That night......when Dr Evan Hunter had no resistance to Dr Violet Connelly in her silver dress and spiked heels... That night… ...when her kiss made him forget he was her boss, and the consequences of his actions.. And the next day… ...it was if nothing had ever happened. Because nothing could happen between them. Ever. Until they are sent to Africa on a vaccination campaign together, where the hot climate and the less than ideal sleeping arrangements make working together difficult - and forgetting that night impossible!
Violet was shaking in her shoes – literally.
The walk to the Director’s office had never seemed so long. On every one of the thirty steps her legs felt more like jelly and her brain like laundry on a permanent spin cycle.
Her hand gripped the piece of paper in her hand tightly – the only evidence that she’d actually done any of the work she was supposed to have completed days ago. The three sentences didn’t exactly help her defence.
But inside her, next to her churning stomach, a rage was building. A rage against Evan Hunter, her boss.
It was his fault she was in this situation.
He’d ask her to find out background information on her brother Matt Sawyer, who’d been at the heart of the most prolific outbreak in the CDC’s history. Granted – he hadn’t known Matt was her brother – but that did nothing to quell the anger in her belly.
She’d used her other work as an excuse. Plotting the potential spread of the smallpox virus was surely more important than finding out about the ex-CDC doctor who’d made the preliminary diagnosis. Too bad Evan didn’t feel that way.
Her legs trembled as she reached the door.
Stay calm, she repeated in her head. Erupting in front of the Director would do nothing to help her cause.
But there was a surprise. Evan’s broad shoulders were immediately towering over her. It seemed like he was waiting for the Director too.
There he was. Blocking her way to the Director’s office. His arms folded across his chest. In another world she might have found him attractive.
In fact, a few months ago and after a couple of glasses of wine, she hadfound him attractive and ended up locked in a heated embrace that neither of them had admitted to or acted on again.
Evan Hunter could certainly turn heads. His tall frame and broad shoulders, combined with his dark brown hair and blue eyes attracted female attention wherever he went.
To say nothing of the sexy three-day stubble currently on his chin.
Too bad he was about to be her executioner.
So why did he look a little twitchy?
“What are you doing here?”
She jerked at the tone in his voice. “I could say the same thing to you. The Director sent for me.”
“He did?” Evan looked surprised. Surely he’d initiated this by complaining about her?
“Why do you think we’re here?”
Evan’s eyes met hers. They were steady, uncompromising. “I can only guess it’s about the report I sent him.”
She could feel her stomach turn over. “What report was that?”
“The one about Matt Sawyer – you know? The one I asked you to write days ago. He shot her a steely glare. “It seemed a remarkable coincidence that a former CDC employee was around when a provisional smallpox diagnosis was made.” It was almost as if he was trying to bait her.
“What’s the supposed to mean?” The words were out before she could stop herself.
“Oh, come on Violet.” His words were pure frustration. “You must appreciate that the chances of smallpox occurring naturally are virtually impossible. All situations in our current plan are around a terrorist attack. What are the chances of a former CDC employee being around when it happens? You were asked to compile a report of Matt Sawyer’s recent history. It was essential that we found out exactly where Matt Sawyer had been and who he’d been consorting with.”
Violet couldn’t hold her tongue any longer. “Consorting with? You’ve got to be joking Evan.”
But he continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “You ignored my requests for information - even after I gave you a warning. That information could have been the difference between a terrorist attack and more lives at risk. You still haven’t handed over any information on Matt Sawyer. What exactly have you been doing with your time Violet?”
The rage that had been simmering beneath the surface was threatening to erupt. Idiot. The man was clearly an idiot. And the implication in his words meant she couldn’t think straight anymore.
“You honestly thought that Sawyer was a terrorist? That idea even crossed your tiny, warped mind? You have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. How dare you!” Her voice was rising in crescendo and in pitch.
Evan towered over the top of her. He was furious. “How dare I? How dare I? Who do you think you’re talking to? I was the lead for this investigation. It was up to me to cover every eventuality - including the possibility of terrorism. How dare you Violet? How dare you get in my way?”
But Violet wasn’t even listening to the words he was saying. She was still stuck on the ridiculous thought that her brother had anything to do with the outbreak. “I can’t believe you thought Sawyer was a terrorist. I can’t believe you considered he’d have anything to do with the outbreak. The last thing Sawyer wanted was to be involved with the CDC again. I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous in my life.” She was gesturing wildly, her hands flapping about in the air.
Evan stepped closer. A dark expression swept across his face. “What is it with you and Sawyer anyway? How do you even know him? He left long before you even got here.” His face was only inches from hers. “Why should you have any loyalty to him? What was he – your lover?”
What kind of a question was that? And what was it to him anyway? Was he jealous?
“What?” The red mist was descending. She couldn’t even see his scrunched up angry face anymore. “He’s my brother you idiot!”
There was a hiss. A sharp intake of breath. Evan jerked back as if she’d just delivered an electric shock.
“Your brother?” His voice was barely audible and he looked horrified. “But how can he be your brother?”
Her heart was thudding against her chest wall. Oh no. She’d just revealed the secret that she’d kept for the last three years.
She couldn’t think of anything sensible or rational to say. But then Evan had just asked a pretty stupid question. “The way that anybody gets a brother,” she murmured.
But that clearly wasn’t enough for Evan. He wasn’t finished with her.
“Sawyer is your brother?” His voice had started to rise.
She nodded. But it obviously wasn’t sinking in for him.
“Sawyer is your brother? How can that be possible? You have different names – and you’re not married.”
Her brain was starting to work in another direction. She had deliberately kept this a secret. Could this be considered fraud? There hadn’t been anywhere on her application form to state if family members worked at the CDC. But then, there would have been an expectation of disclosure. Would she get in trouble for this?
She took a deep breath. “Yes, Matt Sawyer is my brother. I’m well aware that he left here under a cloud and thought it best not to mention our connection. We have different surnames because our mother remarried when I was young. I took my stepfather’s name – Matt didn’t.” She held the crumpled piece of paper up in her hand, trying to ignore the fact that it was shaking. “As I’m sure you were aware Matt hasn’t made much contact over the last few years. He struggled with Helen’s death. I’ve never known where he’s been working. It turns out he’s been in Borneo, Alaska and Connecticut.” She hesitated. Should she say anymore? “And I never found that out for myself. I’ve been trying to find out where my brother’s been for years. Matt told me and I checked the details.”
Evan started to erupt. “Why on earth didn’t you tell me he was your brother? I asked you to investigate him and you said nothing! You had a conflict of interest that you should have declared. Of all the unprofessional-“
Violet flinched and stepped forward instantly, her face inches from his. “Unprofessional? Well, let’s talk about unprofessional behaviour shall we? Because I’m not the only one to indulge in that. Maybe we should be talking about something else? I’m not the only one keeping secrets around here.”
The loud noise of someone clearing their throat made them both jump.
The Director was standing behind them both with a pile of papers in his arms - looking less than impressed. He pushed open the door to the office, “Let’s take this inside please and stop entertaining the masses.” How much had he heard?
Violet’s jaw dropped and her head shot around to the office space where just about every member of staff was standing on their feet, their heads above their pods, staring at her and Evan.
How long had they been like this? And why hadn’t she noticed? She felt the heat flood into her cheeks and hurried into the office behind the Director.
She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t think. All the nerves that she’d felt a few minutes ago on the walk to the Director’s office instantly returned.
The Director seemed cool and unphased. He walked around the desk and sat down in his chair. He sat his paperwork in front of him and gestured to the chair on the other side of the desk. “Take a seat please Violet, Evan.” His head nodded towards the two chairs.
What was that paperwork? Was that the HR paraphernalia he needed to fire her?
She swallowed. A tennis ball was currently sitting in her throat. Just get this over with.
There was a few minutes silence as the Director looked at the paperwork in front of him. It was agonising. The wait seemed to stretch on and on forever. She couldn’t stand it.
But Evan obviously couldn’t either. “Director, if you’ll just let me explain-“
The Director held up one hand. “Enough.”
Evan tried to speak again, his face flushed, “But-“
“From both of you.” The Director’s voice cut him dead. He pulled some papers out from the file in front of him.
Violet felt her chest tightening. The way it did when you struggled to breath. Was this it? Was she about to get fired?
The Director looked her in the eye. He had pale, grey eyes. She’d never really noticed before. She’d always been too busy keeping her head down and stopping herself being noticed.
She gulped. He was addressing her formally. This couldn’t be good.
He sighed, “Putting aside what I just witnessed outside, I actually came here today to let you know that your transfer request had been approved.”
Their voices rang out simultaneously, as if neither of them could really believe their ears.
He folded his hands in front of him. “But with hindsight, it seems as if there are a number of issues we need to address here today.”
“Transfer request? What transfer request?”
Evan’s head was spinning. He’d had no idea why he’d been called to the Director’s office. He’d assumed it was regarding the missing report. The report on her brother.
Now it seemed as if the Director hadn’t even noticed the report wasmissing.
The Director shot him another steely glare. He obviously didn’t like to be interrupted. “Didn’t you know that Dr Connelly had requested to be transferred to the Emergency Operations Center and join the Stop Transmission of Polio program?”
He shook his head as his brain whirred. Violet Connelly had been driving him crazy for months. Ever since they’d kissed on that night out and both of them had pretended it hadn’t happened.
But the issues in the last few days had been serious. Serious enough for him to consider reporting her. No matter what their past history. As team leader he had a responsibility to ensure everyone pulled their weight.
Since when did Violet want to do field work? And why had she never mentioned it?
“I had no idea. She obviously didn’t see fit to mention it to me.” The hard edge in his voice was crystal clear and he could hear the way his words must sound to her – cold.
Did that hide the fact he couldn’t explain how he was feeling?
Was Violet leaving because of him? Was she leaving because of their mistaken fumbled kiss?
And why did the thought of not seeing her anymore, drive him just as crazy as working with her every day?
He watched as she seemed to sag into her chair. As if all the tension had just left her body. Disbelief was written all over her face.
“Really? You’ve approved my transfer? When can I start? Where am I going? What will my role be?” It was obvious her mouth was running away with her and her brain had gone into overdrive.
Meanwhile, he was still getting over the shock that he wouldn’t be seeing Violet anymore. It almost squeezed the air from his lungs.
“Hold on.” The Director raised his hands. “I think there are bigger issues here.” He looked between the two of them and leaned back in his chair. “I have to say that I’m disappointed in you both.” Evan felt his heart sink like a stone. This couldn’t be good.
“Evan, I’m surprised that Dr Connelly didn’t tell you about her application to transfer. As her line manager I would have expected you both to have discussed this.” The implication was clear. Why couldn’t Violet speak to him? He kind of wondered that himself. Was he really so unapproachable?
“And Dr Connelly,” he turned his head back to Violet. “Unlike Dr Hunter, I don’t really care that Matt Sawyer is your brother. I can’t think why you thought it necessary to hide that, but I’m very happy with the work your brother did over the last few days for us. And I’ll be keen to work with him again in the future.” He tapped his pen against the desk, as if he was contemplating what to say next. “It’s my opinion that your reaction to Dr Hunter was unreasonable. He was just exploring every angle regarding the possibility of a smallpox outbreak. We would have checked up on anyone who reported a suspected smallpox outbreak. No matter who they were. But what’s clear to me is that, Dr Hunter didn’t explain his rationale for his request very well. But then again, why should he? He was in charge of the team.”
Evan had no idea where this was going. He could see Violet struggling to swallow. She was finding this as difficult as he was. One second he thought the Director was going to come down on Violet, next second he thought his own head was going to be on the chopping block.
Something struck him. Was. The Director had said he was in charge of the team. Oh no.
Violet’s face had fallen again. And he hated it when she looked like that. One minute she was getting her dream transfer. Next, she was thinking she was being given her marching orders.
“What’s most clear to me here is that the two of you need to learn to work together as a team. I don’t care what your personal issues are. I don’t care if youhave any personal issues. What I do care about is how the staff at the CDC work together. It’s one of the most vital components of our jobs.” His eyes narrowed, “And the display I’ve just witnessed gives me great concerns.”
He turned on Evan. “You’re one of my most experienced and senior doctors. I would expect better from you. The exchange outside seemed unprofessional.”
This was it. He was going to be fired.
The word that he and Violet had just flung at each other. Hearing it come from the Director’s mouth was an entirely different matter.
It was the most offensive word you could say to a doctor. Particularly when it hit home.
“I think both of you have some lessons to learn. So, I’ve come to a decision. Violet, you will be joining the STOP team in Nigeria. I’ve already approved the transfer. They are on the final push to try and stop the spread of polio. Your field assignment will last three months and you’ll be leaving in a week. Start packing.
Evan. I think it’s time for a change of scene for you. And maybe a change of climate. I’m happy with the way you handled the outbreak. I’m even happier that it turned out to be monkeypox instead of smallpox. But I think it’s time you learned a different skill set. I’ve had no complaints about you – no complaints at all. But I’m conscious that working in the same area of the CDC can make you become complacent. I need adaptable team leaders that can work anywhere, covering every eventuality. You need to work on your interpersonal skills. Specifically, your interpersonal skills with Violet.” He tilted his head to one side, almost as if he was lost in thought for a minute. “I think, at times, you can be a little hard on your team.” A smile drifted across his face, “A little too alpha. I need a team leader for STOP at short notice and was struggling to find someone appropriate – someone who could take care of the strategic work alongside the clinical. It seems like I’ve just found him.”
“Me?” Evan could hardly get the word out. This couldn’t be happening. This was like a bad movie.
The Director nodded. “That’s why I was late for our meeting. I was taking a call from Africa. One of our team leaders needs to get back home in a hurry – his father has taken seriously ill. I’m sure you understand.” The words hung in the air – along with the implication.
What a terrible position. There was no way Evan could say no now.
The Director gave him a little nod. “You’ll be assigned to work with a national counterpart. The World Health Organization and UNICEF are our partners in this area. You’ll have to plan, implement, roll out and monitor the program in your designated area. You’ll have to manage a team of civilians and train them to help administer the program.” He almost gave a little smile. “That will take all your people power. You’ll have to learn to be flexible, working under difficult conditions with people from different cultures.” He gave a little nod. “It could be the making of you Evan.”
The Director was moving now, picking up his paperwork. He glanced from one to the other. “Maybe three months in a hot climate will help you two sort out your differences.”
The realisation of what was about to happen hit him like a boulder on the head. “We’re going together? To Nigeria? I’m to be Violet’s team leader?”
He couldn’t possibly mean that. From the little Evan knew about the STOP program it worked across a number of countries. Surely, he didn’t plan on sending them both together to the same field assignment?
“Of course. This is perfect. Hard work, in an area uncluttered by other distractions. Both of you report to Dr Sanday tomorrow morning. He’ll give you all the background information and travel arrangements that you need.”
“But what about here? What about infectious diseases?”
The Director gave him a wry smile. “Donovan’s served his time well. I think he’s ready to take the next step – a more strategic direction. It will stretch him, do him good – just like it will you.”
And then he was gone.
Violet sat in the chair unmoving. He could almost sense she didn’t want to meet his gaze.
There was so much going on in his head right now. And most of it concerned her. She was shifting constantly in his mind. Violet, Sawyer’s sister. Violet, his fellow work colleague who’d ignored his instructions. Violet, the woman he’d kissed a few months ago. Violet, the woman who’d asked for a transfer without talking to him first.
Violet, the woman he was going to spend the next three months with – in close proximity.
Was that better, or worse than her leaving? Because right now he didn’t know.
It didn’t help matters that he was being replaced by a guy he considered a cocky upstart.
“Are you going to say something?” She’d rested her elbow on the desk and was leaning her head on her hand. She looked exhausted.
Then again, she’d barely slept in the last few days. None of them had thanks to the outbreak.
Her eyes were closed. For the first time he noticed she had little dark circles under them. They marred her usually perfect complexion. Her blond hair was swept back with a clip but little strands had escaped around her face. Even in her tired state Violet Connelly was a thing of beauty.
But her beauty couldn’t distract him from the thoughts rattling around in his brain.
“Why didn’t you tell me about Sawyer? No. Why didn’t you tell anyonethat he’s your brother? Are you ashamed of him?”
Her eyes shot open, sparks of fury shooting in his direction, she opened her mouth to speak then pressed her lips together firmly for a few seconds, obviously having second thoughts. Maybe she’d been outspoken enough for one day. She bent forward, putting her head on the desk as if in exasperation.
“You do that to me,” she mumbled.
He was thrown. “What?”
She lifted her head, so he could only see one pale green eye, “Make me mad at the drop of a hat. It irritates me. And I’m just too exhausted to fight with you.”
He nodded slowly. This wasn’t exactly where he thought this conversation would go.
“Of course I’m not ashamed of my brother. I love him dearly. But he’s had issues. He needed time. He needed space. Ever heard of the expression if you love someone let them go? That’s Sawyer. The last six years have been hard.” Her pale green eyes looked off to the side and she nodded slowly, “But I think he’s on his way back.”
Wow. Nothing like getting to the heart of the matter. But he didn’t have time to think about what she’d said, because she wasn’t finished.
“But I don’t know where you fit in to this picture.”
“What do you mean?” Her conversation seemed to jump all over the place. What was going on in her mind? Was this the lack of sleep?
She folded her arms across her chest and straightened herself in the chair.
“I know you had issues with my brother but I don’t know what they were. Sawyer never told me. Will you?”
Now there was a question. The words hung in the air. Could he really put into words the complexity of what had happened between him and Sawyer and how he felt? He almost didn’t know where to start. And did he really want to have this conversation with a woman he would spend the next three months with? The answer was easy.
She sucked in a deep breath. “Well, where does that leave us?”
“What do you mean?”
“Does your irrational hate of my brother roll out to his sibling?”
He swallowed. Not really sure how to answer. The truth of the matter was, it did change how he perceived her. His bias towards Sawyer was already affecting how he felt about her. Would she exhibit the same traits as her brother? Would she walk out on a mission when it was at its most vital element?
He set his lips in a firm line, but he couldn’t look at her and his words were low. “You know I don’t hate you Violet.” His brain was painting pictures. Pictures of Violet in that red dress she’d been wearing a few days ago with a thick black belt cinching around her waist. He was sure she’d worn it to distract him for the fact she hadn’t produced the report. And she was right to, because it had worked.
Her eyes drifted off to one side, “I thought I was going to get fired.”
He nodded slowly, “Me too.”
Her green eyes met his, “I don’t want to get fired,” she said steadily. “I love my job.”
“Me either. My job’s the best thing in my life right now.”
Why did he say that?
That was far too personal. And Evan tried not to mix his personal life and with his working life. Or at least, not usually. “Then I guess we both have to make the best of the situation.”
She didn’t acknowledge his words. Instead she pulled out a flower covered notebook and started scribbling.
“What are you doing?”
“I need to make plans. I need to make arrangements for my apartment. The electricity, the rent, the mail…,” her voice tailed off.
The enormity of the upheaval started to hit him too. He’d need to make similar plans – all in the space of a week. To say nothing of the handover he’d have to give to Donovan about running the team here. The next week would be a nightmare.
Violet was scribbling again. It was almost as if he wasn’t there. He watched her for a few minutes as her hand flew over the page. Her hair was falling over her face. His fingers itched to reach out and tuck it behind her ear. Why on earth did he think like this around her?
“Any chance of a copy of your list? It will save me doing mine.”
Her head shot up and the sides of her mouth turned up. “Not a hope.” She stood up and walked towards the door. “I’m going to start going over my files – see what work I need to hand over to someone else.”
She stopped. Her hand on the door handle. “What?”
He couldn’t help it. He had to ask. Did she have the same kind of traits that he’d seen in her brother? He needed to know. The next three months were going to be a strain. Ever since that kiss he’d spent the last few months avoiding being in close proximity to her.
They’d never spoke about it. Never mentioned it. A drunken fumble on a works night out that no-one knew about.
He’d no idea how she felt about it.
More importantly, he’d no idea how he felt about it.
He’d woken up the next morning with the strangest feeling in his stomach. Part-dread, part-excitement. He was her boss. He should never have gone near her. It compromised their working relationship.
And now it seemed as if she was prepared to hold it over his head. That made Violet dangerous. That made Violet a threat.
“When the Director interrupted us – you were saying something about me being unprofessional. You were implying that because of the kiss. You thought you were about to be fired. Were you going to try and get me fired too? Would you do that Violet?”
Her eyes met his and he saw a little flash of fire. She didn’t hesitate for a second. “In a heartbeat.”
She pushed open the door and walked back out to the office leaving Evan wondering what he’d got himself into.
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