One second Dr. Grace Barclay is sitting at her desk, the next she's naked in the decontamination showers with notorious doc and total sex god Donovan Reid! The chemistry between them is sizzling, so when Grace is assigned to Donovan's team it's all she can do to remain cool, calm and professional with her new boss. But with her career at stake Grace must impress for the right reasons. And surrendering to the temptation of Donovan would be oh-so-wrong…wouldn't it?
“Donovan Reid is sex on legs,” sighed Grace as she gathered up the remains of her lunch. Her two colleagues mumbled in agreement, too busy watching the object of their admiration through the glass window to the workout room.
It really wasn’t fair. How was anyone supposed to concentrate on their lunch when they had a view like that?
His light brown curly hair was wet, his running vest and shorts allowing every sculpted muscle to be on display as his legs pounded on the running machine. The look on his face intense, as if every single thing on this planet depended on him reaching his goal. The machine started to slow and he blinked in recognition, decreasing his pace and picking up the towel on the handrail to dry around his face and neck.
This was their Friday lunchtime ritual. Come down to the staff room and goggle at Donovan Reid. Their local Matthew McConaughey lookalike.
Lara dumped her half-eaten sandwich in the trash, her eyes flickering between Grace and Dr Gorgeous. “How long is it since you’ve had a date, Grace?”
Lara folded her arms across her chest. “No, really. What happened to the computer guy?”
Grace shook her head, she could feel the hackles going up at the back of her neck. “Leave it, Lara.” She wasn’t about to tell her friends that dating just freaked her out. Everything was fine in a busy, crowded restaurant. But take her out of the situation and into a one on one and a whole pile of irrational fears raised their heads.
“Are you going to tell me what happened?”
“Nothing happened. We went on a few dates but that was it. Nothing.” It was simpler not to date. She just didn’t want to say that out loud. They would be rushing her down the corridor to the nearest counsellor and that, she could do without. She just needed a little time. She would be fine. She would.
Lara nodded her head at the glistening muscles of Donovan Reid, he was towelling himself off before heading to the showers. “So, have you considered any other options?”
Grace rolled her eyes. “Oh, get real Lara. The guy doesn’t even know I exist. Have you seen the kind of woman he normally dates?”
Anna piped in, “Oh yeah, blondes, big Amazonian types.”
They turned to look at her.
She shrugged, “What? I saw him out at dinner the other week.”
“And you never mentioned it?” Lara seemed annoyed.
“Why would I? He never even recognised me. Believe me, he was otherwise occupied.”
Grace looked down at her own curvy body, visions of Donovan Reid wrapped around some lithe blonde model plaguing her mind, then back through the glass towards him, “Well, I guess that rules me out then.” She tossed her water bottle in the recycle bin. But her eyes were drawn straight back to Donovan like a magnet, she just couldn’t stop staring. Maybe it was the safety aspect. Donovan Reid was in the ‘unattainable’ category for her. Plus there was the fact she already knew how he’d reacted in a similar situation to hers. He’d came out of it unscathed. It kinda helped with his hero persona. “The DPA should have one of those calendars. You know, the charity kind with a naked man for every month? Think of the money we could raise for charity.”
Lara laughed. “And apart from Donovan who are we going to get to model for it? We’re kind of short of handsome men around here.”
Anna smiled. “That’s okay. I could easily look at a different picture of Donovan every month,” she tilted her head to the side as the three of them turned to appreciate their prey once more.
He finished in the gym and was grabbing his gear and heading to the showers.
Grace sighed. It was official. His butt was her favourite part of him.
It had been seven months since they’d finished their residencies and started at the Disease Prevention Agency. The DPA had over 1,500 employees in Atlanta alone, with another 10,000 across the US and fifty other countries worldwide. Grace and her colleagues were currently part of the two year training programme within the Emerging Disease branch of the DPA. Two years to learn everything they needed to know about preventing disease, disability and death from infectious diseases.
Placements included lab work, epidemiology, contact tracing, public health statistics and field work. Some of the placements were exciting, some mundane but the viewing of Donovan Reid’s butt was often the highlight of Grace’s long twelve-hour shift day.
“Where are you covering this afternoon?” she asked Anna.
“I’m down in the labs. What about you?”
She shook her head. “I’m on the phones. Crazy bat lady, here I come.”
Lara hadn’t moved. She was still watching Donovan’s retreating back. “You know there’s a place on his team, don’t you?”
“What?” Both heads turned in unison.
Lara nodded, “Yeah, Mhairi Spencer’s pregnant. She won’t be covering field work anymore.”
It made sense. A few years before, one of the DPA staff had died from an ectopic pregnancy in a far-off land. That was the trouble with working for the Disease Prevention Agency. A field assignment could mean staff would be miles from the nearest hospital. The weird and wonderful diseases they covered didn’t often appear in built-up areas. Regulations had been reviewed and it had been decided that as soon as any member of staff discovered they were pregnant, field work was a no-no.
The tiny little hairs on Grace’s arms stood on end. This was it. The chance she’d been waiting for. Seven months she’d been at the DPA, desperately waiting for a chance to get on one of the field teams. And to be on a team with the resident hunk? Wow.
Trouble was, the exact same thought was echoed on her friend’s faces. She could almost hear the sound of whirring as their brains started frantically calculating the best way to make the team.
She held out her fist. They’d all started here together. They were friends. And this was their little show of unity. “May the best girl win.” Lara and Anna held out their fists so that all three were one on top of the other.
Lara gave a wink, “Time to fight dirty girls.”
Grace was trying to appear casual—trying to appear calm. But it wasn’t working. Since she’d arrived back at her seat she’d been making frantic notes. Things she could put on her resume if they asked for one. Conversations she could try and have with Donovan Reid to let him know she would be the best person for his team.
She blew her bangs out of her eyes and leaned back in her chair. Who was she trying to kid? Donovan Reid had never had a conversation with her. He barely knew she existed. Her eyes focused on the sign above the phone. NORMAL PEOPLE DON’T PHONE THE DPA. Didn’t she know it.
Ten calls in the last hour. Six from people who had rashes that they thought ranged from bubonic plague to scarlet fever. The other four from healthcare professionals who had patients they couldn’t diagnose. The internet was a wonderful thing. These days she could ask callers to take a picture and send it to her, giving them a diagnosis or reassurance in a matter of seconds.
She glanced at her watch. Crazy bat lady was late today. She’d usually phoned in by now. It was always the same conversation. Could the bats nestling in the nearby woods and caves be rabid? What kind of diseases could they carry? What would happen if she came in contact with bat droppings? All the doctors who manned the phones at the DPA knew crazy bat lady, she even greeted some of them by their first name.
Grace turned to the pile of incoming mail. The admin support was off sick. The irony of a sickness and diarrhoea bug sweeping around the DPA headquarters wasn’t lost on her. She started opening the brown envelopes and sorting the mail into piles. Lots were lab reports, some queries about different infectious diseases, some journal articles and a few requests from reporters. Nothing too difficult.
The last letter was stuck in the envelope. More difficult to get out than the rest. She gave it a little tug and it finally released, along with a plume of white dust.
The powder flew everywhere like a waft of white smoke, clouding her vision and catching in her throat.
And just like that, everything around her halted.
Donovan heard the collective gasps around him. The office was usually noisy, with a chatter of voices constantly in the background, along with mumbled telephone conversations and the rattle of keyboards.
Every sense went on alert.
He stood up, looking over the top of his pod, his eyes automatically scanning in the direction where all of the heads were pointing.
Was that smoke? No-one was allowed to smoke in here. Realisation struck him like a blow to the chest.
That girl. That curvy, gorgeous brunette he’d been meaning to ask a few people about. She was standing stock still with a look of terror on her face. Dust was settling around her, covering her hair, face and clothes with a hazy white powder. If it was any other setting, and any other season, she might have looked like she’d just been dusted with the first fall of snow.
But this was the DPA in the middle of autumn. And that was no snow.
Donovan was used to dealing with emergency situations, but they didn’t normally occur in his office space. He went into automatic pilot.
He was the most senior member of staff in the room, the responsibility of implementing safety procedures fell to him. All staff were trained about bio-hazard risks in the field. But he was already aware by the panicked faces that not everyone would have the quick thinking adaptability to apply them to their own workplace. He had to take the lead.
His long strides took him to the wall where he thumped the red button and the alarm started sounding. “Everybody, this is not a drill.” His words brought the few people who hadn’t already noticed what was happening to their feet. “Bio-Hazard containment procedures, NOW!”
He kept walking, straight towards his frozen co-worker, racking his brain for her name. Darn it. He should have asked days ago. She was on his list of possibilities for a replacement for Mhairi Spencer. He might not know her name, but he’d noticed her capabilities. Smart. Switched on. And focused. His three essential components.
The last remnant of dust was settling around her. He was walking straight into a potential disaster. But it was far more dangerous to leave her in an office space with circulating air-conditioning. She looked shocked and needed a push in the right direction. He took a breath before he reached her and clamped his mouth shut tight, putting both hands on her shoulders spinning her around and marching her towards the door.
He didn’t speak. He couldn’t speak. The risk of inhaling or ingesting the substance was too great. He could only hope she was sensible enough to have stopped breathing.
He glanced sideways at a colleague who pressed the automatic door release, letting the door swing open and Donovan keep his hands in place.
He steered her to the left, nudging another button on the wall with his elbow and heading into the showers he’d just left. The door sealed behind him with a suck of air.
He could hear the motors above him stop. Perfect. The air-conditioning had been switched off. This whole building was designed for a possible disaster—the laboratories downstairs handled a whole range of potentially lethal toxins and pathogens. But this was the first time in his knowledge that there ever been a biohazard via the mail system.
The showers started automatically around them. Steam starting to fill the room. “Strip.”
The word sounded harsh and there was a fleeting second of hesitation in her face before she started to comply, tearing off her shirt and sliding her trousers down over her thighs.
He took the same actions. Pulling off the shirt and tie he’d only replaced ten minutes ago, and kicking off his brand new Italian leather shoes. His designer trousers lay crumpled at his feet. All of these clothes would be incinerated.
It wasn’t just her at risk anymore, it was him too. And everyone else in the building.
As soon as they were both naked he pulled her into the showers, grabbing antibacterial scrub and starting to lather it into both of their skins.
There was a glazed look in her eye. She was following instructions but didn’t seem to have quite clicked about what had just happened.
There was no room for shyness, no room for subtlety. Everyone in this department knew what to do in the event of exposure to a potential biological threat. Evacuate. Decontaminate staff and area. Isolate any threats. Identify agent. Act accordingly.
He looked at a clock hanging on a nearby wall. “Fifteen minutes.” The minimum scrub time after exposure.
They had to try and remove every tiny particle from any part of their skin, face, hair and nails. No trace should remain. They couldn’t do anything about the particles they might already have inhaled, but further exposure should be eliminated.
Her eyes met his. Caramel brown in this steam-filled room. Her skin was glistening. Her hair was glistening. What was that stuff?
Water was coursing over both of their bodies—the showers set at maximum. He poured some of the antibacterial soap into his hands. “Come here,” he didn’t wait for her to reply, just dumped the soap onto her head and started scrubbing furiously. It was probably some special product she’d deliberately put there, instead of the mystery powder but he couldn’t take that chance.
“What are you doing?” she shrieked. It was the first thing she’d said. It was as if she’d snapped out of her trance. Things were about to get interesting.
The emergency procedures ordered all staff to scrub following exposure, but they certainly didn’t imply they should scrub each other. Donovan was improvising. Grace couldn’t see the stuff currently glimmering in her hair.
“What do you think I’m doing? I’m trying to get this stuff off you.”
The water and soap ran into her eyes and she spluttered. “Stop it,” she slapped his hands away. “I’ll do it myself.” She turned her back to him, her first hint of shyness, leaving him with a great view of her curved backside.
“Darn it,” she muttered. “This stuff will play havoc with my hair.”
He tipped his head back, sloshing water over his face and shampooing his head fiercely. He knew the protocols here. He’d been involved in reviewing them for the last five years. He’d just never expected to have to use them in these set of circumstances.
He started work on his shoulders and arms, rubbing the antibacterial soap over all of his body. “What’s your name?” he shouted under the blasting water.
He’d never been naked with a woman whose name he didn’t know.
Her head turned, glowering at him over her shoulder. “Grace. Grace Barclay.”
He smiled. So that was her name. In a building with 1,500 employees he couldn’t possibly know everyone’s name. He held his hand out towards her, it was time for official introductions. “Pleased to meet you Grace, I’m Donovan Reid.”
She scowled and glared at his hand, making no attempt to take it. “Oh, don’t worry. I know who you are. I’ve been here more than seven months.” The water was running over her face and she tilted her head to take it out of the direct stream. “It would be nice if you could take the trouble to remember your colleagues names.” She turned her back to him again and started scrubbing her skin.
Feisty. He liked it.
Her long brown hair was halfway down her back, water streaming down it. He pushed it to one side. “Let me do your back.” It made sense. She couldn’t reach those parts herself and the decontamination protocol was clear. There was no room for shyness at this point in a crisis.
His hand touched her shoulder and he felt her sharp intake of breath under his touch. He started moving his hands, circulating the soap. Her skin was lightly tanned, with white bits in all the right places. And smooth. There was nothing like being naked in the shower with a woman you barely knew. It kind of cut through all the crap.
His hand felt something else and she flinched. He blinked, steam was circulating around them. What was that bump in her skin?
It didn’t really matter. But the doctor in him—or the man in him—was curious enough to look.
So he did. This time it was his turn to suck in a breath. His fingers moved over the mark—over the scar on her skin. This was no neat surgical scar, this was a rough edged, deep penetrating wound. A stab wound.
Why would a girl like Grace Barclay have a stab wound? She spun around in the shower. His eyes went automatically to her breasts. He couldn’t help it. They were right in front of him. Crying out to be touched. Bigger than he’d noticed, matching the rest of her soft curves.
She could see exactly where he was looking. She folded her arms across her breasts and turned back around.
Caught. Like a kid with hand in the candy. This was getting more interesting by the minute.
Grace was in shock. Naked, in a shower with Donovan Reid, shock. She couldn’t stop her slightly snarky responses. It was as if her automatic defence mechanisms had dropped into place. She couldn’t actually believe this was happening.
Because this wasn’t real. This couldn’t be real.
Any imaginary thoughts about Donovan Reid having his hands on her body in a shower hadn’t been anything like this. Not even close.
No. In those thoughts he’d had her pinned up against a nice glass door with lots of raspberry smelling bubbles winding their way between the two bodies.
It hadn’t resembled anything like this. And for a dream this was pretty crappy.
Surely her imagination knew better than to give her a horrible work related incident?
The hands streaking up and down her back didn’t feel sensual, didn’t feel gentle. The hands massaging her hair weren’t doing it with loving care. They had a purpose. A function.
She cringed as his hands touched her neck, squeezing her eyes shut. Mr Washboard Abs had a prime time view of her big backside and occasionally dimpled thighs right now. Bet none of his Amazonian type girlfriends looked like this in the shower. As if they’d just had a battle between a cupcake and a candy bar.
Then they moved. His fingers. And she could almost hear his intake of breath over the pummelling water stream. She couldn’t help the natural flinch of her shoulder scar away from his fingers. It was inbuilt into her. The permanent reminder of that hideous night.
It didn’t matter that this was a far removed from that situation as possible. Just the touch of his fingers next to her skin sent her spinning back there. Back to a dark night and an unlit parking lot. The unknown assailant and the struggle for the bag that had been on her shoulder. Why hadn’t he just cut the strap? Why did he have to stab her?
Her heart fluttered in her chest. Just what she needed. A run of SVT in the shower with Donovan Reid. Any minute now she’d hit the floor and there would a whole other emergency going on.
She breathed slowly. Controlled breaths. In through her nose and out through her mouth in a long steady stream. The rapid heart rhythm – super ventricular tachycardia – had only occurred a few times since her attack and was always stress induced. Her two fingers reached up to the side of her neck and massaged gently for a few seconds. It didn’t take long.
Her heart rate settled, her breathing eased. The tight feeling in her throat released.
Phew. She kept her eyes closed for a few seconds. She had her back to Donovan, he couldn’t see her and wouldn’t have noticed her manoeuvre.
But he had noticed her scar.
And now she was conscious of his touch. Conscious of the fact that the man she dreamed about was inches away from her in a shower. If she leaned back, just a little, she would lean right into his…
Her eyes started open as she felt her body drift backwards. No! She cringed. What must he think of her anyway? First introductions and she’d snapped at him. There was something kind of brutal about a man revealing he’d no idea what your name was. Particularly when you were naked right next to him. Kind of made you realise exactly where you were on his importance scale. Right where you thought—lower than the belly of a snake.
There was no way she was going to be moony eyed around Donovan Reid. She had to short, sharp and professional. Just maybe not quite so snappy.
It was the shock of the situation. That was all.
Her palms were tingling. Reacting to the feel of his hands on her back, shoulders and neck. If they reached a little lower…
No. Stop it. Anyway, two could play at that game. She was quite sure the protocol hadn’t said anything about scrubbing each other’s backs. But it did seem practical.
For the first time since she’d got in the shower a smile played around the edges of her lips. Her hands all over Donovan Reid’s body. What was it the girls had agreed to earlier? Fight dirty? The thought raced across her mind and quickly back out again.
She’d never do that. She just couldn’t even contemplate it. Even with her active imagination. Deep down, that just wasn’t her.
She wanted to win her place on his team fair and square. She’d probably have to be interviewed along with another ten members of staff. But she could do that.
No matter how much he was making her skin tingle, or how much her imagination went into overdrive. Donovan Reid was always professional at work. The last thing he’d be doing right now was having any erotic thoughts about her. Up until a few minutes ago he hadn’t even known she existed.
No. Donovan would be contemplating whatever substance the mystery powder was. Just like she should be doing.
Guilt flooded her. Where was her professional responsibility? What about her colleagues out there? It wasn’t just her that had been potentially exposed—it was all of them too. Her fingers clawed into her hair, scrubbing for all they were worth. What was the powder? Was it really something dangerous? Could it be an act of terrorism?
The DPA worked worldwide, often leading to some difficult conversations on a global level about their findings. Governments, countries and republics could often take offence when suggestions were made about their contribution to a disease outbreak. Her brain was going into overdrive. The DPA was a US institution. Everyone knew about the work that they did. Maybe someone had decided to make an example of them and hit them with one of the diseases they fought against.
She shuddered. She couldn’t help it. The seriousness of the situation was really coming home to her.
“Grace, are you okay?” The voice came from behind her. Donovan had leaned forward, his head almost resting on her shoulder. The concern on his face made her catch her breath.
If she had to be exposed to something nasty, at least she had one of the best in her corner. No matter what he looked like, as a doctor he was brilliant.
She was in safe hands. Figuratively and literally.
“Turn around,” she said briskly to him. He snapped to attention, meeting her glare. There was no point in trying to pretend he hadn’t been staring.
She spun her index figures in circles. “Turn around, so I can do your back.” Of course. She spoke to him as if he was an idiot. Which at this point he was.
Her eyes were fixed firmly on his. He could almost see the determination in her glare that she wouldn’t make the same mistake he just had and look in places she shouldn’t. That sent an immediate rush of blood through his system and he pivoted on his heels quickly.
No. This was work. This was an emergency situation. His body might be reacting with a rush of pheromones but his brain wouldn’t let him go there.
Her hands scrubbed his back a little more roughly than required. He so wanted to lighten the moment, so wanted to quip Wanna go lower? But Grace Barclay wouldn’t find it funny.
He started scrubbing his face to try and take his mind off the fact there was a very gorgeous, very curvaceous, naked brunette inches away from him. All his fantasies about a woman in the shower with him hadn’t started like this.
What could they just have been exposed to?
His brain flooded with possibilities. Anthrax, botulism, cholera, smallpox, plague. The list was pretty big. All high-priority agents that could be used in a bioterrorism attack. Easily spread and transmitted from person to person, with high death rates and the potential for panic.
Some of his colleagues called him Worst-Case Don. And it was true. He always imagined the worst case scenario in any situation. It was his mantra. Plan for the worst, hope for the best. It was what any doctor working at the DPA should do.
He looked back over to the wall. Steam was clouding the clock’s face, so he strode across the tiled floor and wiped it clean with a towel.
“Time’s up, Grace,” he called, reaching for the switch to the showers. But she hadn’t heard. The showers around here didn’t automatically halt. No, they had some weird anomaly that meant for the final few seconds they turned icy cold. Everyone around here knew about it.
Half the fun of new recruits was letting them find out for themselves.
He picked up a towel and started rough drying his legs, smiling as he heard the yelp behind him.
There was the padding of wet feet behind him and the noise of someone whipping a towel from the top of the pile on the bench.
“You did that deliberately!”
He looked over his shoulder, vaguely aware that right now, Grace Barclay had a prime time view of his bare backside. “I did not. I shouted to warn you. You obviously didn’t hear above the noise from the showers.”
“Obviously,” the word dripped with sarcasm.
He wrapped a towel around his waist. The immediate crisis was over, it was time to start handling a whole new one. He turned to face her.
Grace was holding the towel directly in front of her bare body. She hadn’t even had time to wrap it around herself. If someone came in the door behind her they would get an unholy view of Grace Barclay.
He pointed to the scrubs in the corner. “Get dressed. Someone should be along to let us know if the isolation room is ready.”
He pulled a set of navy scrubs over his head. Already the room seemed too small. Donovan didn’t do well in small spaces. Maybe it was the steam? Clouding his vision and taking up space. If the air con had been working this would have been gone in seconds.
There was a knock at the door. Through the glass he could see the outline of a hazmat suit. A face appeared at the door.
He breathed a sigh of relief. Frank, from the lab. He already spent most of his day in one of these suits. They’d probably just unplugged him, fastened him into an oxygen cylinder and sent him upstairs.
He signalled a thumbs up. “Ready, Grace?” She’d wound her hair in a wet knot at the nape of her neck and was wearing a pale green set of scrubs.
There. That was better. That was the sight he was used to—a fellow colleague in a set of scrubs. Now he didn’t need to worry about his eyes wandering to places they shouldn’t.
She gave the slightest of nods. He paused for a second. He might be known as a brilliant doctor with encyclopaedic knowledge, but his people skills were sometimes lacking. Should he have sat her down and given her a pep talk? She looked a little pale. Her hand was on the wall as if to stop her swaying.
But there was no time for pep talks. Donovan needed to be surrounded by colleagues who conducted themselves in a professional manner. There were things to do. Tests to be ordered. Clean up precautions to be taken. Risk assessments on the exposure of others. Chances were, he’d be stuck in an isolation room with Grace for hours—maybe days. There’d be plenty of time for pep talks later.
Her gaze met his. “Let’s go.” Was she trying to convince herself or him?
He didn’t really have time to think about it, and if Grace Barclay was a potential for his team she was going to have to be ready for anything.
He pulled open the door and gestured towards space-suited Frank. “Then, let’s go.”
Ninety minutes later Grace had been x-rayed and her bloods were being analysed in the lab. She was still shell-shocked.
The negative pressure room was used frequently for training scenarios at the DPA. She’d been in it countless times - she’d just never expected to be a patient in one.
The glass walls reached from ceiling to floor, leaving every aspect of them on view to the outside observers. The only part of the room that had any modicum of privacy was the screened off bathroom and shower area. In the meantime she and Donovan were prime time viewing material to the rest of the department who all seemed to be staring at them from outside.
People were scurrying around, huddled in conversations, talking on phones. All busy. All doing their job. Grace just wished she could be out there with them.
It was like being a goldfish in a bowl. A big bowl, with a shark circling inside.
Donovan didn’t seem to like being in isolation. He hadn’t stopped talking since he got in here—talking about everything and anything. If she didn’t know better she’d have thought he was nervous, or a bit agitated. But that didn’t fit with what she knew about Donovan Reid. The guy was practically a legend around here. Last year he’d led work on an outbreak of West Nile Virus saving the lives of over a hundred people because of his rapid diagnostic skills. Then there had been the incident that had made the news the year before. Donovan had shown complete and utter self-control when dealing with a gun man who’d entered a hospital where the DPA were working. He managed to persuade the gun man to release some hostages and had eventually tackled and disarmed the guy himself. Donovan Reid was every school girl’s hero. But it wasn’t helping her head. She pressed her fingers onto her temples and started rotating them in small circles.
“Has Frank been able to isolate anything in the lab yet? What about the blood tests? Have they shown anything? Is Bill Cutler from the FBI here yet?”
Grace swung her legs up onto one of the two beds in the room and leaned back against the pillows. Her wet hair was really beginning to annoy her. She’d never be able to sleep. She closed her eyes for a second. “Donovan, any chance of some quiet? I have a killer headache.” The words were out before she’d even thought about them.
“What?” He spun around, his forehead creased with lines. He crossed the room in a few strides, putting his hand on her head.
A prickling sensation swept over her skin. The expression on his face was serious. Maybe this wasn’t the start of a migraine. Could this be a symptom of something? She hadn’t even considered that.
But she didn’t need to. Because Donovan was considering it all for her. Out loud. “When did your headache start? Is this normal for you? How is your vision—are you having any problems?”
She reached her hand up and put it over his, squeezing her eyes closed and trying to ignore the instant tingle that shot up her arm like a pulse.
Just like when he’d touched her in the shower.
Could this day get any worse?
She’d imagined herself on more than one occasion in a shower, naked, with Donovan Reid. But her wildest daydreams and most erotic night-time dreams had never looked anything like this.
She swallowed. Her mouth was dry, desperate for something to drink. Was there even water in this fishbowl?
She moved Donovan’s hand from her head. “Stop it. You’re not helping. I suffer from migraines but I haven’t had one for the last four years.” She didn’t even want to open her eyes, the spotlights around them were just too bright.
He sighed with relief. “Thank goodness. What can I do to help?”
“Stop talking?” She squinted out the corner of one eye.
He smiled. The first time he’d smiled since they got in the isolation room.
“Never gonna happen.”
Her stomach rumbled loudly and she pressed her hands over it in embarrassment.
“Would some food help? Or some meds?”
She nodded. Having a migraine around Dr Handsome was bad enough. Having it under the spotlight of just around every member of staff was even worse.
She mumbled the name of the meds she normally used. The normally brisk manner he used around others had vanished. “Can you put the lights down?” she asked.
He hesitated for a second. “Sure, I’ll keep you under my watchful eye.” He walked over to the wall. Every word they said in here, every noise they made could be heard by the outside world.
“Can we get some migraine meds for Grace please? And can someone put the lights down around here?”
There were a few nods and some words exchanged by the members of staff. Anna walked over to the glass. “Grace, are your meds in your locker? I can get them from your bag.”
Grace nodded. Donovan was back at her side. “What do you want to eat? We need to plan on being in here for the next few hours—maybe even the next few days.” He gave her a cheeky grin, “We can order in, what’s your favourite?”
She laughed and shook her head. “You’re joking, right?”
“Why?” He held up his hands. “Anything that comes into this room goes through the cross-contamination system. We can ask for anything. It’s only our air that can’t go out.” He raised his eyebrows, “Personally, I’m going to order a pepperoni pizza and a pastrami on rye for later.”
She smiled as her stomach growled again. “Well, there is something that helps my migraines.”
She named a coffee house a few minutes away from the DPA. “I’ve used it for years. They have the best skinny sugar-free caramel lattes and banana and toffee muffins I’ve ever tasted.”
He frowned, as if his brain was trying to process her female logic. “The skinny latte counteracts the banana and toffee muffin?”
She grinned. “Exactly. You get it. It’s all about the calories, Donovan.” She pointed at his washboard stomach. “Though I’m sure you’d spontaneously combust if you ate anything like that. You probably don’t even know what a banana muffin looks like.”
He leaned forward and lowered his voice, just as the lights flickered off around them. His eyebrows arched as a dim glow of pale blue appeared, giving their skin a strange pallor. “It’s only work-related things that make me spontaneously combust Grace. I can assure you I’m well acquainted with the muffin family,” then he gave her a wicked smile, “and from where I was standing you certainly don’t need to worry about calories.”
She felt her cheeks burn. How would they look in this strange light? Had she just imagined it, or had Donovan Reid just given her a backhanded compliment?
There was no hiding her curves. She was never going to look like one of the gym bunnies he normally dated. But maybe that wasn’t his preference.
There hadn’t been time to think earlier. No time to be shy. He’d seen every single part of her—scars and all.
The thought of his fingers brushing over her shoulder scar sent shivers down her spine. He must have noticed it, but he certainly hadn’t mentioned it.
He’d seen her ample breasts, rounded stomach and curved hips and thighs. Her backside didn’t even feature in her thoughts. In her head it was her best feature—round enough to rival J-Lo’s. If only she had J-Lo’s matching height…
There was a hiss of air, doors were opening, items left to be decompressed before the second set of doors opened. Her migraine tablets were pressed into her hands along with a glass of water and she swallowed them gratefully.
Donovan Reid had never struck her as the kind of man to have a good bedside manner. He wasn’t much of a people person—his mind was always focused on the job. He’d been the youngest team leader around here for the last four years.
And the last few years had been tough. A potential outbreak of smallpox, discovered by an ex-employee, followed by one of the biggest operations the DPA had ever been involved in. Donovan had missed that call by a matter of minutes. She could only imagine how much he’d smarted about that.
And now another member of his team was pregnant. Jokes had been circulating the office for the last year about certain swivel chair. Callie Sawyer, Violet Hunter and now Mhairi Spencer had all sat in that chair at some point. Grace and her friends had vowed never to sit in it for the next five years.
She swallowed her tablets and sighed, leaning back against the pillows. They were softer than she’d thought, she could almost forget about the still-damp hair. If she closed her eyes just for a minute, she might feel a little better. She sank down into the comfort zone, tugging the soft blanket up around her shoulders. She could daydream for a few seconds.
Daydream about what she’d really liked to have happened in that shower. Donovan to give her a cheeky wink and sexy smile, loving her curves and having a look of pure lust in his eyes for her. Donovan, with his light brown curls, chiselled jaw and sculpted body. For her eyes only. Ah well, a girl could dream.
She could hear mumbling. Donovan was in deep talks through the glass with Frank. He gave a sigh and walked over to her.
She sat up. “What is it?”
“Oh, good. You’re awake.”
She rubbed her eyes and looked around. “Was I sleeping?”
He nodded. “Just for the last thirty minutes.”
Great. In the middle of a crisis with the man she wanted to impress and she’d fallen asleep. “What have I missed? Has something happened?”
“Yes, well, no. It’s good actually. Frank couldn’t screen the sample until it had been irradiated. At first glance it’s not anthrax and it’s not any form of plague.”
She let out the breath she hadn’t even realised she was holding. “Well, that’s good, isn’t it? Maybe it’s something stupid. Maybe it’s flour or talcum powder—something like that? Something that means we’ll be okay.”
He ran his fingers through his already mussed up hair. “It’ll take a few hours before we know anything for sure.”
She could read in his eyes exactly how he felt about that, he was watching everyone outside rush around. “And you can’t stand the thought of being stuck in here? You’re wandering about like a caged animal. Don’t you know the meaning of the word ‘chill’?”
As soon as the words were out of her mouth she knew she’d made a big mistake. He whipped around to face her, his eyes as black as coal. His expression to match.
“How can I chill, Grace? The DPA has just received a potential biological hazard through the mail system. Hundreds of people in our department could have been exposed. Hundreds of mail workers could have come into contact with that letter. If this is a biological contagion this could be a disaster. And you want me to chill? This is my watch Grace, these people are my responsibility.”
She gulped. Oh no. She’d just killed any chance of impressing Donovan Reid. He probably thought she was a dumb-ass school kid. All thoughts of powerful thighs and six-packs were flying out of the window, although she reserved the right to conjure them back up in her dreams. She stuttered, “And it’s my fault—because I opened the package?”
His eyes widened. “Is that what you think? Why on earth would I blame you, Grace? You only did what anyone would do—you opened the envelope.”
She held out her hands. Her migraine really wasn’t improving. The thirty minute nap hadn’t helped. The meds hadn’t even touched the edge of her pain. “But look at the effect it’s had on the whole department.”
He shook his head. “Don’t read too much into my ranting, Grace. I hate that I can’t be out there doing more. It doesn’t matter who opened that envelope today, the effect was always going to be the same.”
He moved over next to her and lifted an electronic BP cuff from the wall, switching on the monitor with his thumb.
“What are you doing?”
“Your migraine isn’t any better, is it?”
She shook her head as he wrapped the cuff around her arm. “I’m doing what any good doctor should. I’m checking your BP. Maybe it’s not a migraine. Maybe it’s something else entirely.”
Her stomach gave a little flip. Back to the whole you’ve breathed in a contagion and doing to die scenario. She was trying to keep that one from her head right now. If this was a tension headache it was only going to get a whole lot worse.
She felt the cuff inflate, cutting off the circulation to her arm. These darn things always felt as if they overinflated. Any minute now her fingers would fall off. After what seemed like forever it gave a gentle hiss and started to go down.
Donovan’s eyes stayed on the monitor, watching the figures. He leaned over and pulled the cuff free. “Perfect. Your blood pressure is fine.”
A few minutes later the food appeared and was placed in the decompression section between the doors, after the obligatory number of minutes the second set of doors hissed open and smell of pepperoni pizza and caramel latte wafted into the room.
Their stomach’s grumbled in unison and they both laughed. Donovan opened the pizza box and grabbed a slice. “Hmm, delicious. I hadn’t got round to having lunch earlier. I was just about to eat at my desk when someone,” he gave her the eye, “decided to brighten up my day.”
She should be feeling guilty that she’d managed to eat some of her sandwich while Donovan Reid had worked out at the gym. But since his muscled body had proved too much of a distraction, most of her sandwich had ended up in the trash. And the smell surrounding her was just what she needed.
Grace took a long sip of her latte, letting the smooth, sweet caramel hit the spot. It was just the perfect temperature. Someone had obviously had to spend ten minutes walking it back from the coffee house. She took a bite of the muffin. Perfect. “Fabulous. I love these. I could eat them all day.”
“Wouldn’t you get sick of them?” He was watching her. As if he was curious about her.
“Are you crazy? Of course I wouldn’t. I limit myself to one a week because there’s about a billion calories in each one.” She licked some toffee from her finger, “But you know what? I love every single one of them.”
He was watching her appreciatively. Apart from being naked in the shower it was the first time she’d noticed him run his eyes up and down her body, although right now he was focused entirely on her fingers. She tried not to smile.
It hadn’t even crossed her mind her actions could seem provocative. She’d been too busy enjoying her muffin. But somehow, the thought of Donovan Reid having those kind of thoughts about her was sending shivers down her spine. He’d never even noticed her before. He hadn’t even known her name.
Her gaze met his and he looked away hurriedly. But not before she’d caught the expression in his eyes. One of pure lust. Wow.
He glanced at his watch, cursed and pulled his phone out of his pocket.
“What’s wrong?” She looked over at the clock. It was just after six. Chances were they would be stuck in here all night. Was Dr Handsome going to have to break a date?
He took a couple of steps away from her—as if that made any difference in an isolation room. There was no privacy in here.
His voice was deliberately low as he left a message on a machine, “Hi Jo, sorry I couldn’t catch you. I’ve got a problem at work. I could be here a while. Possibly even overnight.”
She could almost imagine the lithe blonde model of the moment weeping into the salad she was about to miss at her cancelled dinner date. But then things took a strange turn.
“So, if you don’t mind, could you check on Casey for me? Do what needs to be done? You’ve got the keys to my apartment. Thanks. I’ll be in touch.”
Now Grace was confused. That didn’t seem like a broken dinner date. “Who’s Casey?” The words were out before she could stop them. Being confined with Donovan Reid was giving her a confidence that had been missing for a long time.
He shot her a look. Would he tell her it was none of her business? No, he was scrolling through something on his phone. He turned it around. “Casey’s my dog. He’s a bit old and temperamental.”
“Wonder where he gets that from?” She leaned forward to look at the photo, obviously snapped in a park somewhere, of a black and white terrier-type dog. She looked over at Donovan and wrinkled her nose. “I didn’t take you for a dog person.”
“Really, why not?” Was he offended?
She shrugged. “You’re too intense. Always totally focused on the job. I always imagined you live in one of these sparkling white apartments that you’re hardly ever in. A dog’s a commitment. You just didn’t strike me as a commitment sort of guy.”
He folded him arms across his chest and looked totally amused. “Well, there’s a character assassination if I’ve ever heard it.”
“What?” Her heart beat started to quicken. “No, I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Yes, you did. And that’s what I like about you Grace Barclay, you say what’s on your mind. You don’t spend six hours trying to think of how to word it.”
She let out a little laugh. “Okay, guilty as charged. I sometimes speak without thinking.” She shook her head, “But I’d never, ever deliberately offend someone.” She raised her chin, “I happen to think Casey looks like a great little character.”
Donovan wagged his finger at her, “Oh no, don’t ever let him hear you call him little.”
“He won’t like it?”
“He definitely won’t like it.” The atmosphere between them was changing. It was almost as if he was flirting with her. Did Donovan Reid even do that? Maybe she was under the effect of some weird disease and it was playing havoc with her brain cells.
“Will your dog-sitter be able to help out?”
He gave a brief nod. “Always. Hannah’s very reliable. She’ll go around as soon as she gets the message and make sure Casey’s walked, fed and watered.”
Her imagination immediately started whipping up pictures of what Hannah looked like. A woman with a key to Donovan’s apartment? But something distracted her. There was a huddle outside the glass. But she was far more interested in the conversation that seemed to be happening outside. Six of her colleagues were gesticulating and arguing about something.
“Donovan…,” she pointed her finger. Her heart sank. Please don’t let them have discovered it was some weird, deadly disease. They were obviously drawing lots to see who would tell them.
Donovan looked over his shoulder and his gaze narrowed. “What’s going on?” He strode over to the glass. “Has something happened?”
There were a few mumbles, before one of the staff members was finally selected to answer the question. He walked over and spoke in a low tone to Donovan. Questions were fired backwards and forward.
After a few seconds Donovan turned around to face her. But it wasn’t fear on his face. His brow was furrowed and the tiny lines around his blue eyes had deepened. It was total confusion. He ran his fingers through his hair and shook his head as he took a few steps towards her, “Grace, what do you know about the Marburg virus?”
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