Tempted by Dr. Off-Limits

By: Charlotte Hawkes

CHAPTER ONE

‘HEY, GORGEOUS, THOSE lips of yours look so lonely, do they wanna meet mine?’

It took Elle a moment to realise the cheesy pick-up line had been aimed—or, more accurately, slurred—at her. She cringed and hoped that if she ignored him he might get the message, even as a part of her wondered why she didn’t make one of the witty, no-nonsense comebacks for which she was renowned among her army colleagues.

Two weeks ago she would have.

In fact, two weeks ago she wouldn’t have been sitting on this barstool, having nursed the same warm drink for the last couple of hours. She’d have been tearing up that dance-floor, alone or not.

Then again, two weeks ago she hadn’t walked in on her fiancé, Stevie, in bed with not one—as she’d told her best friend, Fliss, in some last desperate grasp at dignity—but two bimbos. Two. As if cheating on her wasn’t enough, he had to utterly humiliate her. They were football groupies, who’d then sold their sordid selfies to the tabloids. And in that moment it had been as though Stevie had stripped away all of Elle’s self-assurance, the very foundation of her confidence, which had been so carefully cultivated over the last decade or so, leaving her feeling more like the nerdy, geeky outsider of her youth.

The fifteen-year-old girl who had let her new stepmother bully her when her bereaved father hadn’t been around, and her schoolmate peers had pushed her around when her adored teachers hadn’t been looking, until the cool, sixteen-year-old rising football star Stevie had taken a shine to her and everyone had reluctantly backed off. They hadn’t disappeared altogether but had hovered, waiting for their chance to pounce as soon as Stevie dumped her.

But he hadn’t, they’d been together for fifteen years in total. Two kids from a no-shoes-poor background who had dreamed of breaking free. He was the only boy she’d ever kissed, the only man she’d ever slept with. Without his support—both emotional and financial—her deep-seated desire of going to university to study medicine would have remained a pipe dream.

She was only grateful that her photo hadn’t appeared within Stevie’s double-page spread, including the moment he’d scored the winning goal for his club in the most recent Premier League match. And surely that in itself was fairly damning? Her photo hadn’t been there because—fifteen years or not—the press had, mercifully, never really known about her. For the first few years of their relationship they’d been practically inseparable, looking for each other in school or at lunch-breaks, and then she’d gone to university and everything had changed. For almost the last decade of her relationship with Stevie she’d tried to keep her life and career as a respected army trauma doctor as far away from his professional footballer lifestyle as she possibly could.

‘Man, what’s a bloke gotta do t’get some attention around here?’

Elle startled as the drunk man next to her lolled over the bar, trying in vain to get the bartender to notice him. She refrained from telling him that she’d seen sober people wait up to about ten minutes to get served; she doubted he’d get anything more to drink from anyone. He seemed to have forgotten about her and she didn’t particularly want to engage the bloke when she didn’t have to.

She glanced around the bar-cum-club with its Latin dance vibe and sexily dressed patrons and reminded herself why she’d come tonight. In a matter of days she’d be thousands of miles away back on the second half of her latest tour of duty, and after the last fortnight holed up in her hotel room down the road she’d had something of a light-bulb moment. Why was she letting someone else—why she was letting Stevie—control her happiness, when it finally occurred to her that aside from the shock and humiliation of walking in on…that, she wasn’t remotely as devastated as she perhaps should feel. If anything, a tiny part of her actually thought it felt…relief? So she’d ended up here, trying to be cool and independent and remind herself of the strong, capable woman she’d finally become, instead of the insecure, frightened girl she’d felt on discovering her fiancé’s betrayal.

Instead, she just felt like a fish so far out of water she might as well have been back in the scorching desert she knew so well. It was time for her to cut her losses and go back to her hotel room, indulge in a long soak and snuggle down into that huge, fluffy, pure white bed. In a couple of days she’d be back out on her tour of duty and back into an environment she understood. Some people hated their jobs, but she loved hers. Always had. A small smile of relief tugged at her mouth.

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