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'Sure.' Oliver was smiling, she could hear it in his voice. 'It would be a pleasure.' His eyebrows lifted encouragingly as Sophie glanced at him. 'Anything else I could help you with? I'm all yours.'

Yeah, right, Sophie thought acidly. Any moment now and Oliver was going to find a way to make this personal instead of professional. He just couldn't help himself. Did Christine find his charm as irresistible as Sophie once had? The thought of Christine galvanised Sophie into putting Oliver firmly back into his professional corner before he could step out of it any further.

'Actually, there is,' she informed him. 'I've got a tutorial and workshop on the management of hypertension coming up.' Sophie warmed to her purpose. 'I wondered if you might have a good basic textbook I could borrow.'

'Sure.' Oliver nodded slowly, as though accepting the reminder of his professional position as Sophie's supervisor. He nodded again. 'I could write you some exam-type, long-answer questions on the subject if you like. You might like to have a crack at them for practice.'

'Great.' Sophie checked her watch but Oliver didn't take the hint that it might be time to start work. She gave him a questioning glance. 'Was there something else?'

'I wish I'd known you hadn't gone to Auckland. I could have done with your advice.'

Sophie was rendered speechless. Oliver wanted her advice? About what? The best way to keep Christine Prescott amused?

'I want to buy a house.' Oliver ignored the lack of response. 'I think it's high time I stopped renting. I want something a bit more permanent. I had a look at a few but I'm not sure. Should I go modern and low maintenance, do you think? Or something old with lots of character?'

Sophie cleared her throat. 'Try asking Janet,' she suggested coolly. 'She might be able to put you onto a real-estate agent.'

'Who, Dennis?' Oliver grinned. 'But Dennis is a dork.'

Sophie bit her lip to stop herself catching Oliver's smile. Damn it, they were contagious!

'I don't want a dorky house,' Oliver confided. 'I want something really special. Old, I think, and with a nice view. It has to have a big garden, too, with plenty of room for children to run around in.'

Suddenly it was easy not to smile. 'Just keep hunting, Oliver. I'm sure you'll find exactly what you want. It might even have a white picket fence in front of it.'

'Mmm.' Oliver finally turned away. 'Sounds perfect. I knew you'd have a good idea, Sophie. You're full of good ideas. I'll keep an eye out for that fence.'

 

Oliver Spencer was smiling cheerfully as he entered his own consulting room. The plan was proceeding far more effectively than he had hoped. The look in Sophie's eyes when he'd mentioned the garden—and children! She wanted it as much as he did. She just needed to realise that he was the person she wanted to share it with. Maybe it just needed one more little push—and Oliver knew exactly what might do it. Sophie Bennett wasn't the only person who could come up with good ideas.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

It had
to be some sort of a nightmare.

Having spent so much time and energy trying to erase the images of weddings from her life, having successfully banished all the silver bells tied with satin bows—not to mention horrible, smug-looking cupids—Sophie couldn't believe she was being confronted by the real thing. The downturn had stopped. Now she had really reached rock bottom.

The images lay on the counter that separated the main office area from the waiting room. They were being perused with intense interest by Toni Marsh and Janet Muir.

'The cupids are really too much,' Toni decided. 'I love this dove with the wedding ring in its beak, though.'

'I prefer the frilly horseshoe,' Janet declared with a grin. 'It has to be good luck to get a man as far as an altar.' She sighed rather wistfully and then glanced up to see Sophie's stunned observation of the scene.

'Hi, Sophie. Did you order these samples?'

'No,'
Sophie denied emphatically. 'Why would I do that?'

Toni's gaze was quizzical. 'Well, you're the only person around these parts who has been engaged. And Oliver did say you might be planning another trip to Auckland. We thought you and Greg might have made things up.'

Sophie sighed audibly. 'Greg and I haven't made things up. I'm not going to marry him. I'm not going to marry anybody, and even if I was I wouldn't choose wedding invitations that looked anything like those.' Sophie gave the cards a disgusted glance.

'They got dropped off this afternoon by our stationery rep. Someone had rung in and asked for a selection.'

'They must have got the wrong medical centre.' Sophie shrugged. She gave the cards another cursory glance and repressed a shudder.

'Not at all.' Oliver and Josh appeared on the other side of the counter, both looking ready to head home. Oliver stepped closer to the display. 'I ordered them,' he said.

'You're joking!' Josh was eyeing the cards with the same expression he favoured for one of Mr Collins's jam jars. 'What the hell would you want wedding invitations for?'

'My wedding, of course.'

There was a heavy silence that lasted for several seconds. Then Josh reached out to lay his hand on Oliver's forehead.

'Afebrile,' he murmured. 'Very strange.'

'Get off.' Oliver grinned.

'You're not really thinking of getting married, are you?' Toni gasped.

'To tell you the truth, I've been thinking about it a great deal just lately,' Oliver confided. 'Someone told me quite recently that they didn't think I was capable of commitment. I'd like to prove them wrong.'

Josh shook his head with disbelief. 'How could you, Oliver? You've been there, done that.' He tried a disappointed look. 'I thought you were a man after my own heart. You told me yourself you had no intention of ever getting shackled again.'

'I didn't,' Oliver agreed seriously. 'It's funny how meeting the perfect woman can change your mind, though.'

Toni was nodding wisely. 'I knew you weren't a lost cause, Oliver.' She shot Josh a mildly triumphant glance. 'Unlike some people, whose names I won't mention.'

Josh sighed heavily. 'I give up. Spill the beans, then.'

Oliver shook his head. 'When the time is right I'll make an announcement, and I promise you'll all be very surprised.'

'Who is she?' Janet demanded. 'Do we know her?'

'I'm not telling,' Oliver said airily. 'I'm leaving it up to her to decide when to go public. I couldn't betray that trust.'

'But do we know her?' Janet persisted.

'Oh, yes.' Oliver nodded casually. 'I'd say you all know her pretty well by now.'

'You don't look very surprised, Sophie,' Josh observed. 'Do you know something we don't?'

'My lips are sealed,' Sophie said faintly. Then she summoned up a smile and shook her head. 'I probably know less than you do. After all, I haven't been here very long.'

'Seems like ages,' Josh commented.

'Gee, thanks,' Sophie said dryly.

'I mean I can't imagine the place without you now.' Josh took a last look at the invitations. 'Those cupids are disgusting.'

'Oh, I don't know.' Oliver scooped up the cards.

'They might grow on you. What do you think, Sophie? I'd really value your opinion.'

Sophie just gaped at him. She had no words available.

Oliver tidied the stack of cards by tapping the edges on the counter. 'I'm going to take these home. Some decisions are best made in private.' He winked at Sophie.

'Some decisions are best not made at all,' Josh said darkly. 'I don't know what's got into you, Oliver.'

'Love,' Oliver declared. 'You should try it, Josh. It's good for the soul.'

'So's chicken soup.' Josh followed Oliver out 'I don't like that either.'

 

If the weekend spent wondering about what Oliver and Christine might have been up to had been bad, it paled in comparison to the empty hours of Monday evening. Sophie tried to tackle the work she'd carried home but looking at Oliver's carefully thought-out questions covering the topic of high blood pressure did nothing to lift her mood. Oliver had written the mock exam paper by hand. His writing had a very distinctive style. Clear and flowing. Confident but not flashy. An amusing quirk here and there. Rather indicative of Oliver's personality, really.

Perhaps a glass or two of Chateau Cardboard might provide some emotional shelter from the ominous black clouds Sophie could sense waiting. Maybe a good, brisk walk would let her endorphins dilute the hovering depression. The more attractive alternative of chocolate was unavailable so Sophie finally chose a long, hot soak in the bathtub. She gave herself a stern talking to after her stress levels had subsided slightly.

She had no reason to be jealous of Christine Prescott. None at all. She could have been with Oliver herself if she'd been that keen. It had been a conscious decision to turn down the opportunity of an affair with the man. She'd accused him of lacking commitment. Of being shallow. And hadn't he proved her correct by the ease with which he had shrugged off the physical attraction he had demonstrated for her in favour of the new delights of the drug rep?

Or had he?

What had Oliver meant about proving her wrong about being able to commit himself. Was it possible that Oliver had invented his relationship with Christine in order to make himself seem a more desirable prize? It would fit with Christine's odd reaction to her query about the weekend. But why take it further? As far as telling her he was hunting for a family home. As far as producing sample wedding invitations. Was he just flaunting the possibilities? Was Oliver, in fact,
trying
to make her jealous and goad her into competing with another woman?

If he was, then he was barking up entirely the wrong tree. Sophie Bennett wasn't interested in anything less than the real thing. A physical relationship on its own would never be enough. The man she chose would have to feel exactly the same way as she did. And if he did feel the same way there would be no question of having to compete. Sophie felt quite happy with the mental circuit she had just completed. She did
not
want an affair. What she wanted was...Oliver Spencer. Body
and
soul.

Sophie groaned aloud and hauled herself out of the bath. She towelled herself dry with unnecessary vigour. Back to square one. So much for pure lust. Her soul had fallen in love with Oliver a long time before her body had transferred allegiance. She had fallen in love with his intelligence. His compassion. His humour. She had responded to those qualities from the day she had met Oliver. She hadn't anticipated the physical response and it had grown gradually enough for her to deny the implications. Ironically, it had been her respect for Oliver's integrity which had made her analyse her own feelings and had led to her breaking her engagement. But that had been as far as she'd had the courage to go.

An emotional coward, that's what she was, Sophie decided as she got ready for bed. If she'd had any strength of character she wouldn't have let her father upset her so repeatedly over the years. She wouldn't have coasted along in a relationship with Greg that couldn't have gone any further than a teenage romance. She wouldn't have worried about admitting her error of judgement to her colleagues. And she wouldn't have panicked at the thought of what havoc a relationship with Oliver Spencer could have wreaked in her life. So what if it had only been sexual in the beginning? A relationship had to start somewhere or it couldn't grow. What had she expected? That Oliver would vow undying commitment before he let her know he fancied her?

How stupid to have blamed Oliver for being the catalyst. He had done her a favour. By showing her that there was more available than a good friendship, he had pushed Sophie into performing the first courageous act in her entire emotional history. She had broken off an engagement that had lacked any kind of real depth. Sophie shook her head in disgust. She had even tried to reinstate it. If Greg hadn't already been otherwise occupied she might have bolted back into a future of trying to deny what she knew she might have missed out on.

What she
had
missed out on. At least as far as Oliver Spencer was concerned. He might have all the ingredients Sophie could wish for but he was lacking the most important one. He didn't share her view about the sanctity of a meaningful relationship. He had introduced more players to his team. Even the idea of marriage was a game and the playing cards were now wedding invitations.

Sophie's stream of negative thoughts had to be firmly shunted aside the next day, but the strain of maintaining a cheerful appearance between the welcome distraction of dealing with patients was enormous. Nobody seemed to notice how tense she was. They were all too busy speculating on what had come over Oliver and who the mystery woman might be. When Sophie found the staff had gathered for lunch and could talk of nothing else, she carefully distanced herself by sitting on the couch. She picked up a copy of
GP Weekly
and tried to concentrate on the article predicting an epidemic of hepatitis C.

'But who
is
she?' Janet queried desperately, standing beside the group at the table. 'At least give us a clue, Oliver. What does she look like?'

'Gorgeous,' Oliver responded promptly.

'Brunette or redhead?' Josh asked.

'Neither. She's kind of, well, blonde-ish.'

Sophie read the same sentence for the third time. The words were a little blurred.

'What does she do? Something medical?'

'Mmm. Definitely something medical.' Oliver was grinning. 'And that's all I'm saying.'

'Have you set a date for the wedding?' Toni asked hopefully.

'Not exactly.' Oliver sounded less confident. 'I haven't quite asked her yet.'

'You must be pretty sure she'll say yes,' Toni pointed out. 'Or you wouldn't have ordered those invitations.'

'I'm keeping my fingers crossed,' Oliver said wistfully. 'I just have to think of some way of proposing so that she'll know I'm serious and not just playing games.'

'If she's the right person for you, she'll know,' Toni said knowledgeably. 'And if she doesn't then it would probably not have worked out anyway.'

BOOK: Unknown
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