned?”
Once again, he wanted to yank the words back. Especially when he glimpsed the bright red patches staining her cheeks. Her flashing eyes and flaring nostrils.
But then he saw the hint of steel and realized that he’d angered rather than humiliated her.
She looked as though she wanted to take his head off.
He could hardly blame her for that.
Hell, if there’d been a block nearby, he’d have laid his head down on it for the big chop.
As the wave of her quiet fury rolled over him, he took a moment to put down the shovel he’d used to dig himself this massive hole and admire her all the more. It would take more than the bumbling likes of him to humiliate the beautiful, intriguing and proud Dr. Melody Harrison. Oh, yes, it would.
“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, with no way to explain that the sight of that obscene scar on her face was as upsetting as watching someone take a blowtorch to one side of the Mona Lisa. No way to tell her that the thought of her ever having to endure that sort of excruciating pain made him want to vomit into the nearest potted plant. “I didn’t mean—”
“Save yourself,” she said coolly. “I couldn’t care less about what you mean.”
Stunned stupid, he watched her storm off for the second time that night, thinking about what an idiot he was and how overmatched he was with this one.
And how determined he was to change her opinion of him….