Copyright © 2013 Robin L. Rotham
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
When someone pounded on my apartment door like they meant business, I fumbled one of my mother’s second-best teacups and almost dropped it.
If I’d had any idea who was doing the pounding, I might have let it fall and bitten my knuckle in suspense. Instead, I blew out an annoyed breath and finished wrapping the delicate cup in newspaper before answering. I would have ignored the rude summons altogether but I needed boxes too badly.
“I’m glad you’re here,” I said as I threw open the door. “I need some… Colin?”
He grinned. “I’m just in time then.” When I blinked at him in shock, the grin widened. “Good morning, Rachel.”
“I thought you were the movers,” I said blankly. The last time I’d been this close to Dr. Colin Carter, he was pulling his underwear up over his spectacular ass. Why was he standing on my doorstep five years later, fully dressed in blue jeans and a black leather jacket?
He looked into the living room. “May I come in?”
After a moment’s hesitation, I stood back, tugging self-consciously at the stretched-out hem of my faded purple UW sweatshirt. Then I glanced at the living room, which was a shambles and not just because I was moving. Organization had never been my strong suit. Boxes and books and stacks of medical journals made an obstacle course of the floor, and piles of paper covered every horizontal surface.
I flushed. “Sorry, I wasn’t really expecting company. It’s a bit of a wreck.”
“Not a problem.” He wrapped one arm around my shoulders in a loose embrace and brushed a kiss over my cheek before walking past.
My lungs collapsed in a nostalgic paroxysm of pure lust, leaving me practically gasping in his wake. Oh God, he still smelled like…Colin. Wind and leather and unrepentant sex—mind-bendingly dark sex that satisfied me on some unfathomable level, even as it left me craving more.
I was wet and ready to go in an instant, something that hadn’t happened in a depressingly long time.
Feeling exposed, I demanded, “What are you doing here?”
He turned, wearing an ironic smile, his hands in his pants pockets. “Never were much for small talk, were you? Just…” his blue eyes skimmed down the front of my body, “…get right down to business.”
“Please do,” I said acidly as heat gushed into my cheeks. “As you can see, I’ve got a lot going on.”
“You certainly do,” he murmured, his gaze fixed on my breasts as if he’d never seen a pair before.
I crossed my arms. “Colin!”
When he dragged his eyes up to mine, the feral hunger radiating from them took my breath away.
Then he blinked and all I saw was the gleam of a challenge. Had I imagined it?
“All right,” he said in a portentous tone, “I’m here to offer you a fellowship.”
My eyes just about popped out of my head. “Really? You leave town without a word, show up unannounced five years later to leer at me and then offer me a fellowship? Gee, how can I resist? Oh wait, I’ve already got a fellowship, so fuck off, Colin.”
“Not like this one. Trust me, Rachel, you want this one.”
Reluctantly intrigued, I scowled. “What’s so special about this fellowship?”
“You’ll be working with Julian Kilmartin.”
Everything in me stilled. Julian. I hadn’t seen him since before Colin left, and yet, even now, his name alone had the power to make me…pliable, somehow. Boneless.
Obviously I still had a weakness for arrogant young doctors.
Swallowing, I said, “I didn’t realize you were still associated with him.”
Actually, I had no idea what had happened to Colin after my second year of residency. He’d just…disappeared. My occasional Internet searches never turned up anything current, and the few times I’d swallowed my pride and asked after him, no one had heard a word about him.
“I leave the limelight to Julian,” Colin said with a dismissive wave. “We’ve spent the last few years working on some cutting-edge research—I’m talking razor’s edge, Rachel—and we’re on the verge of accomplishing something truly miraculous. We need a good vascular surgeon on the team and your name was—is—right at the top of Julian’s list.”
“Why?” I asked baldly. I may have been a damn good surgeon, but I was hardly God’s gift to modern medicine. Julian Kilmartin could afford his own dream team of world-class surgeons.
Colin gave a little half shrug. “He trusts you.”
“Oh, well that explains everything.” I rolled my eyes. “You know, we doctors are, by and large, very trustworthy. That’s why they give us licenses to play Operation with real people.”
“But you’re the only one who’s you.”
I stared at him. “This is crazy. I can’t believe he even remembers me. It’s been more than five years since he left UW and went into private research, and we were in different departments, so it’s not like we even had much contact.”
“You’re a memorable woman, and Julian knows a good thing when he sees one.” At my snort, he added, “He’s kept tabs on you over the years, Rachel. You have plenty of credits in some impressive vascular journals, and that paper you did on endovascular repair of complex abdominal aortic aneurisms was particularly well received. He’s even got a podcast of you on the vascular panel at the Women’s Comprehensive Health Conference in Atlanta last spring.”
Slack-jawed with amazement, I continued to stare.
“We’ll double EVI’s financial incentive,” he tossed out.
“Holy— Double?” My jaw dropped even farther. The offer from Early Vascular Institute was already what most people would consider exorbitant. I could afford to pay off my student loans right away. Buy a nice house. Maybe even buy into one of the better surgical practices.
“What in the hell are you guys working on that’s worth that kind of money?” I asked suspiciously.
“Ah-ah-aaah.” He shook his head with a secretive smile. “Not until you’ve signed the contracts. And if you need a little more incentive, this project is based in Montaneva. You always wanted to travel, didn’t you, Rachel? Have you made it to Europe yet?”
I could tell from his tone that he knew I hadn’t, damn him. And he knew enough about EVI’s offer to double it. Good Lord, as if they needed more incentive than the opportunity to work with the illustrious Dr. Julian Kilmartin.
“What’s the catch?” Because there always was one. Nothing worth having came without a price.
“No catch. You agree to work for Julian for a minimum of two years, keep your mouth shut until the end of time—unless we renegotiate the nondisclosure agreement at a later date—and you’ll get your salary and all expenses paid, plus a percentage of the income from any patents that result from research you’re directly involved in.”
It was an astounding offer, but I was wary.
“Let’s just say the government there is a little more receptive to outside-the-box thinking and trusts Julian to know where to draw the line.”
I frowned. Less governmental oversight could be a good thing, as long as scientists were scrupulously honest. If they weren’t…
Jesus, was I really thinking about this?
“I’ve already signed a contract with EVI,” I hedged.
Just moments ago, I was thrilled to be joining the Early Vascular Institute all the way across the country in Maryland. It was an offer beyond anything I’d dared to hope for—not that I wasn’t a damn good surgeon, but the competition was stiff and we all knew it took more than surgical skill to start out at such a prestigious practice. Connections were everything, and not only was I far from adept at making them but I’d never been comfortable taking advantage of the few I had, so why cultivate more?
Nevertheless, after three relatively painless interviews, the vascular surgery fellowship at EVI was mine and I had the signed contract to prove it. Bailing on it now could not only burn bridges, it could nuke any number of potential career highways.
“Julian will take care of it. You must be aware that money is really no object for him, and he has a lot of influence in the upper echelons of the medical community.”
All too aware. Kilmartin BioTech had made the news with astonishing regularity over the years, and Dr. Kilmartin himself was a medical visionary, a revolutionary. How could one man have been blessed with so much drive and intelligence and sheer, unadulterated personal power?
God, the offer was so tempting, but I couldn’t help hesitating. Already a headline-making neuromuscular fellow when I was still a green resident, Julian Kilmartin had intimidated the hell out of me. But he’d also cut an incredibly romantic figure with his aloof, pale Britishness, exacting standards and steel-eyed intensity, and like many of the residents on staff, I’d crushed on him pretty hard. He’d lost his father to Bain’s atrophy when he was in high school and dedicated his life to finding a cure for the aggressive lower motor neuron disease. Literally his entire life. As far as anyone knew, he didn’t exist outside a hospital or lab setting—his name had never been linked to a woman’s, which made him the target for many female rescue fantasies.
Not that I’d wanted to rescue him. I’d just yearned to have him eviscerate me with that rapier stare until I collapsed in on myself like a dying star. In countless daydreams, I’d made some clumsy or careless mistake in front of him and he’d dragged me by the arm to his office and given me a stern dressing-down. I was in tears long before he finished, but that didn’t stop him from bending me over the desk and pulling down my panties to reinforce the lesson with a stinging, bare-handed spanking.
And that was just one of the many twisted fantasies about Dr. Julian Xavier Kilmartin I’d entertained—not to mention masturbated to—over the two years we were at UW together. I couldn’t even keep him out of my thoughts when I was in bed with his protégé.
And to my everlasting shame, Colin had known it.