Genre: Contemporary Romance
Amazon US: http://amzn.to/1Fc91xY
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/1W8Poef
He swore he'd never forgive her. But now someone wants her dead.
Dr. Ian MacGregor knows better than to get involved with Natasha White. The tempting heartbreaker has a way of getting under his skin, but he couldn't live with himself if anything happened to her.
Sweeping her away to his Highland castle, Ian becomes her fiercest protector as he vows to safeguard her against the mob who will stop at nothing to eliminate her. He'll guard her till the end, even if that means giving them a second chance at love.
As passion intensifies between them, Ian and Natasha must face their darkest secrets, secrets that bring them closer, but may threaten their newfound intimacy. Natasha is hiding more than Ian realized.
But he has secrets of his own...
New York Times & USA Today bestselling author, Sophia Knightly, cooks up hot romance and delicious humor in her feel-good stories. Whether it's romantic suspense, romantic comedy or chick lit, sexy and heartwarming contemporary romances feature hot alpha heroes and strong, smart women.
Traditionally published by St. Martin's Press, Kensington, and Samhain Publishing, her popular Tropical Heat Series books and Heartthrob Series books have consistently been on multiple Amazon best selling lists and sold over 100,000 copies.
When not writing or reading, she loves walking the beach, exploring museums, going to the theatre, enjoying good food, and watching movies. One of her favorite pastimes remains simply watching people, especially those in love!
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~ Chapter One ~
“You’re flat,” Simon called out from the third row of the dark theatre.
“No, I’m not.” Natasha White gritted her teeth and raised a challenging eyebrow at the director. Her hands curved on the waist of her fawn satin teddy as she tamped down her simmering temper. Simon Worth was referring to her pitch, not her breasts, although he had spent most of the morning ogling them while she danced. It was the third time he’d rudely interrupted her song, and he’d made Freddie the choreographer change her tap number so many times, her muscles were screaming in protest. But she ignored the pain; it was worth having the starring role of Legs in “The Bee’s Knees”, a new roaring twenties musical sure to be a Broadway hit.
Simon was pushing hard during dress rehearsal—unfairly so. But what else could she expect from the control freak who had written the songs and lyrics of “The Bee’s Knees” and was also directing it? The thirty-nine-year-old musical genius was temperamental and rude, but that wouldn’t have stopped Natasha’s mother, legendary Broadway diva, White, from letting loose a rant that would have singed Simon’s bushy black brows. Where her acerbic mother would have screamed, Natasha held her tongue, even if she felt like strangling Simon. She didn’t want any comparisons with her drama queen mama, not now, not ever.
“She was pitch perfect,” her accompanist, Bruce, said instantly. Her white-haired defender pushed his horn rimmed glasses up on his high-bridged nose and glared at Simon. Bruce was an experienced, old school Broadway accompanist and nobody dared contradict him, not even Simon.
“Sounded gorgeous to me. Piss off, Simon.” Freddie the choreographer’s jaw clenched beneath his trim salt-and-pepper goatee as he sent a supportive nod Natasha’s way. He had already had a meltdown this morning over Simon’s intrusive meddling in his choreography. His compact dancer’s body was coiled tightly, ready to spring on the director if he continued to bully Natasha. Not that she needed protecting. If she could handle her mother’s tough criticism all those years growing up, she could certainly endure Simon’s.
“Thanks, guys,” Natasha said, blowing them kisses. She alternately rolled her neck and shoulders, and then peered into the theatre, her gaze zeroing in on her understudy, Lisette , who watched with rabid ambition.
It was no secret Lisette was hot for the starring role—and the director. The pushy twenty-one-year-old actress and Simon were already sleeping together. Once he’d plowed through the ensemble and slept with most of them, Simon settled on Lisette, who eagerly pleased him in all areas. Well, she could have the pompous gasbag. Musical genius or not, he didn’t appeal to Natasha, and she’d be damned if she’d sleep her way to the top. She’d seen too many failed “”—mostly hook-ups that thrived during shows, but rarely made it past the last curtain call. Hanging around backstage as a child during her mom’s Broadway shows had taught her to steer clear of romances in the business. It had also toughened her enough to let Simon’s insults slide and not affect her performance.
“Let’s take it from the top, and this time make sure your E makes me weep,” Simon drawled caustically, ignoring the collective groans from Bruce and Freddie.
An hour later when Elisha, the stage manager, called lunch break, Natasha fled the theatre intent on grabbing a bite to eat and taking her Pomeranian puppy, Evita, for a quick walk. Evita was a gift from her childhood friend, Ronnie, and Ronnie’s gorgeous new husband, Nick Cameron. They’d given her the puppy before leaving on their honeymoon. The moment the puppy emitted a melodious, crooning howl while Natasha sang, she promptly named her Evita, after the musical.
Natasha hurried across Times Square, her nerves frayed from Simon’s heedless interruptions and unwarranted criticisms. Something wasn’t right; she could feel it in her bones. Thinking back to her horoscope this morning, maybe she should heed Sydney advice: Keep an eye on your back and an eye toward the future.
She zipped her tan leather jacket against the blast of ice cold air swirling around her. A bit early for such frigid weather in October, but everything this month seemed off. She usually made her way home at a brisk trot, but today her leg and butt muscles quivered from the morning’s repetitive variations of the same dance. She was used to grueling workouts, but Simon had gone overboard. It was almost as if he were trying to push her to the breaking point. Well, it wasn’t going to happen. He had underestimated the kind of grit she had developed over the years. She wasn’t about to relinquish the plum role of Legs to a greedy newbie like Lisette.
With her head bent forward and her heavy dance tote slung across her chest, Natasha wove through the teeming crowd of tourists. She was two blocks away from her apartment when she felt a firm jerk on her dance bag. As she grappled to hold onto it and not lose her footing, a sharp pain sliced across her outer right thigh.
“Ouch!” She craned her neck to the side to see where the jab had come from. A quick glance at her leg made her gasp at the slash in her jeans and the long red line on her skin revealed by the gaping fabric. Within seconds blood rose to the cut’s surface. With shaky hands, Natasha pulled her long knit scarf off her neck and tied it tightly around her upper thigh, forming a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.
She stepped onto the curb and frantically hailed a taxi. Within seconds, a cab drove up and she clambered inside.
“Where to?” the driver asked, turning to stare at her when she didn’t answer right away.
Natasha could barely breathe, let alone speak as she stared at the driver. She swallowed and said through trembling lips, “Take me to the closest emergency clinic.”
No, that wouldn’t do. If she went to an emergency clinic, she’d be there all day. With Simon’s foul mood and Lisette itching for her starring role, Natasha had to get back to rehearsal ASAP.
When the driver turned on 40th Street onto 6th Avenue, she remembered Ian’s medical clinic was on that street. Her heart leaped at the thought of seeing her ex-fiancé again and it brought an onslaught of painful memories. Given the way they’d split up seven years ago, would he even agree to see her? At this crucial moment, who cared? She needed his expertise and who better than brilliant renowned cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Ian MacGregor, to treat her wound and not leave a disfiguring scar?
Knowing Ian, he’d take care of her too. He was a doctor first and foremost. Years ago, he’d been strong and protective of her…and they’d been passionately in love. Did she really want to go there after struggling for seven years to get him out of her heart? How would he react to her unexpected visit? She’d soon find out, she thought, quaking inside as she made a rash decision.
When she recognized Ian’s building, she told the driver, “Stop here. Please. I’m getting off.” She handed him a ten dollar bill and bolted out of the cab.
Inside the building, Natasha gulped air and tried not to look at her wound as she pressed the elevator button. Thankfully, it was empty and she rode up to Ian’s office alone. But the moment she entered the reception area, she panicked at the roomful of patients waiting to be seen. Summoning strength—and courage—she limped toward the counter and tried not to put too much pressure on her injured leg.
“Excuse me,” she said to a gray haired woman whose narrowed gaze was fixed on the computer screen before her. “I need to see Dr. MacGregor.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“No, but it’s an emergency.”
“I’m sorry. Dr. MacGregor doesn’t take walk-ins,” the woman replied briskly. Her name tag said Carla and Natasha wondered if she was the office manager.
“But I’m hurt,” Natasha said, her voice rising in anguish. She motioned to her injured leg, hoping Carla would take pity on her.
“You’re bleeding! You need to go to an emergency center. Now!” Carla said with a disapproving shake of her head.
A collective gasp sounded behind her and Natasha didn’t need to turn around to confirm that all attention was riveted on her, from the buzzing voices of waiting patients to the concerned faces behind the glass reception counter.
She leaned forward and clutched the counter. “I don’t feel very well. Please tell Dr. MacGregor that Natasha White needs to see him. He knows me.”
“I can’t interrupt him while he’s with a patient,” Carla said firmly.
Natasha closed her eyes and drew in calming breaths. How on earth was she going to get past Ian’s gatekeeper to see him? Desperate times called for desperate measures. She swayed on her feet and collapsed, making sure to land carefully on her uninjured side. Good thing her acting classes had included pratfalls, she thought wryly, as she lay on the floor pretending to be unconscious.
Carla rounded the corner immediately. “Good Lord! She fainted. Get Dr. MacGregor. Quick!” she yelled, patting Natasha’s cheek.
Seconds later, Natasha heard a deep male voice say, “What’s going on, Carla?” He reached Natasha’s side in seconds. “Tasha? Oh God. What happened?”
The hairs on Natasha’s arms stood on end and butterflies swarmed her belly at the sound of Ian’s rich voice, resonant with a Scottish burr. She opened her eyes and slowly met his—silver-green wolf eyes densely rimmed with sooty black lashes. Her heart pounded riotously as his arresting gaze locked with hers and a familiar weakness overcame her making it hard to breathe.
Ian’s sheer male force engulfed her, held her in thrall as she lay before him, almost sick with anticipation of his next move. A jumble of potent emotions blindsided her. Longing, excitement, trepidation, despair. She hadn’t realized how much seeing him again would affect her and she needed a moment to pull herself together.
Natasha closed her eyes and let her body go limp again.
Muttering “bloody hell”, Ian lifted her up and carried her down the hallway and into a room. She didn’t dare open her eyes. Please let him think I’m unconscious, she thought, mortified she’d had to resort to fainting like a damsel in distress. Before Ian, of all people.
He gently deposited her on the examining table and made short work of removing her jeans with the help of a nurse named Judy. While the nurse cleaned the wound, Ian examined it and Natasha kept her eyes closed the whole time.
“It’s superficial. I’ll take it from here, Judy. Please go to Mrs. Phillips in room six. I’ll be there shortly.”
“Yes, Doc,” Judy said and hustled out of the room.
“Nobody faints for that long. Open your eyes, Tasha,” Ian said in a voice laden with irony.
Tasha. Hearing Ian’s pet name for her made Natasha’s heart squeeze. Her lashes fluttered as she blinked at the bright lights and focused on Ian’s face. He loomed above her, handsome as ever with a straight, aristocratic nose, a firm jaw and sensual lips that rivaled any Michelangelo statue. Thick dark brows formed straight slashes above narrowed crystal green eyes that raked over her with concern. Ian's vibrant wolf eyes stirred her blood and a tremor coursed through her as his steady gaze held her immobile.
"Ian.” Natasha took a deep breath of the sterile air in a fruitless attempt to calm her racing heart. “I…I…” she stammered.
Ian arched one brow and stared at her meaningfully.
She rubbed her arms against the shivery sensations he aroused, fervently hoping he couldn’t tell how unhinged she felt. She stared back, trapped in his penetrating gaze. For the life of her, she couldn’t think of anything to say. He had to be wondering if she’d lost her marbles.
“I’m sorry I passed out and bled all over your carpet out there. I’ll have it replaced,” she finally managed to say. She held her breath and waited for Ian to do something. A smile, a frown—anything to break the crackling tension between them.
Ian’s mouth tightened. “I don’t care about the bloody carpet. Let’s turn you on your left side so I can tend to the cut.” He placed a supporting hand on Natasha’s upper back and carefully eased her onto her side.
The moment his warm skin touched hers, gooseflesh spread on Natasha’s sensitized skin and zips of excitement shot to her pleasure points. It had always been like this with him. Ian’s touch or a look from his heated eyes was all it took to set her aflame.
She huffed for air before meeting his gaze. “I probably shouldn’t have come here, but I don’t trust anyone else with my legs. You’re the best.” The moment the words left her lips, she regretted it. Where was her filter for God’s sake?
Ian raised a sardonic brow. “Oh?”
This was no time for modesty, but she couldn’t help feeling utterly exposed in nothing but her blouse and bikini panties. A light blanket was draped over her hip, but her legs were bare to his gaze from thigh to ankle. He kept a blank expression, professional as a doctor should, but still…
She gave a shaky laugh. “Wait, that didn’t come out right. I meant you’re the best physician.” She cleared her throat and looked at her thigh. “Is the cut very deep? How bad is it?”
“It’s not deep at all. You’re lucky your jeans were in the way or it would have been worse.” Ian’s angular jaw was set in taut lines and his clipped tone spoke volumes.
Natasha lifted her eyes to meet his steady gaze. She was still reeling from his touch and the electrifying moment their eyes had met after so many years. Now the sexy sound of his Scottish burr and his nearness were making her heart pound and her senses buzz. This wouldn’t do. Ian’s intense gaze wreaked havoc on her composure as she wondered what lurked beneath the stillness.
She shivered inwardly, dropping her gaze to compose herself. He could read her like a book and he wouldn’t tolerate any artifice or acting on her part. He knew her too well.
“Are you going to stitch it up?” she asked, finding her voice.
“No. I’ll close the wound with tissue glue. It should heal without a scar.”
“No scar? Oh good.” She heaved a sigh of relief. No stitches and no scar. Now if she could just get him to smile, she’d feel a lot better.
“Be sure to keep the area clean and dry for 24 hours.”
“I will. Thanks, I appreciate it.” Ian’s expression didn’t soften when she smiled at him. With a sigh, she stared at the unyielding set of his mouth. The same mouth that had once smiled at her with heart-melting tenderness, had crooned Scottish endearments while making love to her, had kissed her everywhere into quivering acquiescence. All of it had been wonderful until seven years ago when she’d broken off their engagement and he’d thundered, “Stay out of my life!”
“How did you get cut like that?” he asked, jarring her from her musings.
“I don’t know. One minute I was rushing home on my lunch break, and the next I felt a tug on my dance bag. When I pulled back, something sharp sliced across my thigh.”
He touched her leg again and she jerked in response.
“Hold still,” he said firmly. One masterful hand held her thigh immobile as the other treated the cut. “Are you in pain?”
He slanted a sympathetic look her way. “I’m almost done. I’ll give you something for the pain before you leave if you still need it.”
Natasha nodded and bit her lip. It wasn’t so much the pain that was jolting; his touch was making her heart race and awakening every nerve portal of her body. She closed her eyes and cast aside the thrilling memory of his hands caressing her legs when they’d first made love. Think of him as a doctor, nothing more.
When he finished tending the wound, he straightened and folded his arms over his chest. “When was the last time you ate?” His keen eyes bored into hers.
“I had breakfast this morning. Why do you ask?” She drew aside the light blanket to inspect the large bandage wrapped around her thigh
He studied her with thoughtful deliberation. “You passed out earlier and you’re thinner than I remember. Have you been on some crazy diet?”
“No, of course not,” she said, wincing as she sat up. “It’s all the dancing I’ve been doing.” She wasn’t about to divulge that Simon had rudely told her, “Better not lose those round tits and ass, babe. The role calls for it.”
Ian’s dark brows furrowed. “You used to love food.” His elegant surgeon’s hand turned her face toward him and his eyes settled on hers with the familiarity born of intimacy. Their eyes locked like lovers, electrified by the memory of their ill-fated passion years ago when his mere touch could set her on fire. The feel of his long fingers gently touching her face made Natasha’s heart hurt. His unswerving gaze was fathomless as he stared at her.
“I still do.” She drew in a heavy sigh and broke eye contact as she struggled to tether unraveling emotions. Did he remember how amazing it had been between them? Even in his sterile office, and despite the sharp headache budding behind her eyes, Ian aroused turbulent emotions inside her. She felt hot and cold and shaky at once reliving the memory of their heartbreaking split. He’d been her first and only love. No man she’d dated since had filled his shoes…or captured her heart. Especially not the last guy she’d dated. Tony Martin had been the exact opposite of Ian. Try as she might to forget Ian by dating Tony, it hadn’t worked—especially when Tony revealed his violent personality. After he unleashed his nasty temper on her, she ended things right away.
Natasha’s phone beeped with a text message bringing her back to her present predicament. On the way to Ian’s office, between panicking and fighting nausea, she’d texted the stage manager and alerted Elisha that she’d had a minor accident and would be late.
“Will I be able to dance tomorrow?” she asked, fighting the urge to check the text.
“No. Not for several days.”
“Several days?” Her shoulders slumped in spite of her resolve to be strong.
He frowned. “Do you want the wound to open again?”
“No, but…” How could she tell him this show was crucial to her career, when it was her career that had been the catalyst of their break-up?
“Follow my directions and you’ll be as good as new. When was your last tetanus shot?”
Natasha shrugged. “A long time ago. Just before summer camp.” A vision of Simon’s snarling face suddenly made her frantic to leave. She swung her legs over the side. “I have to get back to rehearsal.”
“You’re not leaving until you get a tetanus shot. And you’re not going to rehearsal today.” Ian’s steely eyes brooked no arguments. He was annoyingly authoritarian, yet a brilliant physician and a born healer. She had a scrapbook filled with newspaper and magazine articles about Dr. Ian MacGregor, the eminent laser surgeon and dermatologist, who worked magic removing disfiguring scars and birthmarks. His recent laser invention had catapulted him into celebrity status and garnered him billions.
But it was his work with underprivileged children and adults that made Natasha’s heart swell with pride. Since she’d last seen him, he had traveled extensively with Doctors Without Borders and The Smile Train, removing the stigma of disfiguring cleft palates and port wine birthmarks for those who couldn’t afford it. Ian would insist on not letting her leave until he could “fix” whatever was wrong with her, but she couldn’t stay a moment longer.
“I don’t want a shot. I have to leave now!” Not going to rehearsal was out of the question.
Ian’s silver-green eyes darkened to gun metal grey as they zeroed in on her with such ferocity she fought the urge to squirm. “What in bloody hell is going on, Tasha?”
She lifted her chin. “I’m starring in a new show and we start previews tomorrow. If I don’t get back to dress rehearsal, I’m going to get fined, and possibly replaced.”
Ian’s lip curled as he shook his head. “Nothing has changed. The show must go on. Comes before everything. Right, Tasha?”
His ironic tone irked the hell out of her. “Yes, that’s right. Just like your patients always come first,” she retorted. His accusation rubbed a raw spot as they faced an impasse. He was right. Nothing had changed—he was as stubborn and narrow-minded as ever when it came to her.
Natasha inched toward the edge, ready to get off the table, when his hand clamped down on her shoulder.
“Don’t get up. Tetanus shot first,” he said, turning to the table beside her.
She twisted her neck to see if the syringe was there, but she couldn’t see over his broad shoulders. “Fine, I’ll take the shot. In my arm and from someone other than you.”
“I wasn’t planning on it,” he said coolly. “Judy will be in shortly.” He turned and stalked away.
Natasha got off the examining table when he shut the door. She promptly called her agent, Marty Cranshaw, only to get the bad news that Simon had replaced her temporarily and called a put-in rehearsal for Lisette.
“No sense in going to the theatre now. Most likely they’ll be there all night. Go home and rest, hon,” Marty said in a caring voice.
“I will, but make no mistake, Marty. I’ll be back on that stage stronger than ever for opening night,” she said fervently.
Marty chuckled. “I know you will. Have I ever doubted you?”
“Nope, and that’s why I love you. Bye, Marty,” Natasha said, hanging up with a smile.
A smiling, middle-aged woman walked in holding a pair of blue scrubs in one hand and a small metal tray with a syringe in the other hand. “I brought these pants for you to put on after I give you the shot. We keep a few extra pairs in the office for the nurses.”
“Thanks. That’s very kind of you. I can’t exactly leave here in a leather jacket and panties,” Natasha said grimacing. “Which arm do you want? Right or left?”
“Neither. Doc ordered it in your gluteus muscle. Bottoms up,” Judy said cheerfully.
“Great.” Natasha rolled her eyes and privately cursed Ian. “Let’s get it over with then.”
“First a tiny jab, then a bit of stinging as the liquid goes in. Relax your muscles so it won’t hurt,” Nurse Judy said. She pulled on plastic gloves and lowered the edge of Natasha’s panties, rubbing alcohol on the spot she’d inject.
Natasha gritted her teeth and silently endured the needle even though it hurt when the liquid went in.
“Okay, we’re finished, dear. If the area gets sore or swollen, put an ice pack or a bag of frozen veggies on it. That should take care of it,” Judy said reassuringly.
With a nod, Natasha turned over and reached for the scrubs.
“I love your hair color. I want to dye mine the same shade of red, but yours looks natural,” Judy said, patting her short curly brown hair.
“It is.” Natasha smiled. “You should go for it. It would look great on you.”
Judy grinned broadly. “Thanks, I think I will. You’re the Broadway actress aren’t you?” she asked as she helped Natasha into the drawstring pants.
“Yes. Do you like musicals?”
Judy’s big brown eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. “I love musicals. They’re my biggest indulgence. I heard you’re starring in ‘The Bee’s Knees’. When is it—”
A few sharp raps on the door interrupted her question as Ian entered. “All done?”
“Yes. All done, doc.” Judy winked at Natasha and left the room.
“Are you planning any more surprise jabs before you let me go?” Natasha inquired with a sleek lift of one brow.
Ian’s lips twitched. “You needed the shot, so don’t complain. You can leave now, but you’ll have a hard time finding a taxi at this hour. My car service will take you home.”
“Thanks, that’s kind of you,” she said, grateful for his consideration.
“Are you still in pain?”
Natasha gave a half-shrug. “Not too much. I’ll take a painkiller when I get home if it feels worse.”
He handed her two prescriptions and written instructions. “Come back in a week for a recheck. I’m leaving for London tomorrow. Carla will give you an appointment with my partner, Dr. Delacorte.”
Natasha hid her disappointment. He didn’t intend to see her again? Ian was acting so detached, it made her nostalgic for the Ian of before—the young man who’d told her she was his first love, his only love. If he hadn’t been so dead set on making her leave everything behind to join him in Scotland, things would have worked out between them. It was ironic he was still in town. All that time wasted apart. He had been too damn proud and stubborn to take her calls afterward, making her withdraw and immerse herself full force in her career to heal the pain of their split.
“Tell me something,” she said, on impulse. “Why are you still living in New York when you were so eager to make Scotland your permanent home?”
A flash of annoyance hardened his features. "I intend to move back as soon as my clinic is ready. It’s taken longer than I’d planned,” he said in a strained voice.
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear it,” she said softly. Natasha recalled his Aunt Maggie, whom she’d stayed in touch with over the years, telling her that Ian’s inheritance was still unresolved. Was it because of that? Better not go there. The shuttered look on Ian’s face silenced further questions.
Ian’s eyes narrowed on Natasha. She might sound concerned and have a kind heart, but there was no room in it for him. Her fair cheeks glowed pink and her wide blue eyes were clouded with disappointment, yet he felt no compunction to feed her curiosity. Not now, especially when reclaiming Glenhaven was so close at hand.
The first time he’d set eyes on Natasha was when she’d visited from the States with her parents. She was a dreamy-eyed dazzler, recently graduated from Juilliard and ripe for romance. Ian’s father, Malcolm, and her father, Walter, had known each other since they were students at Oxford, but it was the first time Ian had met Natasha. From that moment on he couldn’t get enough of her. Her warmth and sparkling wit were just what he’d needed during the lowest point of his life when he’d learned many disturbing things about his late father. Drawn into the cocoon of her beautiful heart, Ian had immediately set out to keep her in Scotland as long as he could and make her fall in love with him as rapidly, and completely, as he had with her.
She’d stayed the whole summer and captivated not only Ian, but also his Aunt Maggie and Uncle Ranald, the caretakers of Glenhaven Estate. Tasha had embraced Scotland as if she’d always lived there. He had loved sharing his homeland with her and she’d been as delighted as a kid at Disneyworld. She’d wanted to explore every castle, sample the local food and fine Scottish whiskey and meet his friends and neighbors. By the end of that glorious summer, he wanted to keep her with him forever, but they embarked on a long-distance romance for two long years, taking numerous passion-filled trips back and forth while she performed in America and he finished his doctoral degree in biomedical science. The moment he graduated, he proposed and she accepted, tears of joy flowing down her cheeks.
Sharp desire made him shift his stance as he stared at Tasha, a stunning woman now. More enticing than ever.
“If anyone can solve this, it’s you, Dr. Who,” Natasha said, jolting him back to the present.
Ian stiffened at hearing her nickname for him and the teasing intonation in her voice.
“Don’t you remember I used to call you that?” she said, a soft smile playing at her rosy lips.
“No,” he lied, looking away from her tempting mouth. Of course, he remembered. Tasha had loved the popular British sci fi show since she’d first seen it.
“I think you do.” The tiny dimple at the left corner of her mouth deepened seductively. It was the same dimple that had lured him to kiss her for the first time. Ian's palms grew damp while he scrutinized Natasha's face. Still the face of an angel—a wayward one. Her creamy complexion, flushed pink now, was framed by long, burnished copper curls. Luminous, curly-lashed blue eyes tantalized him, and her mouth, lush and pink, held his attention. It was the sweetest mouth he'd ever kissed—and the most deceptive.
I want a chance to make it on Broadway. Theatre is my life. I love you, Ian, but I would be miserable without performing. She’d said those words when she’d broken off their engagement—after telling him for months that she loved him and couldn’t wait to be his wife! He had offered his love and a wonderful life complete with a castle and servants in Scotland, but she had made an immediate about-face right after her controlling mother had interfered.
Anitra had flown to Glenhaven from New York the previous day to muck things up between them. He recalled their meeting as if it were yesterday. The witch had laughed mockingly in his face as she’d spewed hateful words. Natasha needs to spread her wings. She's destined to be a Broadway star like me. You didn't really think she'd give up her career to marry you and move to Scotland, did you? To be a country doctor’s wife surrounded by sheep? My daughter adores the theatre, much more than she'll ever love you!
Ian had barely held onto his temper and hadn’t given into the urge to drag Anitra’s bony behind out of his castle for good. Unfortunately, her harsh words were confirmed the next day when Natasha ended their engagement—by phone. He’d never forget the feeling of being gutted by her and he wasn't about to waste another second trying to figure her out. Impatient to end their little visit, Ian took hold of her elbow and helped her down from the table.
“Does your mother know you’re injured?” he asked curtly.
“No, and I plan to keep it that way. I’m not the same girl you knew seven years ago. I’ve made it on my own, without Anitra’s help.”
“Still not calling her mum?” he said with a shake of his head.
“Nope. As far as Anitra’s concerned, she’s too young to have a thirty year old daughter,” Natasha said ironically.
Ian snorted. “So that’s how it is. Pity that.”
"I don’t want to talk about Anitra. Can’t we make peace, Ian? Or are you going to continue scowling at me?"
Natasha’s gaze was direct as she waited for his answer. Now that she’d brought it into the open, he couldn't summon the initial bitterness he'd felt at seeing her again. He just felt empty inside. She had once held the deepest part of his heart and soul captive and he’d loved her ardently, but they had no future together.
Ian headed toward the door and said, "Time to go, wee nyaff."
"Just a minute." Natasha grabbed his sleeve and faced him with fiery blue eyes as she tossed her flaming curls. "Don’t call me an irritating little person!" She thrust her chin up and smiled slyly. "Dunderheid," she retaliated, daring to insult him.
Ian stifled the rumble of caustic laughter rising in his chest. They hadn’t spent more than an hour together and they were already trading insults. Tasha had a way of getting under his skin and provoking him more than anyone else could, yet her quick wit never ceased to entertain him.
Striding out the door, he squashed the powerful urge to turn and grab the maddening redhead and kiss her senseless. And that wasn’t all he felt like doing.