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'I'll bet.' Sophie wanted to escape. Ross was exuding so much happiness she felt stifled. 'What does she do?'

'She's a drug rep.' Ross frowned at Sophie's blank expression. 'You must know her. Christine. Christine Prescott.' He grinned. 'Soon to be Christine Selkirk.'

'And you've been going out with her for a
year?'

'Hell, we've been living together for a year. Things took off pretty fast. We couldn't get enough of each other. Still can't. The only time we're apart is when
she has to travel and that's going to stop as soon as we're married.' Ross tossed another grin at Sophie. 'Better go. Time is money and I'm going to be a dad soon.'

Sophie only remembered the weighty item still dangling from her hand after Ross had gone. She placed it carefully in the centre of the dining table. She stood very still, trying to analyse how she felt. It was rather hard to put a name to the violent emotions roiling through her at that moment, but fury was probably paramount. She picked up the staffroom phone, dialling 1 to put her through to the reception area.

'Toni? Has Oliver got a patient with him?'

'No. Mr Laney just came out. I was about to send Mrs Chamberlain in but Janet needs to take a BP and so on. Might take a few minutes. She loves to talk.'

'Good. Let her take as long as she likes,' Sophie suggested with deceptive calm. 'Is Mrs Wentworth still asleep?'

'She's snoring,' Toni reported. 'Shall I wake her up?'

'Not yet.' Sophie still sounded calm. 'I need to have a word with Oliver.'

She put the receiver down carefully, then turned mechanically. Sophie Bennett had never felt so furious in her whole life. She was ready to explode, and if she didn't move very, very carefully, she might do just that.

Her measured steps took her to Oliver's door. She turned the handle slowly and stepped into his office. The temptation to slam the door shut behind her was stifled by the same icy calm she now focused on Oliver Spencer.

'You lied to me,' she enunciated very clearly. 'You—of all people! You
lied
to me!'

 

CHAPTER TEN

Oliver Spencer
didn't look in the least bit ashamed of himself.

He seemed rather taken aback by the furious verbal assault Sophie had launched. Taken aback, but not in the least bit guilty or dismayed at having been caught out. He leaned back in his chair in a surprisingly relaxed fashion.

'When, precisely, did I lie to you, Sophie?'

'When you told me you were having an affair with Christine Prescott.'

Oliver shook his head. 'I did not tell you at any time that I was having an affair with Christine Prescott. You
assumed
I was.'

'You encouraged me to make that assumption.'

Oliver shrugged. 'I didn't lie directly.'

'Oh, so that makes it all right, does it?' Sophie's tone was heavily sarcastic.

'You tell me, Sophie.'

Sophie took a step towards Oliver. She leaned over his desk. 'As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't make a blind bit of difference, Oliver Spencer. You deceived me. And, what's more, I think you enjoyed doing it.'

'I wouldn't say that.' Oliver shook his head in rapid denial. 'Maybe at first, when I could see that it bothered you, but you really shook me up yesterday. I didn't realise how deception could take over. How difficult it might be to put things right.' He rubbed his chin. 'Let me tell you, Sophie. I didn't get much sleep last night.'

Sophie's lip curled fractionally. 'My heart bleeds,' she muttered. She narrowed her eyes. 'I wondered whether you were lying, right from the start. Well, from when Christine said her weekends hadn't been up to scratch. But then I thought, No way! If there's one person in the world who understands the damage lying can do, it's Oliver Spencer.'

'Quite right.' Instead of being ashamed or guilty or even taken aback now, Oliver looked curiously happy. His voice remained serious, however. 'Maybe I thought it was time somebody else learned as well.'

'Who?'

'You.' Oliver regarded Sophie steadily. 'Why did you lie to
me,
Sophie? About your engagement.'

'I didn't lie. Not exactly.'

'No. You let me assume. You did lie about that message on the card, though, didn't you. You did he about your wedding date?'

'You already know that,' Sophie muttered.

'So you were doing your own bit of deception, weren't you? Maybe
you
enjoyed it. Maybe you weren't even engaged to Graham.'

'Greg
,' Sophie seethed. 'And I
was
engaged.'

'Oh? Up until when?'

'Up until I went to Auckland for the weekend. That's when I broke it off.' Sophie tried to keep up her furious stare but her eyes shifted away from Oliver's involuntarily. She had come in to accuse Oliver of dishonesty. Now she seemed to be in the witness box. How had he managed that so neatly?

'Ah!' Oliver's mouth pursed thoughtfully. 'So you broke it off before those flowers arrived. Why were you still wearing your ring, then?'

Sophie failed miserably in her attempt to look nonchalant. 'I took it off the next day,' she pointed out defensively.

'And you lied about that, too,' Oliver announced cheerfully. 'Why did you do that, Sophie? Were you scared to admit how you really felt?'

Sophie refused to meet Oliver's gaze. She heard him clear his
throat.

'I was only trying to play by your rules, Sophie,' Oliver told her mildly. 'I didn't muscle in when I thought you were engaged. I tried to give you some space. I even gave due consideration to your suggestion that I find someone who might appreciate my kind of charm.'

'So I'm responsible for your deception?' Sophie let her breath out in an incredulous huff. 'You thought I was playing the same game you were?' Her voice rose angrily. 'Relationships between people aren't games, Oliver. They're serious.'

'I was being serious,' Oliver said calmly. 'I wanted you to realise I was capable of more than the shallow relationship you seem to think men like me want. I wanted you to know that I'm interested in commitment now. Even marriage. Children.' Oliver nodded with satisfaction. 'Especially children. And a house with a nice big garden.'

Sophie ignored the dreamy look on Oliver's face. She was outraged. 'So you do it by playing games?' she snapped. 'By manipulating people?'

Oliver sighed. 'Look, I know I've gone about this the wrong way. I realised that yesterday and that's why I stayed up half the night, trying to ring you. It seemed like a good plan but it got a bit out of hand.' Oliver ran his fingers through his hair. 'I didn't know what else to do at the time, Sophie. I'd tried letting you know how I felt, without scaring you off, but you thought it was all a joke. I haven't had much experience with women like you. Serious women.' Oliver smiled placatingly. 'Would it help if I said I was sorry? That I was blinded by love?'

'Huh!' Sophie said scornfully. 'I don't think you've got the faintest idea what love is all about.'

'Don't I?'

'No. People who love each other don't play games.'

'Don't they?' Oliver looked disappointed. 'What, never? Why not? Can't love be fun sometimes?'

'They don't play games with each other's feelings.' Sophie geared her tone to that of a parent reproving a rather difficult child. The man was being insufferably and deliberately obtuse. He almost looked as though he was enjoying himself. 'They don't set out to make people jealous,' she finished triumphantly.

'So you
were
jealous?'

Sophie glared at Oliver stonily.

'You made
me
jealous,' Oliver told her sombrely. 'But I forgive you,' he added magnanimously. He ran his fingers through his hair with an agitated movement and stood up suddenly. 'What
can
I do to convince you?'

'Try telling the truth,' Sophie suggested coolly.

Oliver cast her a hopeful glance. 'I will if you will.'

Sophie nodded after a second's pause. 'Sounds fair.'

'OK.' Oliver stood very still. He was several feet away from Sophie but his gaze made direct contact.

The dark grey eyes were soft. Indisputably sincere. 'I love you, Sophie Bennett. I am not remotely interested in any other woman. I never could be. I want to share my life with you. I want to marry you.' Oliver paused then drew in a long and rather shaky breath. He smiled crookedly. 'Your turn,' he prompted gruffly.

But Sophie couldn't speak. She was blinking hard to try and clear her vision. She was swallowing hard to try and clear the lump in her throat. She had to say something. Oliver was waiting patiently. She could see the depth of emotion in his face, even though it was blurred by her tears. He looked achingly vulnerable. He had spoken the truth and was afraid of the potential rejection. A rejection Sophie could never issue.

'I want to marry you, too,' she whispered finally. And then she burst into tears.

Sophie was aware that Oliver was moving closer. He was reaching out towards her. He was...

He was taking her in his arms. Kissing her damp lashes, her cheeks, her forehead, even her chin, before his lips gently touched hers.

'I love you,' he said again.

'I love you, too,' Sophie said shyly. It was the first time she had spoken those words aloud to this man. The first time she had known just how much those words could mean.

Oliver's lips touched hers again, softly. Then the kiss deepened. If any confirmation was needed of how they really felt about each other, this kiss said it all. Neither of them heard the tap on the door. They only just heard the end of Toni's query.

'Ready for Mrs Chamberlain now?
Oh!'

Oliver and Sophie surfaced. Oliver's arms tightened around Sophie and she could feel the wave of heat flooding her face as she caught Toni's stunned expression.

'Not just yet, Toni,' Oliver said evenly. 'I'm dealing with a minor emergency here.'

Toni's mouth opened and closed soundlessly. She tried again. 'I'll...I'll make Mrs Chamberlain a cup of tea, shall I?'

'Excellent idea,' Oliver said approvingly. He watched the door close again. 'Now, where were we? I know.' He pulled Sophie gently after him and sat down on his chair, drawing her onto his lap. His smile was as gentle as his touch. 'When you went away to Auckland for the weekend I tortured myself, imagining another man sharing the rest of your life. It was then I realised I had to find some way of convincing you that you felt the same way.'

'So you presented me with the scenario of you and Christine Prescott riding off into the sunset—complete with a picket fence in the distance.'

Oliver grinned. 'Not a great plan, was it?'

Sophie tried to look stern. 'The worst,' she informed him, 'but at least your motive was honourable.'

They were grinning at each other as another tap on the door heralded Josh's entry. He looked as stunned as Toni at the sight of Sophie sitting on Oliver's lap. Then he smiled broadly. 'Looks like I'm interrupting something.'

'You are,' Oliver confirmed. 'Go away.'

'Right. Consider me gone.' Josh was still grinning. 'But can one of you tell me what that is in the bottle on our dining table?'

Sophie groaned. 'Sorry. I shouldn't have put it there. I think it can be thrown out. It's a...' Sophie suppressed a wild giggle. 'It's a urine sample.'

There was short silence. Then Oliver and Josh spoke together. 'Mr Collins?'

'Mr Collins.' Sophie nodded.

Oliver and Josh both laughed, then Josh shook his head. 'You've had your initiation now, Sophie. You've really made it into the partnership.'

'No, she hasn't,' Oliver told him. 'But we're getting there. Or we will if you'll just leave us alone.'

'I'm gone,' Josh said quickly. He was still grinning as his face disappeared behind the closing door.

Oliver's grip tightened around Sophie but she pulled back a little.

'Why did you tell me to sort things out with Greg? I thought you were telling me you weren't interested after all.'

Oliver sighed heavily. 'I knew if you felt anything like I did then there was no way you were going to many someone else. I needed you to know that as well.'

Sophie tilted her head. 'You certainly tried hard, even if your plan was a bit warped. I suppose it even worked,' she conceded. 'In its own way.'

'I didn't think it was going to work at all,' Oliver confessed. 'I could have strangled Christine for saying her weekends hadn't been up to scratch.'

'I could have strangled her, too,' Sophie declared. 'Especially after you produced those wedding invitations.'

'Inspired, weren't they?' The twinkle was back in Oliver's grey eyes. 'I told the others they were in for a surprise. Do you want to go public with an announcement yet?'

Sophie grinned. 'I think we already have. Janet's the only person who hasn't been in to visit us.'

Oliver leaned forward to place a lingering kiss on Sophie's lips. She was startled when he lifted his head abruptly.

'I want a really short engagement,' he told her sternly. 'None of this five-year nonsense.'

'Let's skip being engaged, then,' Sophie suggested. 'Let's just get married.'

'Right.' Oliver's eyes gleamed purposefully. 'Let's get the invitations out and pick one. If you really love those cupids I'm prepared to sacrifice the doves.'

Sophie laughed. 'Let's get on with seeing our patients. I'm sure Mrs Chamberlain has finished two cups of tea by now and Mrs Wentworth has slept quite long enough.'

Oliver reluctantly let go of Sophie. 'The deal still stands, though, doesn't it?'

'What deal?' Sophie straightened her skirt as she stood up. 'That I'll tell the truth if you do?'

'I will never lie to you, Sophie. And I won't play any more games. Not about important things.'

Sophie smiled. 'I wouldn't want you to stop having fun, Oliver. Just make sure I'm on the same team next time.'

'It's a deal.' Oliver nodded. 'Now, what about our other deal? The one we made ages ago?'

'What was that?'

'You invite me to your wedding and I'll invite you to mine.'

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