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AN IRRESISTIBLE INVITATION

 

Alison Roberts

 

St David's Medical Centre – Book 1

 

When trainee GP Sophie Bennett starts work at St. David’s Medical Center, she immediately finds herself attracted to her supervisor, Dr. Oliver Spencer. Shortly after, her engagement to her childhood sweetheart is broken off, but she doesn’t tell her colleagues, hoping that the supposed engagement will protect her from her growing feelings for Oliver. But the longer she leaves it, the harder it is to confess, and Oliver is a great believer in honesty…

CHAPTER ONE

Was
now the right time to tell him?

The small car had become a trap. Sophie Bennett hadn't expected to see Oliver standing in the car park behind the old Christchurch house which had been converted into St David's Medical Centre. He smiled and waved, as though the sight of Sophie was exactly what Oliver Spencer had been expecting. As though he was waiting for her. She had to make her decision fast. Even at the snail's pace at which Sophie was moving, the manoeuvre to park couldn't last much longer.

Sophie pulled on the handbrake and reached for the ignition key to cut the engine. She sighed in exasperation as she noticed her fingers shaking slightly. This was quite ridiculous. It was no big deal, so why did she feel so nervous? Surreptitiously, Sophie tugged at the ring on her left hand.

'Ouch!'
Sophie glared at her finger. How was she supposed to have noticed that all her indecisive twisting of the ring last night had made her finger swell? Not enough to be noticeable or cause any problems. Just enough to make it impossible to get the damned ring off with any ease. The ring she should no longer be wearing.

Oliver was walking towards her. He held a briefcase in one hand, and his jacket was slung casually over his arm. With his shirtsleeves already rolled up, Dr Spencer looked as calm and relaxed as he always did. His thick, wavy hair had a permanently ruffled look, possibly caused by his casual habit of running his fingers through the dark waves. Along with his tanned skin and wide smile, the tousled look added to his untroubled-by-life demeanour. Oliver Spencer had probably never felt
really
nervous in his whole life, but Sophie's nerves were being stretched tighter with every step he took. She wished his smile wasn't quite so cheerful. She wished even harder that he wasn't opening her car door for her. She wasn't ready to get out. Not yet.

'Welcome back, Sophie!'

'I've only been away for the weekend,' Sophie said nervously. 'I never come in at the weekends.'

'Ah, but this weekend was different,' Oliver said meaningfully.

'I guess so.' Sophie turned to collect her bag.

'You
guess
so? How long is it since you and Garth had a weekend together?'

'Greg,' Sophie corrected automatically. Why couldn't Oliver ever remember her fiancé's name? Her ex-fiancé's name. 'Three months,' she added tonelessly. 'Ever since I started at St David's.'

'You don't sound very happy.' Oliver leaned closer. 'Wasn't
Greg
delighted to see you?'

'Of course he was.' Sophie swung her legs out of the car and Oliver stepped back a pace. Intelligent, dark grey eyes were observing her keenly. Oliver's eyes stood out as being his least laid-back feature. They missed nothing and they were interested in everything.

'And I was delighted to see him, too,' Sophie said as she stood up decisively. It was quite true, after all. She and Greg had a long history. They were good friends. But good friends were all they were ever going to be.

Oliver chuckled. 'I should hope so. Not much point getting married if you're not delighted to see each other.'

Tell him
now,
Sophie ordered herself. Before this goes any further. All it needs is a casual statement to the effect that she and Greg were no longer engaged. But what would she say when Oliver asked why she was still wearing her ring? Why
was
she still wearing her ring?

Oliver was watching her thoughtfully. 'I know I've said this many times, Sophie, but Garth
is
a very lucky man.' He shook his head sadly. 'I suppose I'll just have to distract myself by getting stuck into some work.' He extended his arm invitingly. 'After you, Dr Bennett.'

Sophie's tolerant smile was automatic. Her usual tactic of ignoring Oliver's flirting had become ingrained. It was just light-hearted fun, after all. Oliver Spencer never flirted with anyone else. Sophie Bennett—the happily engaged woman—was a safe target so it meant nothing. He'd probably run a mile if Sophie suddenly announced her changed status. Was that a more terrifying thought than the prospect of an opposite reaction? Which one was making her more nervous? Which one had persuaded her not to remove her ring quite yet so that she could buy a little time to ponder the repercussions?

Sophie skirted the old-fashioned woman's bicycle propped by the medical centre's front door. A large basket was attached to the handlebars and contained a loaf of what looked like exceptionally healthy bread. No. Now was not the right time to tell Oliver.

They had patients waiting and Sophie Bennett was more than happy to postpone her own agenda.

'Morning, Sophie. Morning, Oliver.' Toni Marsh, St David's practice manager, paused, before answering the telephone. 'How was Auckland, Sophie?'

'Wet,' Sophie responded promptly. 'It rained nonstop.'

'Didn't dampen the enthusiasm, though,' Oliver reported.

'I should hope not,' Toni said briskly. She turned her attention to the phone call.

Sophie surveyed Toni's domain as she crossed the reception area. The toys were still neatly piled in the big wicker basket, the magazines tidily stacked on the various coffee-tables. Morning surgery hours weren't due to start for another fifteen minutes but an elderly couple sat near the reception desk and looked up hopefully as the two doctors crossed the room. Another woman was sitting in the corner of the waiting room, cross-legged, in a large armchair. Her eyes were shut and her hands lay on her legs, palms upward, fingers and thumbs forming enclosed circles. Like rings. Sophie sighed audibly. Oliver frowned with concern, followed the line of her gaze and then winked at Sophie.

'Know any good mantras?' he whispered.

'I wish I did,' Sophie murmured. 'I could use one right now.'

'I thought you seemed a bit tense.' Oliver stared at Sophie intently and then leaned over the large semicircular counter that separated the waiting area from the main office. 'Don't you think Sophie looks a bit tense, Toni?'

Toni glanced anxiously at Sophie who grinned and rolled her eyes to indicate that Oliver's concern was unfounded. Toni smiled wickedly as she adjusted the telephone receiver she was still holding and reached for a pencil. 'Would ten-fifteen suit you, Mr Collins? Dr Spencer has an appointment free then.'

Oliver shook his head frantically, holding up his hands in a signal to stop. Toni smiled sweetly, reaching to answer the second telephone as she continued talking. 'Yes, do bring the sample in, Mr Collins. A jam jar is just fine. Dr Spencer will appreciate your forethought. Yes—ten-fifteen.' Toni smoothly transferred her ear to the other telephone. 'Good morning. St David's Medical Centre. Toni speaking.'

'Sophie?'

The calculating tone in Oliver Spencer's voice was reassuringly familiar. Much to Sophie's relief, his interest in her emotional well-being had been overridden by a more pressing concern. Sophie smiled with genuine amusement as she shook her head firmly and ducked into the first door past the treatment room.

'Mr Collins is a wonderful patient for a GP registrar.' Oliver had followed Sophie into her consulting room. 'He has everything you can think of wrong with him. He's spent seventy years studying the
Reader's Digest Guide to Good Health
.' Oliver smiled cunningly. 'God knows what he's got in the jamjar today but I'm sure it's absolutely fascinating.'

'I'm sure it is.' Sophie was beginning to feel much better. She dropped her shoulder-bag beside her desk and lifted her white coat from the back of her chair. 'You can tell me all about it at morning teatime.'

'No.' Oliver looked vaguely alarmed. 'Mr Collins's samples are best avoided at any time when you're planning to eat.' He glanced back into the corridor.

'Josh!' he announced happily. 'Just the person I wanted to see.'

'No, Oliver.' The firm tone couldn't disguise the amusement evident in Dr Cooper's face. 'I do not want to see Mr Collins and I especially do not want to see whatever's in that jam jar.' He turned to Sophie. 'How are you, Sophie?'

'Fine, thanks.' Sophie straightened her coat. 'I'd better go and see who Toni has lined up for me.' A baby's cry could now be heard in the waiting area. 'Sounds like we might be in for a busy day.'

'When isn't Monday busy?' Josh was still blocking her doorway. 'How was Auckland?' he asked with interest. 'I'll bet Greg was rather pleased to see you.'

'Sophie doesn't want to talk about it,' Oliver informed his senior partner. 'She's a bit tense.'

'I am not!' Sophie was exasperated. 'I don't know why everybody is so interested in my weekend. It was no big deal.'

'It was to me,' Oliver confided to Josh. 'There I was, hoping Sophie would come back minus her engagement ring.'

Josh Cooper laughed. 'What, having decided that Greg doesn't measure up now that she's had a dose of your charm?'

'Exactly!' Oliver sighed dramatically. 'But there it is—still firmly on her finger. I can't understand it.'

'I can.' Josh winked at Sophie who found herself blushing. What would her colleagues say if they knew how close to the truth they actually were? She couldn't understand why the ring was still on her finger either. What was so terrifying about admitting the changes the weekend had produced? The decision had been hers after all. It wasn't as if it was some kind of personal failing. And surely nobody would assume she was interested in Oliver. Would they? Or more particularly—would Oliver?

Josh was looking thoughtfully at Oliver. 'You know, it
is
about time you got some romance in your life.'

'I know,' Oliver nodded sadly. 'That's all my mother could talk about when I took her out to lunch yesterday. I have a duty as an only child to produce grandchildren before she's too decrepit to enjoy them.'

'How old is your mother, Oliver?' Sophie queried suspiciously.

'Fifty-six. But she's going downhill fast. She only goes to aerobics five days a week now.' Oliver grinned at Sophie. 'Would you like to meet my mother? She'd love to meet you.'

Josh shook his head admonishingly. 'You should try your charms on someone who's in a position to reciprocate and then you might actually get off first base.'

'Who did you have in mind, Josh?' It was Oliver's turn to look suspicious. 'I don't want one of your cast-offs, however rich the choice might be.'

Josh grinned. 'My women are too sophisticated for the likes of you, Dr Spencer. Did you see that gypsy in fee corner of the waiting room—with all the bangles and that gorgeous wild hair? She looks more your type.'

Sophie reached into her coat pocket at the reminder and quickly scooped back her shoulder-length straight hair, winding the scrunchy to hold her dark blonde tresses in a neat ponytail. She wondered how Oliver would react to the suggestion. Not that he would consider dating a patient, but did Josh know something that she didn't regarding his taste in women?

'Hmm.' Oliver's tone was calculating again. 'You could be right. Swap you for Mr Collins.'

Josh laughed again. 'No way. Not that I have any say in the matter, anyway. She wants Sophie. Toni said she was standing outside with her bicycle when she got to work this morning and she was prepared to wait as long as it took but Dr Bennett was whom she intended to see.'

'I'd better not keep her waiting any longer, then,' Sophie said briskly. She walked away from the two men with relief. She didn't want to hear any more about the type of women that might interest Dr Spencer. Neither did she want any more interest shown in her weekend. Not by Josh and not by Oliver. Especially not by Oliver.

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