Dr Gene Du Bois arrives at Geneva airport with more baggage than Cordelia Greenway expected – his adorable young son! She usually avoids reminders of the family she’ll never have, but there’s no escaping this devoted dad when they’re working and living together. Gene’s sexy Texas drawl soon weakens her defences, leaving Cordelia wondering – could this little family be her future after all?
Cordelia Greenway relaxed back into the chair as she tried to ignore the palpitations and light-headedness that had started. She breathed deeply and put her fingers to the side of her neck, massaging gently and closing her eyes as she waited for the manoeuvre to take effect.
Sweat started to run between her shoulder blades—another symptom. People were chatting all around her—no one seemed to have noticed her little ‘turn’. And that was just the way she liked it. She hated fuss. She hated being under the spotlight.
So she stayed quiet, gently continuing to massage, and willing her heartbeat to steady. She probably should have glanced at her watch to time this—but she was so used to dealing with it, so used to keeping it under the radar, that it hadn’t even entered her brain until now. She’d just gone into self-protect mode.
Her other hand lifted the hair off the back of her neck, where it was sticking. Ugh. But things were finally starting to work. She could almost hear out loud the beat of her heart starting to slow. Thank goodness.
After a few minutes she took a deep breath and rested her head on the cool desk for a second. Better. She tugged at her shirt, pulling it away from her body to let the air circulate. First thing she’d do when she got back home was jump in the shower.
There was a noise to her left. She stuck her head up above her cubby hole. Several of the other researchers were doing the same—they looked like a family of meerkats.
Professor Helier was pacing with his phone. The noise had come from his office. His voice squeaky. She didn’t hesitate. She was at the glass door in seconds. ‘Franc?’
Now he was nodding, scribbling things frantically on a piece of paper. He looked so pale. He swayed a little. She walked inside and held out her hands protectively behind him, in case he fell over. Professor Helier was the whole reason she was here.
When she’d found out that he was heading up the cardiac research at this lab, she had to be here. She would have done just about anything to work with this famed researcher.
But in the end all it had taken had been a few phone calls. She’d been head of the zebrafish research in the UK—leading the pioneering work into discovering their ability to regenerate heart muscle and how that could be transferred to humans. Professor Helier had embraced her interest instantly, inviting her to come and meet him, and asking if she wanted to lead one of his teams. She hadn’t hesitated for a second.
The chance to work in Switzerland. The rich, clean air, snow-topped mountains, and a whole host of chocolates she should never touch. When she’d explained her reasons for working in cardiac research he’d just given her a beaming smile, and patted her hand. ‘Cordelia, we all have our reasons for being here. That’s what makes us all special.’ He’d winked, ‘That’s what gives us all heart.’ And the bad jokes had continued for the last three years.
He swayed a little again as he replaced the phone. She felt instantly protective. Franc must be approaching seventy and time hadn’t been too kind to him. He always had a kind of frazzled appearance about him, along with his sometimes white coat and mass of grey hair. ‘Franc, what is it? What can I do?’
No one knew exactly how old Franc Helier was. Even doing an internet search didn’t help. He’d had the same mad grey hair and slim frame for the last forty years. Some of the junior staff joked that he looked like a mixture of Albert Einstein and a mad professor from a time travel movie. But for Cordelia it didn’t matter. He was her friend. And she was his. That was all that mattered.
Franc put both hands on the desk. ‘It’s Emily,’ he said a little breathlessly.
‘Your sister?’ He nodded, his expression a bit glazed. ‘That was the hospital in Marseille. Apparently she collapsed at home and needs emergency surgery.’
Cordelia didn’t hesitate. She lifted Franc’s hat and coat from the hook behind her, thrusting them towards him. ‘Go. Go now.’ As he took them with slightly shaking hands she walked around his desk and opened his second drawer. She really did know him like family. ‘Here. Your passport. Do you want me to book you a flight and arrange a pick-up? I can book a hotel for you too.’ She glanced at the name of the hospital written in scrawled script on the note. ‘I’ll find one near there.’
He blinked. And she reached out and touched his cheek. Franc had no other family. His wife had died ten years ago and all he had left was his sister. ‘Go, Franc. Go be with your sister. Everything will be fine here. You know it will.’
He nodded nervously. ‘Of course. I trust you, Cordelia. You know I do.’
She pulled up the collar of his jacket. ‘I’ll email you the details of the flight, transport and hotel. Just go home and pack a few things.’
He still looked a little stunned. Just what had they told him on the phone?
‘Is there anything else I can do for you, Franc?’
It was almost as if she’d flicked a switch in his brain. ‘The Japanese investors are coming on Tuesday. Drug trials AZ14 and CF10 need to be monitored, with all data recorded by midweek. There are clinics to cover.’
She smiled and touched his arm. ‘I’ve got them. You know I’ve got them.’
His gaze met hers and it was the first time he’d looked a little more assured. Her illness had led her away from the traditional role of doctor. She’d spent years on wards dealing with her own symptoms, along with patients’. Long shifts and nights and nights of being on call had made her symptoms worse. When she’d finally realised she couldn’t do the job she loved, she’d picked the next best thing. Her role here was fifty-fifty. Fifty per cent researcher and fifty per cent doctor in a well-supported, controlled environment. It suited her. It let her be involved in research that could make a difference for millions of patients around the world—herself included.
Franc gave a little jolt. He waved his hand at the chaos that was his desk. ‘Oh, and we have a new doctor arriving. I’m supposed to pick them up at the airport.’
Cordelia winced and grabbed her notebook from her pocket. ‘Is it Geneva?’
He nodded. She had to check. They had staff flying in from all around the world, and they didn’t always arrive at the closest airport. ‘What’s the name?’
‘Jeanne DuBois. It sounds French but it’s American.’ Something must have flashed into his brain. ‘Oh.’
It was just the way he said it. ‘What?’ she questioned. ‘What’s “oh”?’
He pulled a face. ‘They’re supposed to stay with me. They were kind of a last-minute addition and hadn’t managed to sort out accommodation yet.’
Cordelia swallowed, then nodded her head appropriately. She gave a smile. ‘You’re turning into an old cat lady, Franc. Taking in every waif and stray.’
She shook her head. Her own apartment’s ceiling had collapsed last week after a neighbour upstairs had suffered a burst pipe. Franc had been gracious enough to let her stay in his own rambling mansion on the outskirts of Geneva. He often put up visiting researchers. Cordelia waved her hand. ‘Leave it with me. That probably makes things easier anyway. It means when I pick them up, I get to drive back home. Oops.’ She put her hand up to her mouth as she realised what she’d said.
But Franc just shook his head and gave her shoulder a squeeze. ‘My home is your home, Cordelia. It always will be. Here’s hoping they take more than a month to fix your ceiling.’ He closed his eyes for a second. ‘It could be that soon you’ll be the only family I have left.’
Her stomach flipped. This was serious. Part of her wished she’d heard that phone call. She reached over and gave Franc a bear hug. He felt so frail. So thin. Had he lost more weight and she hadn’t noticed?
She whispered in his ear. ‘I think of you as family too, Franc. Always remember that. You need something—I’m here.’
Franc nodded. ‘Thank you, Cordelia.’ He pulled himself free from her embrace and put on his hat and tucked his passport into his jacket. ‘I’ll call you.’
She shook her head. ‘No, I’ll message you. Go home and pack, and I’ll arrange the flights and transfers. Head straight to the airport and I’ll have things sorted by the time you get there.’
Franc nodded as he headed to the door. ‘What would I do without you?’ He gave a shake of his head. ‘Just glad I don’t need to find out.’
Her heart gave a little twist as he headed to the elevators. She’d have to send out an email to let everyone know Franc had been called away for a few days. And she’d do that—just as soon as she’d organised the flights, hotel and transport. She spent the next twenty minutes online then messaged Franc.
A little pink sticky note was sitting in the debris on Franc’s desk. She plucked it out and stared at it for a few seconds.
She glanced at her watch. Please tell me that isn’t the flight for the visiting doctor. She rummaged amongst the papers on the desk. Franc’s desk had a notoriety all of its own. Some of the people who worked here thought that messages came to Franc’s desk to die. It certainly seemed like that. It was extraordinary. In all his research studies he was fastidious. Meticulous. Cordelia always joked that Franc’s desk was the one place he could leave his true mess behind.
Try as she might, she couldn’t find any other notes that resembled airport pick-up times. Darn it. She grabbed her purse. She’d barely make it.
The last thing she wanted to do was leave this poor doctor stranded at the airport.
If she hurried, she might just get there in time…
The first flush of passengers exited through the gates to screams and yelps from people waiting. Cordelia always felt a little like a voyeur at these times—intruding on private family moments. The joy on some of the faces was beautiful. There were obviously a few more painful reunions. People embracing and bursting into sobs as they hugged each other. It made her heart ache.
She looked down at her hastily scrawled black letters. Jeanne Du Bois. She didn’t even have any idea what age the doctor that was arriving from the US was. The only thing she was sure of was that they would be expecting Professor Helier, not a brunette in her thirties.
She people watched for a while. An elderly couple greeting adult children returning home. A woman dropping her bags and running towards a guy, almost knocking him flat with her embrace. A few tourists, walking out with maps in hand and heading to the taxi rank.
And a guy, complete with cowboy boots and Stetson, wearing jeans and a dark grey T-shirt. He travelled wearing a Stetson?
She watched in amusement as he glanced around arrivals. He was tall. He really didn’t need the Stetson to emphasise his height. As for those well-fitting jeans… She pulled her eyes away and focused on the door again, waiting to see if Jeanne Du Bois would appear. What would she look like? Probably tired. Most researchers who came from the US had to take two or three flights to get to Geneva.
She leaned against the barrier and tried not to dream of coffee and takeout food. She hadn’t had time to eat before she’d left the research centre. Her stomach gave a growl just as the click of the cowboy boots came towards her.
A pair of deep brown eyes fixed on hers as he tipped his hat at her. He gestured towards the sign. ‘I think you might be waiting for me.’
She blinked and looked down at her sign as if it might have changed while she wasn’t looking.
He was close enough that she could smell his woody aftershave and see his sun-kissed skin. But it was the accent that threw her.
It was a thick American drawl. Like treacle. Or maple syrup. Something that smothered you in gorgeousness and just made you go…whoa.
She frowned as she tried not to let her herself be distracted by those very chocolaty eyes. Why was she associating everything with food? She was obviously hungrier than she’d thought.
‘I’m waiting for a woman.’ She looked down at her sign again, checking she hadn’t been secretly pranked. Nope. It was still her writing. ‘Jeanne Du Bois.’
The guy gave a lazy kind of smile and put his hand on his chest. ‘I’m Jeanne Du Bois. Except it’s G E N E. You know? Like Gene Kelly? Or Gene Hackman?’
She blinked. She still couldn’t get over that accent. She wrinkled her nose. It reminded her of her favourite US TV series. ‘Are you from Texas?’
He tipped his hat again. ‘My mother was French, but I’m a Texan through and through.’ He held out his hand towards her. ‘Pleased to meet you, ma’am. You’ve obviously dyed your hair, Professor Helier. And had a sex change,’ he added with a wink.
Her brain sparked back into gear. ‘Oh, yes. I’m sorry.’ She shook his hand swiftly, the warm touch sending a little pulse up her arm. ‘I’m Dr Cordelia Greenway, Professor Helier’s second in command. I’m so sorry. He’s had a family emergency, literally in the last few hours. I asked him who I was collecting at the airport and when he told me Jeanne Du Bois. I just assumed it was a woman.’
The guy shrugged. ‘You’re in Switzerland. I guess I can live with being mistaken for a woman.’
She wanted to laugh out loud. There was no chance of this guy being mistaken for a woman. Not when he looked, smelled and sounded like that.
She gestured around him. ‘Where’s your luggage? My car is in the car park just a few minutes from here. I can take you back to Professor Helier’s house. I’m staying there too.’
For the briefest of seconds something flashed across his face. ‘Oh.’ He looked her up and down. ‘Right. Yes…that’s great.’
She felt heat rush into her cheeks. He was making assumptions. She shook her head frantically. ‘Oh, no. No. Professor Helier and I are…friends. He’s helping me out too. The ceiling in my apartment collapsed last week.’
Gene’s eyebrows rose. ‘Oh, no. What a nightmare.’
She nodded and smiled. ‘Yip. And my upstairs neighbour is off on a round-the-world cruise for a month. And still doesn’t know about her leaking pipe, or the fact the factor had to break down her door to get in and switch her water off.’
Gene glanced over his shoulder, then looked back at her. ‘So where does that leave you?’
‘Homeless. Wet. With water pouring down my walls and ruining my carpets and electrics.’ She raised her hand and shook her head. ‘No, really, the water might have been turned off, but until my neighbour is back and our insurance companies can battle it out together…’ She let her words trail off.
He nodded. ‘You’re kind of stuck?’ He took off his cowboy hat to reveal short brown hair that he ran his hand through. ‘I guess that means that Professor Helier doesn’t really have a lot of room.’
She held up her hands. ‘It’s fine. Really it is. Honestly, his house isn’t a house—it’s a kind of rambling mansion. It’s the kind of place they read you fairy stories about when you’re a kid. He has plenty of space.’ She wiggled her hand. ‘Not all of it habitable. But there are rooms next to mine that are comfortable. You’ll be fine.’ She looked back at the doors. ‘Do you want to collect your luggage and we’ll go?’
He gave her a nod and stuck his hat back on his head. ‘Are you okay to help me with the cases?’
She was a little surprised. ‘Just how many did you bring?’
He smiled. ‘Just one each.’
She blinked and looked behind him. ‘One each? There’s someone else with you?’
A wave of concern swept his face. ‘You mean Professor Helier didn’t tell you?’
She felt her stomach flip over. She was so looking forward to getting home, eating something takeout and climbing into her pyjamas. She didn’t need any more unexpected turns right now. Not when she needed to be up at six a.m. to prepare for the patients attending clinic tomorrow. She almost didn’t want to say the words out loud. ‘Tell me what?’
‘That I wasn’t coming alone?’ He sounded nervous.
She half expected some beauty queen to emerge from the arrivals hall with a stunning full-length gown, silver heels and blonde hair tumbling down her back. After all, he looked like a guy who would inevitably be dating some kind of beauty queen.
She swallowed. Wine. Maybe she’d have some wine instead of coffee when she got back.
‘No.’ She tried to sound friendly. ‘He didn’t mention it.’ She looked around him again. ‘Is your wife just freshening up?’
He gave her a quizzical glance. ‘Oh, he really didn’t tell you. It’s not my wife. I don’t have a wife. It’s my son, Rory. He’s sleeping. One of the airline staff is minding him while I checked to see if our pick-up was here. I guess that’s you.’
She couldn’t help it. She hadn’t meant it to sound like that. Of course some of the visiting doctors brought their partners or families when they came to stay. It just wasn’t like Professor Helier to miss such an important detail. It just let her know how distracted he’d actually been.
Gene gave her a little frown. ‘Is that going to be a problem? I’m happy to call a cab and check into a local hotel. I don’t want to put you to any trouble.’
It was the tone of his voice. He was annoyed. And no wonder. He’d been travelling for hours to a strange city, a new job—and she wasn’t exactly being welcoming.
She held up her hand, ‘It’s no problem. If you want to get your son, I can manage the cases.’
For a few seconds he just stared at her, almost as if he was trying to decide whether to believe her or not. But she could see the fatigue on his face. She had a cheek to feel tired when he’d just crossed the Atlantic to get here. No wonder his son was sleeping. Gene Du Bois probably wanted to be sleeping too.
He gave a nod and headed back to the doors. A perfectly groomed stewardess met him with the child in her arms. Gene took the sleeping little figure easily, letting him snuggle into his shoulder, with one arm under his legs. He grabbed a large navy blue case with one hand as the stewardess brought out another—bright green with a lion on front.
Cordelia smiled as she felt a little pang. Kids. She normally managed to circumvent them. Having an ongoing cardiac condition wasn’t exactly conducive to having kids, and the older she got, the more she thought about it.
She’d learned to distance herself. It was easier that way. There was less chance of seeing what she’d miss out on. Less chance of becoming bitter about what could never be hers.
But she couldn’t exactly circumvent a kid in the same house as her.
She hurried over and grabbed the bright green suitcase, trundling it behind her, and tried to keep up with Gene Du Bois’s long strides.
‘Dr Du Bois, Professor Helier didn’t let me know what programme you’ll be contributing to. I’ll need to make some introductions and ensure everything has been put in place for you. Can you let me know what research you’re involved in?’
Gene gave her a sideways glance and slowed his steps. ‘I’m beginning to wonder if this was a good idea. I came here because the Reuben Institute is supposed to be at the forefront of cardiac research. I’m here for a month, to take the lead on the cardiomyopathy studies.’
She couldn’t help but pull a face. ‘Listen, I know this might seem chaotic, but the only thing that’s normally chaotic at the Reuben Institute is Professor Helier’s desk. Everything else is ruthlessly efficient, I assure you.’
They crossed the road towards the car park. ‘What project do you lead on?’
She winced as her stomach grumbled loudly. ‘The zebrafish studies.’ She opened the car door. ‘How about we put aside cardiac studies for this evening? I have to confess to not being much of a cook. Would the little guy eat pizza if I picked some up for us on the way back to the house?’
Gene settled the little boy into the car and strapped him in, with barely a murmur from his son. He ruffled his son’s hair. ‘Rory happens to be a big fan of pizza. After nearly twenty hours’ travelling, I’m willing to do takeout.’
Cordelia gave a thankful nod and climbed into the car. ‘Great. We should be home in twenty minutes. Settle in. The scenery is outstanding.’
She paused for a second and couldn’t help but ask the question that had been swimming around her head since she’d first seen him. ‘So, Dr Du Bois, do you always do full cowboy when you travel?’
He took off his hat as he climbed into the car and gave her a wink. ‘What can I say? I’m from Texas.’
Gene wasn’t quite sure what to think. He was beginning to regret dragging his little guy halfway across the planet to be involved in this research project. Professor Helier had guaranteed everything would be in place—including a suitable day-care arrangement for Rory.
Gene leaned back in the comfortable seat and closed his eyes for a few seconds. Maybe he should be watching the gorgeous scenery, but twenty hours of jet-lag was rapidly catching up with him. It had already made him more than a little short with his hostess. His momma would be spinning in her grave and slapping the back of his head right now.
No one could believe when his French scientist mother had fallen for a Texas cowboy—least of all her. Moving from Paris to Houston, Texas had been a culture shock for her. And after ten years and still no wedding ring, she’d finally bailed.
So Gene had spent his life between two continents. And he’d considered himself lucky. Flitting between a ranch in Texas and the city of Paris hadn’t exactly been hard. As a child he’d excelled in living on two continents. And even though his father had been disappointed his son wanted to study medicine instead of ranching, he knew his dad had still been secretly proud.
The only thing that had really swept the feet from under him had been the message three years ago from the fellow doctor he’d had a fling with at a cardiac conference. Mindy had suffered from congenital hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Pregnancy should never have been on her life plan. But when she’d found herself pregnant with Rory after a few passionate nights together in Istanbul, she’d chosen to go ahead with the pregnancy.
She’d only contacted Gene when things had got desperate. Everyone had advised her not to go ahead, knowing exactly what the strain of a pregnancy would do to her. Sure enough, soon after Rory had been born, she’d ended up on the heart transplant list.
And when she’d gone into complete heart failure, she’d finally contacted Gene to let him know about his son.
He’d been angry. He’d been furious. But how furious could a guy be at someone who was clearly dying?
His life had turned upside down in an instant. One look at the nine-month-old cheeky little blond baby, pulling himself up on wobbly legs to the side of his mother’s bed, had been all the time he’d needed to make a decision.
It didn’t help that in the interim since the conference he’d actually met someone. Karen. An anaesthetist at Boston General where he was working. They’d moved in together. Had had tentative talks about the future. He’d even considered buying a ring.
But the unexpected son had been a bolt out of the blue that Karen could never have expected. She’d been shocked—and then walked away. And he couldn’t blame her. They’d discussed the fact they might like a family in the future—but Karen wasn’t ready to deal with one that had been thrust on her. So after a year of being in a settled relationship he’d found himself alone.
Mindy had died three weeks later. And Gene had immediately set about turning his life around.
A single dad working in a hospital environment wasn’t exactly conducive to good parenting.
He’d never considered working in research up until that point. But knowing that his son carried the gene for cardiomyopathy was enough to put his priorities in order. He’d spent the last three years with his dad joking about Gene looking at genes.
But that was fine, because he’d spend the rest of his life looking at genes if it could help his son and any future grandkids.
He smiled to himself. Rory had just turned four. Four. And he was thinking about grandkids. But he was a doctor, he had to plan ahead. And every plan in his life now included Rory.
He opened his eyes and glanced at the woman driving the car. Cordelia Greenway. He was sure he’d seen her name on some of the research papers published by the Reuben Institute. She’d said she was Professor Helier’s second in command.
Gene had learned to take things in his stride. He’d had to. Life frequently threw curve balls. He didn’t mind curve balls. What he did mind was feeling as if his son was an unwanted extra. Maybe he was just being too sensitive? Or maybe he was being overprotective. But he was sure there had been a look of…something flash across Cordelia’s face when he’d mentioned his son.
It could just be that she’d been taken unawares. But his gut told him something else. His gut could almost sense her take about ten steps back. And he didn’t like that. He didn’t like that at all.
He wasn’t crazy. He didn’t expect the whole world to love his son the way he did. Some folks just didn’t do kids. He got that. But he would never tolerate anyone making his four-year-old feel unwelcome. Long journey or not, if he had to, he’d jump on the next flight back to Texas. Getting a job was never a problem. Getting the right job was more important than anything.
He gave himself a shake as she pulled the car up outside a pizza parlour. She turned around and gave him a nervous kind of smile. ‘What’s your poison?’ she asked. ‘This place is great. Everything’s fresh and their pizzas are to die for.’
He drew in a deep breath. She was making an effort, and it was clear he made her a bit nervous. He dug into his pocket for his wallet, but she shook her head and waved her hand. ‘Don’t be silly. You just got here. This is on me.’ She bit her bottom lip and nodded towards the sleeping figure in the back seat. ‘What about Rory?’
Gene glanced at his son again and felt his heart swell. This little guy was his life. One look of that cheeky little face could brighten the darkest day.
‘Just cheese and ham for him. I’ll have whatever the Swiss equivalent of a meat feast is.’
Cordelia gave him a nod and ducked out of the car. ‘No problem. Give me five minutes.’
She walked into the pizza parlour and he leaned back in the seat again, watching as she interacted with the servers. She seemed at home here—it was obvious that they knew her. She leaned on the counter, giving him a prime view of her curves visible in her pink fitted shirt and black trousers. He gave a small smile. She’d probably look great in a pair of jeans.
Her fingers toyed with a strand of chestnut-brown hair as she chatted. For the first time he looked at her left hand. No ring. Nothing. She’d said they would all be staying in Professor Helier’s mansion. Did she have a partner already there? Or would she be there alone with him and Rory?
His stomach gave a little clench. Maybe that was part of her discomfort. She’d clearly expected a woman to arrive at Geneva airport. Maybe being alone with a strange guy and kid had completely thrown her.
After another five minutes she slid back into the car with the pizza boxes. ‘Do you mind holding these until we reach the house? It will only be another five minutes.’
He nodded and started to pay attention to the scenery as they drove through the outskirts of Geneva. The buildings and architecture were stunning, a mixture of Gothic spires and brand-new glass towers. All this with a backdrop of snow-topped mountains against a darkening sky.
The road gradually became a little more rural and Cordelia indicated and turned through a pair of elaborate iron gates and continued on down a long driveway. Thick green trees lined the driveway, with extensive grounds all around them. After a few minutes a dark house seemed to emerge out of nowhere.
Gene couldn’t help but smile. It was like a real Gothic-style mansion—straight out of a Dracula-style movie. Gargoyles adorned some of the dark grey stonework around the myriad thin windows lining the front of the house. A huge, imposing double door, painted black with a large knocker, was right in front of them.
Cordelia pulled up directly outside and turned to face him. It was the first time she’d looked a little more relaxed since they’d met.
She held out her hand towards the house. ‘Here it is. And I’ll say it before you do. Dracula’s mansion. The inside is much more welcoming than the outside. You’ll love it.’ She glanced nervously over her shoulder towards Rory again. ‘And I’m sure he will too.’ She shot him a big smile. It only seemed a little forced. ‘Welcome to Switzerland, Dr Du Bois.’
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