When Dr Amber Berkeley met ruggedly handsome Jack at a conference in Hawaii, she never imagined they'd end up locked down together in the middle of a hurricane!
Army doc Jack's take-charge attitude pushes straight-talking Amber's buttons - until their sparks ignite into a fierce attraction! Amber has a "no doctors" dating rule for good reason, but amid disaster rules are meant to be broken......
Amber Berkeley leaned against the wall of the elevator as it slid to the ground floor. The doors reflected a kind of odd image. She’d forgotten to check in the mirror before she left. Her half up-half down hair looked like some kind of bewildered lost animal on her head. She let out a laugh. She didn’t even want to know what her bright pink lipstick looked like. Truth was, she didn’t really care.
Tonight’s ball was bound to be full of specialists and consultants who were all too important to breathe. She loved her job, but some doctors just seemed like a different breed entirely. Self important. Self interested. Amber didn’t waste much time on people like those.
Tomorrow she was lecturing at one of the most prestigious conferences in the world. And she couldn’t pretend she wasn’t nervous. Hawaii was a magnificent setting. One hundred per cent more gorgeous than most of the places she visited. The Disease Prevention Agency tended to send their staff to investigate outbreaks and try and prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
Most of her time was either spent in the main base at Chicago, or in one of many expeditions as part of a team, generally to places with little or poor facilities.
This five star hotel in Hawaii was like something out of a dream. She’d even been greeted by the traditional colourful lei’s on check in. And corny or not, she’d liked them. The beach outside had perfect golden sand with sumptuous private loungers and straw parasols complete with serving staff. This part of the main island near Kailua Kona was a perfect piece of paradise.
Her first floor room had a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean which seemed to change colour depending on the time of day. So far today it had gone from clear turquoise blue to light green. Shimmering like a tranquil soft blanket stretching to infinity.
As the doors pinged and slid open the noise and aromas of the food surrounded her. The room was full of people talking, a sea of dark tuxedos with a smattering of coloured dresses in the mix. She threaded her way through, keeping her chin raised as she glanced from side to side. She had to know someone here. But the sea of faces didn’t reveal anyone familiar. Amber’s nose twitched. She wanted easy company. A chance to share a few drinks, grab a few snacks and get rid of the butterflies in her stomach for tomorrow.
She stared a sign on the wall. Ahhh… there were two conferences on in the hotel – not just the one she was attending. It seemed that a world of business and economic experts were here too.
Just before she’d left the director of the DPD had called her into his office. She’d only seen the inside of his office walls on two previous occasions. Once, on the day she’d started. And second, on the day she’d received her promotion.
“Dr Berkeley,” he said solemnly. “I wanted to wish you well for tomorrow. There’s been a lot of interest in our contribution to the conference. Thank you for presenting the meningitis research for us.”
Amber gave a nod and a smile. “I’ve loved being part of the meningitis work. I’m honoured to present on it.”
The director nodded. “And you’re confident you can answer any questions?”
Amber held up the list in her hand. “I’ve spent the last few months eating, breathing and sleeping meningitis. I think I’ve got it covered.”
The director didn’t even blink. “Oh, I’m not worried for you.” His eyebrows rose as she stood from her chair. “I’m worried for them, let’s hope they’re ready for you Dr Berkeley.”
She’d smiled as she’d left. It seemed that her take-no-crap attitude was getting a reputation of its own. She wasn’t embarrassed by it. Not at all. She’d never seen the point in beating around the bush. She’d always talked straight, to patients and to colleagues. Medics could be notoriously sexist. And Amber could be notoriously blunt.
Had it cost her a few jobs? Maybe. Had it earned her a few others? Definitely.
A guy with a paunch belly and gaping shirt approached her, beer sloshing from his glass. “Hello gorgeous, where are you going to?”
She didn’t miss a beat. “Away from you.” She didn’t even glance at the lanyard round his neck. She had no intention of finding out his name.
She’d always vowed never to go out with a fellow medic. Life experience had taught her it wasn’t a good idea.
She glanced around the room again. This was probably her worst-case scenario, wall to wall fellow medics, with copious amounts of alcohol flowing.
A few seconds later she met another charmer who refused to let her step around him. “We must stop meeting like this,” he grinned as his hand closed around her forearm as his eyes ran up and down her body.
She didn’t hesitate. She flipped his arm up and twisted around his back, catching him completely by surprise and thrusting him in the other direction as the woman next to her laughed out loud. “Yes, we must,” she said sharply.
The main bar in the centre of the room was currently three people deep. Her chances of getting a drink slipping further and further away.
Her eyes honed in on another bar on the far side of the room and through a set of doors. It looked much more sedate. She could have a glass of wine, check out the list of bar snacks then head back to her room and enjoy the view.
She threaded her way through the rest of the crowd. There were a few people who obviously knew one another sitting around tables. Even from here she could recognise the medico talk.
Right now she couldn’t stomach that. So she headed directly over to the stools at the bar. There was a broad shouldered guy already sitting there. He looked as if his whiskey was currently sending him into a trance.
Perfect. Too drunk to be a pest.
Or if he wasn’t? She could deal with that.
She smiled as she sat down, crossed her legs and leaned her head on one hand. He might be tired but he was handsome. Actually, he was more than handsome. He was good looking with an edge of ruggedness. His dark hair was a little rumpled and his suit jacket had been flung carelessly onto the bar stool next to him. She couldn’t get a look at his eyes as his head was leaning forwards towards the glass. But she could see the lean muscle definition beneath his pale blue shirt, the slight tan on his skin and the hint of bristle around his jaw line. She smiled and just couldn’t help herself. “Well, aren’t you just the original party pooper.”
Jack Campbell blinked and blinked again. Nope. It had definitely happened. Or maybe he was just hallucinating. He stared into the bottom of his whiskey glass again and clinked the ice.
The warm spicy aroma emanating from the woman sitting next to him started to surround him, just as she crossed her long legs on the high stool next to him, revealing the long split in her floor length black dress.
Even from here, he’d noticed her the second she’d appeared at the entrance to the ballroom. She was taller than most women, but wasn’t afraid to use her height, pairing her black sheath dress with a pair of heels and piling her dark hair with pink tips on top of her head. He’d watched her survey the room, ignore a few admiring glances, give short retorts to two men who dared to try and approach her and now, she’d just crossed those exceptionally long legs and given him a clear view of them. Her black heels had ornate straps and criss-crossed up her calves.
At least he thought he’d watched her. Maybe he was dreaming. Truth was he was so tired the only reason he was still awake was that his body was craving food. Food he seemed to have been waiting an eternity for.
He gave himself a shake. Maybe he needed another whiskey. The first one was putting him in that strange state between fact and fiction. His stomach rumbled loudly so he lifted his hand to grab some nuts from a bowl on the bar. Quick as lightning someone gave his hand a light slap.
For a second he was momentarily stunned, then he shook his head and gave a smile of disbelief as he turned in his chair.
She was staring straight at him with a pair of bright blue eyes. He couldn’t help himself. It was as if the fatigue coupled with a dash of whiskey had reduced all his usual politeness and social norms to a scattering of leaves beneath his feet. “Did you really just hit me? For trying to eat a peanut?”
She gave a shrug. “Yeah, sorry about that. Force of habit.”
He raised his eyebrows. “You don’t look too sorry.”
She pulled a face and waved her hand. “Actually, I’ve just saved you.”
Now he was amused. “Saved me from what?”
She shook her head and pushed the bowl away. “Probably some kind of horrible death. Best way to catch some kind of disease.” She shuddered. She actually shuddered. “If I send those to a lab I could horrify you.”
He deliberately leaned over her, ignoring her orange scented perfume, and plucked a nut from the bowl, holding it between his fingers. “One tiny little nut is going to fell me?”
She arched her eyebrows, and blinked. There was black eyeliner flicked on her eyelid, enhanced by her thick extra long lashes. With those blue eyes she really was a bit of a stunner.
“If I could put that in an evidence bag right now and send it to the lab I would.” She shrugged, “But hey, it’s your poison. Your stomach.”
“This is how you meet people? You attack them at the bar and steal their food?”
For a second she looked momentarily offended, but then she threw back her head and laughed. She put her elbow on the bar and rested her head on it. “Actually, my ambition this evening is not to meet anyone – I just wanted to grab a drink, some food and get out of here.”
He gave a slow nod. “Ah, great minds think alike then.”
She looked a little more conciliatory. “Maybe. Sorry about the slap. Bar snacks make me testy. It really is an automatic reaction.”
He laughed. “How many states have you been arrested in?”
She sighed. “More than you could ever know.”
He could see the way her careful eyes were watching him, obviously trying to size him up. He liked her quick answers and smart remarks. He mirrored her position, leaning his head on his hand for a second as a wave of tiredness swept over him.
And then she spoke. “Well, aren’t you the original party pooper?”
She waved her hand and looked at him with mischievous eyes. “I’m trying to work out if you’re drunk or just in a coma. I’m warning you, I’m off duty tonight.”
The corners of his lips headed upwards. Maybe he was imagining all this? Maybe he was already dreaming? Or maybe the jet lag was making him see things. If this was a hallucination, those words were so not what he was expecting. He let out a laugh. “I could actually be a bit of both. Jet lag and drinking?” He held up the whiskey glass, “Are probably not the best idea in the world. But do I care right now?” He shook his head as he downed the remains at the bottom of the glass. “Not really.”
Now she laughed as the bar tender came over and set a coaster in front of her. “Well, the jet lag explains the accent. But not the complete disregard for your fellow man.”
The bar tender caught her eye. “What can I get you?”
She looked at his glass. “I’ll have what Mr Happy’s having.”
Jack raised his eyebrows at the bar tender. “Better just put both on my tab.”
She drummed her fingernails on the bar next to him. “Who said I wanted you to buy my drink?” Her overall presentation was quite glamorous but her nails were short and clean. Curious. Most women these days tended to have glittered painted talons.
“Don’t drink it,” he said smartly. “I can easily drink both.”
She smiled. A genuine, wide smile. The pink tips of her hair matched the bright pink on her lips.
“You are easily the most crabbit man in the room.” She gave a wink. “Is that Scottish enough for you? I learned that from a Scottish colleague.”
He tried not to smile as he nodded his head and furrowed his brow. “It’s a well used word. My granny might have called a few people crabbit in her time.”
She gave a smile. “Yeah, crabbit. I like that. It means you won’t be a pest.”
“But you will be.”
“Ouch,” she said as the bar tender brought over the drinks.
She lifted the glass to her nose and sniffed. “What is this anyhow?”
She tilted her head to the side. “Oh….guessing games. I know it’s whiskey, I’ve just no idea what kind. And here was me thinking tonight was going to be totally boring.”
He liked her. He was actually beginning to wake up a little. But that still didn’t stop him putting his head on the bar for a few seconds. He closed his eyes and murmured. “I’m dreaming of snacks. I’ve only eaten airline food for the last twenty-eight hours. And you’ve stole the peanuts.”
She was still sniffing the whiskey but laughed anyway and grabbed a bar menu. “Haven’t you ordered?”
He sighed as he lifted his head again. “I think I ordered around ten hours ago. Apparently the kitchen is busy, but,” he lifted his head and his fingers making the quote signal in the air, “it’ll get here soon.”
She sat down the whiskey glass and gestured to the bar tender. “Actually, can you give me a glass of rose wine instead please?” She gave Jack a sideways glance as she pushed the glass towards him. “This is too rich for my tastes.”
He was still leaning on his hand. After a few hours in a fugue his brain was kickstarting again, along with his dormant libido.
“I’ve never really met anyone like you before,” he murmured.
Her eyes narrowed. “Is that a pick up line?”
He laughed. “I’m too tired and too lazy to try and pick you up, right now. But hey, look me up tomorrow. I’ll probably have a whole new lease of life.”
“With those circles under your eyes I doubt you’re even going to see tomorrow. I bet you sleep right through.”
He shook his head. “Oh no. I have to see tomorrow. I’m speaking – at the conference.” He gestured behind her. “I should probably be in there right now, trying to charm my way around the room and into a new job.”
“You’re looking for a new job?” She gave a half-smile. “What? Been fired from everywhere in Scotland?”
The bar tender set down her wine in front of her, along with the biggest burger and plate of fries Jack had seen in forever. He couldn’t help it. “Praise be. Food of the Gods.”
She sipped her wine and he could feel her watching him with interest as he snagged a fry. “I’m warning you. Try and put any of this in an evidence bag and I’ll have to wrestle you to the floor.”
She pushed up from her bar stool, leaning over to steal one of his fries. “You Scots guys. You think you’re tough. You ain’t got nothing on a girl from Milwaukee.”
She bit into the fry and nodded. “Better than it looks. And, because it came fresh from the kitchen I won’t tell you any horror stories about it. I save them for the bar snacks.”
Her stomach growled loudly and he couldn’t help but laugh again.
He picked up his knife, “Okay then mystery woman. Since you’re obviously the least boring person in the room, I’ll make a deal and share with you.” He waved the knife at her, “But, let’s be clear. This isn’t normal behaviour for me. I’m just too tired to fight.”
He cut the burger in half and pushed her half towards her. “But no more insults. And,” he looked down at her long legs, “I still think I could take you.”
She picked up her half. He liked that. A woman who didn’t pussyfoot around her food. “Okay then, because I’m starved and can’t be bothered to wait for room service, I’ll take your offer.” She gave him a sideways look. “You haven’t even told me your name.”
He nodded as he poised the burger at his lips. “Kinda like it that way.”
Her eyes sparkled. “Me too.”
She waited a second then added. “Are you really here looking for a job?”
He waited until he’d finished chewing. “I'm still officially in employment for the next two weeks. After that?” He held out one hand, “The world is my oyster. I’ve had a couple of offers. Haven’t decided whether to take them up or not.”
“Don’t you need a pay check?”
He paused for a second. “Of course I do. But right now, it’s more important I take the right job, rather than just the first one that comes along.”
She studied him for a few seconds. He could see a whole host of questions spinning around in her brain, but she was far too smart to ask. Instead she grinned as she stole another fry. “Makes you sound old.”
He shook his head. “I’m not old. I'm just…..well-worn.”
She laughed again as she took another sip of wine. “At what? Thirty? Thirty-five?”
He choked. “Thirty-five?” He patted one of his cheeks. “Wow. I was really conned by that moisturiser. I wonder if it’s got a money back guarantee.”
He leaned a little closer. “I’ll have you know I have a whole ten days before I reach the grand old age of thirty-five.”
He narrowed his gaze as he looked at her again. “But two can play at that game.” He gave a slow nod and took his time letting his gaze go up and down her length. “I’m guessing, forty? Forty-six?”
She let out a little shriek. “Forty-six!”
“Oh, no way buster. You’ve had it now.” She leaned over him again, her soft skin brushing against his as she lifted the whole bowl of fries out of his reach.
“Not the fries!”
She perched the bowl in her lap and nodded solemnly. “Surely you know a woman of my maturity needs to keep her strength up.”
He liked her. He liked her a lot. The room opposite was full of anxious glances and too much ‘my qualifications are better than yours’. Too many people wanting to talk about how wonderful they were as loudly as they could.
Jack was here for one reason. To present his research. To let people know he’d found something that had made a huge difference in a war time setting. The difference between life and death.
That was the privilege of being an army doctor. He got to try things – sometimes out of desperation – that private clinics and hospitals around the world would throw their hands up in shock.
But, so far, some of the best medical inventions ever had come from the battlefield. Freeze dried plasma, hand held inhalers for pain relief, a specially designed applicator for ketamine to treat trauma casualties, and his own particular find – a type of wound dressing part clay, part algae that stopped severe bleeding in under thirty seconds. It had already saved over a hundred casualties who would have surely died. If they started using it in trauma bays around the globe it could potentially save millions.
Ms Mystery next to him leaned over and put her hand on his arm. “Hey? Everything okay?”
The feel of her warm hand sent pulses up his arm. He blinked. “Yeah, of course.”
She gave a gentle smile. “Thought I’d lost you for a second there. Maybe the jetlag is getting to you after all.” Her tone had changed a little. It was almost as if she’d just had a little look inside his brain for a second and saw what he’d been lost in.
He gave a small sigh and tried to imagine meeting her in any other set of circumstances than these. “If I was any kind of gentleman, I should be trying to charm you and be swirling you around the ballroom floor in there.”
She leaned her head on her hand. “But that’s what I like. You’re not trying to charm me. In fact, I should be insulted, because it seems as if you couldn’t care less.” She wrinkled her nose. “I did hear that Scots guys could be grumpy.”
He straightened up. “Hey, that’s the guys from Edinburgh. Not the guys from Glasgow.” He tugged at his shirt trying to make himself look more presentable. “And anyway, I have charmed you. I bought you chips.”
She stared down at the bowl. “Chips?”
He shook his head. “You call them fries. We call them chips.”
She pointed to a box behind the bar. “Oh no. Those are the chips.”
He smiled and leaned a little closer, “No, no. They’re crisps. And I was just being polite earlier calling them fries. Didn’t want to confuse you.”
She threw back her head and laughed revealing the pale skin on her long neck, then shook her head and leaned a little closer. “The more tired you get, the stronger your accent gets. Any more Scottish and I’ll need a translator.”
His brow furrowed. “Nothing wrong with my accent. You just need to pay attention – concentrate a little more.”
“Says the man who is sleep walking at the bar.”
He waved a fry with his fingers. “I’m not sleep walking, I’m sleep eating. There’s a difference.”
She leaned over and snagged another fry. They were dwindling faster than should be possible. This woman was smart, confident and full of sass. He liked that. “So, what brings you here?”
She waved her hand nonchalantly. “Yeah, yeah, I should be in there too. Schmoozing. But the truth is, I’m not much of a schoomzer.”
He raised his eyebrows in mock horror. “You don’t say?”
“Hey,” she smiled. “It’s my one, and only, true failing as an adult.”
“You’ll admit to one?”
She nodded solemnly. “One, and only one.” Then she laughed and shook her head. “But you? I bet I could write a whole list.”
Her stomach gave a little grumble and she started, putting one hand on it as a little pink flushed her cheeks. “Oops, I guess I’m hungrier that I thought.”
He looked down at the plates. All remnants of the burger were gone and there were only a few fries left in the bowl.
“I could eat the whole thing again,” he sighed.
She looked a little sheepish. “Sorry, I just stole half of your dinner.” She waved over the bar tender. “Can we order the same again please?”
The bar tender leaned closer. “I have to be honest. The kitchen is a little slow this evening and bar food is even slower. Between you and me, the quickest way to get served is to order room service. You’ll get it in half the time because they prioritise those orders.”
Jack paused for only a few seconds then he stood up. He nodded to the bar tender. “You know my room number, can you put it through as a room service order?”
The bar tender glanced between them briefly then nodded. “Of course sir, any drinks to go with the food?”
Jack leaned on the bar, “Any drinks for you?”
Ms Mystery looked stunned for the briefest of seconds, then he saw that sparkle in her eyes again. He wasn’t propositioning her – not tonight at least. He was still hungry and she was good company. He had no qualms about inviting her to his room.
“Diet cola,” she said quickly as she stood up from her bar stool. There was a hint of a smile on her lips. He hadn’t even had to make the invite, he’d just worked on the assumption she would join him. And it seemed she was taking up the challenge.
He turned back to the bar tender. “Make that two, thanks.”
The bar tender disappeared and he crooked his elbow towards her. “Looks like I’m about to buy you dinner for the second time this evening.” He glanced towards the packed ballroom, then paused. “You okay with this?”
Her eyes scanned the ballroom too and she gave the briefest shake of her head. “I have the strangest feeling I might be in safe hands with you Mr Grumpy Scot. I think I can take the chance.” She laughed, “And to think, I took this position at the bar because you looked like the least trouble in the room.”
As they headed towards the elevators he couldn’t resist. “Honey, I’m more trouble than you could ever imagine.”
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