Unbuttoned – and out of bounds!
Sparks fly from day one between playboy neurosurgeon Alistair North and his talented, sexy trainee surgeon Claire Mitchell. He's on a mission to help überserious Claire relax, but his cavalier approach is driving her crazy.
Alistair is completely out of bounds, even if he is completely gorgeous -- he's her boss! But when he confronts Claire after a difficult surgery, desire overcomes reason. With secrets holding them both back, can they find a way to turn their forbidden passion into forever?
Why I Wrote the Book
Forbidden to the Playboy Surgeon is the second book in the Mills & Boon, Paddington Children's Hospital series. Having the opportunity to write one book in a series with a group of authors is always fun as you create a hospital and a world for eight books by eight different authors. I enjoy finding ways of writing in the other characters from the series into the books and planting seeds for readers, who will then hopefully devour the entire series. I also got a great deal of enjoyment researching London and spent a lot of time on Google maps, checking out the streets of Paddington. The stories about the hotel where the ball is held are stories from the Savoy in London. WOW, what a lot happened in that hotel from Oscar Wilde to Marilyn Monroe :-) The photos and pictures the helped me create the hospital, the pub and the ball are on the Paddington Children's Hospital Pinterest page.
Forbidden To The Playboy Surgeon
Excerpt From Chapter One
Although Claire Mitchell had been in London for a few weeks, she still pinched herself every time she stepped out onto the streets of Paddington. For an Aussie country girl, it was all a little bit surreal— like being on the set of Mary Poppins or Upstairs Downstairs.
Dazzling white Victorian stuccoed terrace houses with pillared porches and decorative balconies were built neatly around tiny central gardens. This morning as she crossed the pocket-handkerchief park passing between two black wrought-iron gates, the ubiquitous London drizzle was cheerfully absent. Tongues of early morning light filtered down between the tender bright-green spring foliage of century-old oaks and elms. It was a far cry from the dusty, rock-hard and sun-cracked park where she'd spent her childhood. The only shade to be found at the Gundiwindi playground was that cast by the people standing next to her.
Walking briskly, she made her way along what would be a frantically busy road in an hour's time. Right now though, the street sweepers, bakers, newsagents and baristas were the only people out offering services to a few crazy early birds like herself. Her favourite Italian trattoria had a coffee window and Tony greeted her with a cheery Bonjourno as he handed out six latte's neatly stacked in a cardboard carrier. 'You bring the sunshine, mia bella.'
Claire smiled and gave into the irrational zip of delight she allowed herself to feel. She knew the garrulous barista flirted with any female aged two to ninety-two and that his mia bella meant nothing. But as few men ever noticed her, let alone tried to charm her, she accepted and enjoyed his compliments as a lovely way to start her day.
She bought a pain au chocolate from the bakery and balanced the bag on top of the coffees as she continued to walk toward Paddington Children's Hospital or "the Castle" as the locals called it. A bright red double-decker bus lumbered past down the narrow road and with her free hand she grabbed a quick photo of it on her phone. She immediately sent it to her brother. He was the proud owner of the Gundiwindi garage and he adored anything with an engine. Whenever Claire saw something he'd delight in, she always sent him a photo. He always replied with either a picture of her nieces and nephews or of her parents.
Unlike herself, David loved living in the small outback town where they'd both grown up. Good at both cricket and footy, he'd always belonged and thrived and he couldn't imagine living anywhere else. She, on the other hand, had been plotting to leave since she was ten-years-old, desperate to escape the taunts and bullying of a small-minded town that hovered on the edge of the desert and existence.
The imposing turrets of the redbrick London hospital now loomed high above her as she approached the old ornate gates. A small group of people rugged up against the post-dawn chill clutched Save Our Hospital and Kids Health not Wealth signs with gloved hands. Each morning found a different combination of people in attendance. Many were parents of current patients but hearteningly, there were some who'd been patients themselves many years ago. Together they were united and maintained a peaceful protest presence at the gates, striving to keep alive the hope that something could be done to save the hospital from closure.
'I've brought hot coffee,' Claire called out holding up the cardboard tray as she did most mornings. Granted, she'd only been working at the castle for a few weeks but the idea of central London losing such a vitally important health care provider was a terrifying thought. What if the castle had already been closed when the Westbourne primary school caught fire? The thought made her shudder. There would have certainly been deaths. Even with the hospital's close proximately, there'd been far too many close calls. Not everyone was out of the woods yet, including little Ryan Walker.
The stalwarts at the gate greeted her and her coffees with a cheer. 'Morning, love.'
'Early again? You still on Aussie time?' one wag asked.
She laughed. 'I'd be going home after a day's work if I was.'
Once she'd distributed the coffees, she ducked through the gates and strode under the decorative brick archway. Behind the beautiful Victorian façade was a modern hospital with state of the art equipment and an experienced and dedicated staff. There were one hundred and fifty years of history here and she was humbled to be a part of it. When she'd received the offer of a chance to train under the tutelage of the award-wining neurosurgeon, Alistair North, she'd actually squealed in delight, deafening the very proper English woman on the other end of the line.
'Now, now, Ms Mitchell,' the secretary to the chair of the Royal College of Surgeons had said primly as if overt displays of enthusiasm were frowned upon. Then, without pausing, she'd continued to outline the terms and conditions of the scholarship.
Claire hadn’t cared about her unrestrained Antipodean response. If a girl couldn't get excited about such an amazing opportunity, when could she? After all, her work was her life and her life was her work and the scholarship was a chance of a lifetime. At the time, she'd danced down the corridors of Flinders Medical Centre telling everyone from cleaners to consultants that she was going to London.
Now, as she ran up five flights of stairs, she was almost certain that if she'd known what was in store for her at the castle, she might not have been quite so excited. When she reached the landing with the large painted Koala on the ward door, she smiled. Why, when all the other wards were named after northern hemisphere birds and animals, the Brits had chosen an Aussie marsupial for the neurology ward's logo, was a mystery to her but she loved that they had. It made her feel a little less like an alien in what was proving to be a very unexpected foreign land.
Despite speaking English and having been raised in a country where the Union Jack still sat in the corner of the flag, Londoners were different. The brilliant Alistair North was extremely different, although not in the often restrained and polite British way. She'd been fortunate to work with talented neurosurgeon's in Australia and she understood that brilliance was often accompanied with quirks. But Mr North had taken quirk and magnified it by the power of ten. All of it left her struggling to convince herself she'd done the right thing in accepting the scholarship.
Stepping into the bright and cheery ward she noticed with a start that the nurses' station was empty. Surely, she wasn't late? Her mouth dried as she spun around to check the large wall clock. The bright, red and yellow clock hands pointed to big blue numbers and they instantly reassured her. She gave a little laugh that contained both relief and irony. Of course she wasn't late— she was never late and today she was early as usual. Preparation and attention to detail was as much a part of her as breathing. It had been that way since the fateful day in grade five when her small childhood world had suddenly turned on her.
Assuming the nurses to be busy with their end of shift tasks, she slid into an office chair and logged onto the computer. She always read her patients' overnight reports before rounds. It was better to take the extra time, learn what had happened and to have a well thought-out plan than be caught short. Just the thought of being put on the spot with the critical eyes of the medical students and junior house officers fixed upon her made her breath come faster.
The ward cared for children with a variety of neurological, craniofacial and central nervous system disorders, including those that required surgery. Although Mr North performed many different operations, his passion was the surgical treatment of focal epilepsy. It was the reason she'd fought so hard to win the scholarship and work with him, but as her brother often said in his laconic and understated tone after everything had gone pear-shaped, 'it seemed like a good idea at the time.' Right now she was second-guessing her good idea.
While she read the reports, the daytime nursing staff drifted in busy chatting and the medical students soon followed. Finally, the constantly late junior house officer, Andrew Bailey arrived breathless and with his white coat tails flapping. He came to a sudden halt and glanced around, his expression stunned. 'I still beat him?'
Claire, who'd just read little Ryan Walker's "no change" report, stood with a sigh. 'You still beat him.'
He grinned. 'I must tell my father that my inability to be on time makes me a natural neurosurgeon.'
'Perhaps that's my problem,' Claire muttered as she checked her phone for a message or a missed call from the exuberantly talented consultant surgeon who had no concept of time or workplace protocol. Nope, no messages or voice mail. As she automatically checked the admission's board, she suddenly slapped her forehead with her palm. Duh! If Mr Alistair North were running late because of an emergency admission, she'd have been the one hauled out of bed to deal with it.
'I heard while you and I were slaving away here last night, he was holding court over at the Frog and Peach,' Andrew said with a conspiratorial yet reverent tone.
'That doesn't automatically mean he had a late night.'
Andrew's black brows rose and waggled at her. 'I just met the delectable Islay Kennedy on the back stairs wearing yesterday's clothes. She mentioned dancing on tables, followed by an illegal boat ride on the Serpentine and then bacon and eggs at the Worker's Café watching the dawn break over the Thames. When I see him, I plan to genuflect in his direction.'
A flash of anger swept through Claire's body so hot and fast, she thought it might lift her head from her neck. I want to kill Alistair North. Surgery was such a boys' club and neurosurgery even more so. For years she'd gone into battle time and time again on the basis of raw talent but it wasn't enough. She constantly fought sexism and now it seemed, she had to tackle ridiculous childish behaviour and the adoration of men, who in essence, were little boys. Fed up and furious, she did something she rarely did— she shot the messenger.
'Andrew, don't even think that behaviour like that is commendable. It's juvenile and utterly irresponsible. If you ever pull a stunt like that and turn up to operate with me, I'll fail you.'
Before her stunned junior house officer could reply, the eardrum piercing sound of party blowers rent the air. Everyone turned toward the raucous sound. A tall man with thick rumpled dark-blond hair and wearing fake black-horn rimmed glasses— complete with a large fake bulbous nose and moustache— was marching along the ward with a little girl clinging to his back like a monkey. Behind him followed a trail of children aged between two and twelve. Some were walking, others were being pushed in wheelchairs by the nurses and many wore bandages on their heads— all of them were enthusiastically puffing air into party blowers and looking like they were on a New Year's Day parade.
'Wave to Dr Mitchell,' the man instructed the little girl on his back. 'Did you know she's really a kangaroo?'
Despite his voice being slightly muffled by the fake moustache, it was without doubt the unmistakeably deep and well modulated tones of Alistair North.
A line of tension ran down Claire's spine with the speed and crack of lightning before radiating outwards into every single cell. It was the same tension that invaded her every time Alistair North spoke to her. The same tension that filled her whenever she thought about him. It was a barely leashed dislike and it hummed inside her along with something else she didn't dare name. She refused point-blank to contemplate that it might be attraction. The entire female staff of the castle might think the man was sex on a stick but not her.
Granted, the first time she'd seen all six feet of him striding confidently towards her, she'd been struck by his presence. Unlike herself, not one single atom of the many that made up Alistair North hinted at doubt. The man positively radiated self-assurance from the square set of his shoulders to his brogue-clad feet. He wore clothes with effortless ease, their expensive cut and style fitting him flawlessly yet at the same time finding the perfect pitch between stuffy and scruffy. Despite his accent declaring him the product of an elite public school and the associated upper-class wealth that came with such an education, there was also something engaging and decidedly un-British about his lopsided and cheeky grin. It wasn’t a smile one associated with a consultant and it would break over the stark planes of his cheeks vanquishing the esteemed doctor and give rise to the remnants of a cheeky and mischievous little boy. But it wasn't so much the smile that undid her— it was the glint in his slate grey eyes and the ability he had to focus his attention on a person as if they were the only human being on the planet.
'Welcome to the castle, Mitchell,' he'd said to her on her first day.
As she'd shaken his outstretched hand and felt his firm pressure wrap around her fingers and travel up her arm, she'd been horrified to feel herself just a little bit breathless. Her planned speech had vanished and she'd found herself sounding broadly Australian as she replied, 'Thanks. It's great to be here.'
It had taken less than a week for her to realise that Alistair North's cheeky grin almost always flagged plans that he was about to break the rules and wreak havoc on a grand scale. She'd also learned that his eyes alone, with their dancing smoky hue and intense gaze that made the person in their sights feel like they mattered to him like no one else, were frequently used with devastating ease to tempt women into his bed.
She conceded that perhaps on her first day when she'd felt momentarily breathless, she'd succumbed to the hypnotic effect of his gaze. Now, after working closely with him for weeks, she was immune to their effects. She'd spent ten years slogging her way up the medical career ladder, spending more hours in hospitals than out of them, and she wasn't about to risk it all by landing up in the boss's bed. More importantly, she didn't like Alistair North so even if he were the last man on earth, she wouldn't be tempted.
Apparently, she was virtually the only woman at the castle to be alone with that thought. Over the past few weeks she'd been stunned to find herself sought out by hopeful women seeking information about Alistair North's proclivities, or worse still, being asked to act as go-between for disappointed and sometimes furious women whom he'd dated and then hadn't bothered to call. All things considered, from his casual disregard of the rules to his blasé treatment of women, there was no way on God's green earth or in the fiery depths of hell that she was attracted to that man. Not now. Not never.
The stories about Alistair North that circulated around the hospital held fable qualities. If she hadn't been his speciality registrar working closely with him, she'd have laughed on being told the tales. She'd have said, 'they've got to be the invention of an overactive imagination.' But she did work with him. Sadly, she'd seen enough evidence to know at least two of the stories she'd heard were true so she had no reason not to believe the others. As hard as she tried to focus solely on Alistair North's immense skill as a neurosurgeon and block out the excited noise that seemed to permanently spin and jangle around him, it was impossible.
Everywhere she turned people talked about his exploits in and out of the operating theatre. Gossip about who he was currently dating or dumping as the case may be and who he'd been seen driving into work that morning ran rife along the hospital corridors. It was as if the speculation about the man was the hospital's secondary power supply. What she hated most of all was the legendary status the young male house officers gave him while she was the one left trailing behind picking up the pieces.
No, the sensation she got every time she was in the same space with Mr Alistair North was antagonism. The man may be brilliant and talented in the operating theatre but outside of it he was utterly unprofessional. He was stuck permanently in adolescence and at thirty-nine that was not only ridiculous, it was sad. Most of his contemporaries were married with children but she supposed it would take a brave— or more likely deluded— women to dare risk all on him. The only thing Claire would risk on Alistair North was her brain. Despite what she thought of the man, she couldn't deny the doctor was the best neurosurgeon in the country.
The little girl on Alistair North's back was now waving enthusiastically at her. Claire blinked behind her glasses suddenly realising it was Lacey— the little girl they were operating on in an hour's time. Why wasn't she tucked up in her bed quiet and calm?
'Wave back, Kanga,' Alistair North said, his clear and precise Cambridge accent teasing her. 'It won't break your arm.'
Claire's blood heated to boiling point. Did the man know that kangaroos boxed? The thought of bopping him on his fake nose was far too tempting. She felt the expectant gaze of the ward staff fixed firmly on her and suddenly she was thrown back in time. She was back in Gundiwindi standing in front of the class with fifteen sets of eyes boring into her. She could see the red dust motes dancing in the starkly bright and uncompromising summer sunshine and the strained smile of her teacher slipping as his mouth turned down into a resigned and grumpy line. She could hear the shuffling and coughing of her peers— the sound that always preceded the one or two brutal comments that managed to escape from their mouths before Mr Phillips regained control.
Stop it. She hauled her mind back to the present, reminding herself sternly that she wasn't either of those things. God, she'd spent two decades proving it. She was a woman in a difficult and male dominated speciality and she was eleven months [AU1] away from sitting her final neurosurgery exams. She'd fought prejudice and sexism to get this far and she'd fought herself. She refused to allow anyone to make her feel diminished and she sure as hell wasn't going to accept an order to wave from a man who needed to grow up. She would however do what she always did— she'd restore order.
In heels, Claire came close to matching Alistair North's height and although her preference had always been to wear ballet flats, she'd taken herself shoe shopping at the end of her first week of working with him. The added inches said, don't mess with me. She took a few steps forward until she was standing side on to him but facing Lacey. Ignoring Alistair North completely, and most definitely ignoring his scent of freshly laundered cotton with a piquant of sunshine that made her unexpectedly homesick, she opened her arms out wide toward the waving child.
"Do you want to come for a hop with Kanga?"
Lacey, a ward of the State[AU2] , transferred almost too easily into her arms, snuggling in against her chest and chanting, boing, boing, boing.
Claire pulled her white coat over her charge creating a makeshift pouch and then she turned her back on Alistair North. She strode quickly down the ward carrying an over excited Lacey back to her bed. As she lowered her down and tried to tuck her under the blankets, the little girl bounced on the mattress.
Thanks for nothing, Alistair, Claire muttered. It was going to take twice as long as normal to do the all the routine preoperative checks. Yet another day would run late before it had even started.