Authors: Alexandra O'Hurley
Tags: #Romance, #Healing Hearts 1
“Olivia?” His tone was soft, relaxing.
Or perhaps it was the wine, which was already going straight to her head. She rarely drank, so she needed to be carefully with the heady wine. It could cause her to be less inhibited and say things she didn’t want to spit out. “I don’t want to have the surgery.”
She watched as Liam’s jaw tightened. “Olivia, you haven’t even had a chance to weigh the options. Although, I think we need to have this conversation in my office.”
Sadness filled her as she felt every eye in the room on her. “I know I’m not perfect but I won’t be pressured to conform to everyone’s expectations. What’s so wrong with the life I have now?” She knew there were things she wanted to improve in her own life, but to have to do so in such a public way made her want to rebel. She knew her family would push her even harder if she agreed to the surgery, opening the door to her to be an even bigger disappointment.
Liam paused for a moment, eyeing her, his face a mask of indifference. It was if he weighed his words carefully, and considering her current state of mind, it was good if he did. “I didn’t say that. You assumed. But you could have more.”
“Maybe I’m happy with the life I have now.”
His gaze rolled over her face, and she felt the familiar warming from his regard. Olivia could bask in his attention forever. “Are you?”
No. I’m not.
His stare pierced her and somehow she thought he knew the truth. She was miserable and scared. “I could end up in worse shape after the surgery. The pamphlet says there’s a risk of additional damage to the spine.”
“There are risks with any surgery, but the chances are less than ten percent. I’ve performed this surgery twenty times and each patient has had increased mobility. I would like to give you that.”
Fear spiked within her, the thought of being in worse physical shape and potentially more pain outweighed the chances of improving in her mind. She had spent years looking for the right solution for her back and had found none. Physical therapy had been backbreaking work and had barely made a change in her mobility. Homeopathic cures did nothing. Braces, special shoes, and walking sticks had given little to no relief. Now, suddenly, Liam had the magic cure and she was supposed to jump for joy? It could be another dead end, or even worse, it could put her into a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
Her gaze drifted to Liam’s. He seemed so adamant, so ready to jump into the fray, but it wasn’t his back he’d have to sacrifice.
Liam watched the play of emotion churn over Olivia’s face. He could sense her fear and knew she had every right to feel it. There was a very small risk something could go wrong; that chance was there even in the simplest of surgeries. He’d learned the hard way on a couple of occasions and it devastated him each and every time. However, the majority went smoothly and he was sure he could give Olivia back what he’d taken from her.
He relived that day so often, dreamed it regularly. He saw her racing over the soft green spring grass, her little pink dress flouncing out around her. He could still see her honey-blonde ringlets bouncing around her small head, the light in her blue eyes as she looked over her shoulder at him as she ran. He’d only meant to scare her, make her leave him alone. He never wanted her hurt, especially in a way that had changed the course of both their lives.
Had he left her alone, she’d never have fallen.
It was his fault.
At least, that’s what he’d told himself for years as he’d grown up with the guilt hovering over his head. It had driven him onto a new course in his life and changed him forever. Now he had the opportunity to make it right. She had to let him. He looked at her, the adult version of the little girl that haunted his nights, begging to let him fix her. Maybe then the nightmares would cease.
“I won’t let you be hurt again, Olivia. I’ll ensure this surgery goes smoothly.” He knew what he said was a lie. No surgery was a guarantee. He made the remark almost more for himself than for her. It had to work. If he kept telling himself those words, he could will it into existence.
Her blue gaze fell on him again. She was such a lovely creature, even with her false bravado and sharp tongue. Her honey-blonde curls were still as shiny as the day he’d chased her and he suddenly wanted to dip his head into them and smell the sunshine they seemed to glow with. He shook his head, thrown by the thought. He’d had a similar thought four years ago when he’d seen her again at her graduation party and it had thrown him for a loop then.
“Did you hear me, Liam?”
He shook off the sensation and refocused on the conversation. Liam realized she was saying something, her small frown making her eyes glitter with ire. Her eyes were a brilliant shade of gray. Or was it blue? Perhaps both. “What … sorry, what were you saying?”
Olivia stared at him for a moment, color coming to her face. Her face turned red as she seemed to grow angry, but it was gone before he could be sure. She released a tired sigh and repeated whatever he’d missed. “You can’t guarantee something won’t go wrong.”
“I’ll do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t.”
Her head tilted back as she thoughtfully observed him. Minutes slowed as the ticking of the grandfather clock was the only sound in the room.
“I’ll reconsider it.”
He smiled as he recognized he’d won the battle, if she would at least consider his proposal. It was better than a no and a step in the right direction. It would do for now. “Please, do.”
He looked to Maria and saw she wore an expression that he assumed was much like his own: relief.
Maria stood and her hands smoothed the front of her slacks. “Dinner should be ready. Why don’t we sit?”
Liam placed a hand at the small of Jenny’s back and began to escort her to the dining room. She looked up at him with a wide smile. “I’m so glad you brought me tonight and gave me the chance to meet the woman who helped propel you into medicine,” she whispered.
So you could thank her for helping you land a doctor?
Liam had almost spit out. He’d overheard Jenny say that to her friends at dinner the week before as he’d returned from the restroom and it was still stuck in his head. It was making him think the relationship was decidedly one-sided and had made him withdraw a bit. Then she’d begged to come with him tonight. He should have said no, but for some reason, he’d relented.
His career was too important to him and he wasn’t ready to settle down, something he’d been upfront about from the beginning. Jenny had been hinting quite hard for the past few months and he’d been ignoring her comments. He needed to come out and simply tell her marriage wasn’t in the cards for them. It wasn’t going to be easy, but he needed to let her know he hadn’t changed his mind in that regard. If she wanted forever, then she needed to find it with someone else.
He took a drink from his glass, refocusing on the people around him, letting his wayward thoughts go. Liam smirked as he watched Olivia drain her glass of wine. A pink blush had crept into her cheeks and along the bridge of her pert nose. She apparently didn’t drink often and it showed. “Would you like another glass to take to the table?”
“Yes, I think I rather like this.”
Jenny continued into the dining room without him, listening again to Mr. Owens’ horrible jokes, so he grasped the wine bottle and moved to pour Olivia another glass. She began fanning her face as he approached.
“Is it hot in here?” Olivia began to take off the heavy sweater she wore and Liam froze in his path.
She had curves.
Lots and lots of curves and they went on for miles. Liam loved a woman who wasn’t stick thin, one who looked real. Olivia’s breasts were full and begged for a man’s touch. Her hips flared below a smaller waist and her hourglass shape made his hands itch. Immediate need hit him. He wanted to slide his palms around that waist and bring her close. She looked like a soft place for a man to land, preferably between her rounded thighs. Why on earth would she hide that body under a thick sweater?
Why hadn’t he noticed she’d grown into a ripened woman? Because she’d always hidden herself, blending in with the scenery. She didn’t belong there; she was born to stand out. Too bad she didn’t seem to realize it yet.
Liam shook his head and cleared his mind. He was acting like an untried boy who’d never seen a few curves of female flesh before. Control was something he’d learned over the years, but his restraint went right out the window the moment she’d displayed her body. He’d never been the type of man to drop to his knees because of a pretty face, so why was he now?
This was Babycakes, the little girl who he’d hurt, the one he’d spent years trying to save. Yes, she was no longer a little girl, he could clearly see that now, but she wasn’t someone for him to lust after, either.
Hell, what was he thinking? He was trying to convince her to become his patient, not talk her into bed.
His body told him something entirely different. He felt the blood rushing to his cock as it awakened to the raw sensuality on display before him. He raked his gaze over her as she continued to fan her face and turned from him slightly. Liam was positive she had no idea of her effect on him; there wasn’t any guile in her actions. Her natural sex appeal was calling to him, and his stare was locked on her body, tracing the curves of flesh bound in black silk.
Guilt pulled him into its grasp and he felt horror at the way his body reacted. Olivia was a family friend, almost as close as family. He had watched her grow, been there from the moment she was born until now, had spent years trying to redeem himself for what he’d done to her. He filled his own glass, swallowed the whole thing in one gulp, and refilled it once more before walking the rest of the way to fill Olivia’s glass, his hand shaking slightly as he poured.
What the hell was wrong with him?
“I hope your hands don’t shake like that when I’m on the operating table.”
His gaze sought hers, and he noted her arched brow. His hands hadn’t been that bad, that she should have noticed his trembling. “No worries, the bottle was slipping.” The lie was the first thing which came to his mind to cover his reaction to her.
She looked a moment longer, bringing the glass to her lips slowly as she surveyed him. He felt flayed open by her watchful glare, as if she saw everything, and he worried she would sense his flash of desire. He watched as she pressed her lips to the glass once more and took a sip. Her tongue flashed out, washing over the pink flesh to capture every drop. His mind immediately grasped the image and substituted a more visceral target. He envisioned her trailing it along his cock, looking up to him with her twinkling, blue-gray eyes as she slid the length between those lush lips.
“You know, you never got your wish.” Liam felt his face flush, the words springing from his lips unbidden. He wanted to take them back as soon as he saw her face flush.
He was stuck. His mind raced as he tried to think of a lie to cover his momentary loss of sanity. His gaze roamed over her porcelain face and he suddenly realized he didn’t want to lie. He wanted to give her that kiss he’d run from so long ago. Liam had to taste the sweet perfection of her mouth. “That day, the day you fell. You never got the kiss you wanted.”
She blushed hard, her color high. Her gaze wavered, going to everything else in the room but him. “A kiss? I don’t recall wanting a kiss.”
“I do. I think after everything you went through, it would be the least I can do.”
Her gaze flew to his and he thought he saw a touch of desperation there. She wanted his kiss as much as he wanted to give it. “I think it’s a bit too late for that.”
“It’s never too late.”
“Yes … it is,” she said low, but firmly. Her face filled with more blood, exposing her for the liar she was. As her stare fell to his own lips, he stepped a half step closer to her, inhaling her light scent. The pink tint of her blush was lovely on her pale skin, making her look flushed. Her pale lips parted and she sighed low, a lament he felt in his very bones. It had been on the edge of a moan. He was happy she seemed to be reacting to him as well.
“I want to give this to you,” he whispered.
She moved a nearer to him, her eyes glazing over as if in a thrall. He felt it too; he was equally ensorcelled by her. Her face was inches from his, and his lips tingled with the need to touch her smooth skin.
“Liam? Are you coming?” Jenny said from the dining room. Damn it, he
he should have left her at home.
“The least you can do is … go to dinner. They’re waiting on us.” Olivia pushed past him and began moving to the dining room, leaving him to collect himself.
What had he just done? His fingers still itched to grab her and pull her into his embrace, to taste her lips and the wine coating them. Where had his control run off to?
He was trying to convince her to have the surgery, accepting her as his patient, making what he just did border on unethical behavior. Add in all the years he’d known her, and his halfhearted seduction was in poor taste. No wonder she ran from him. A gentleman may have the same thoughts as any other man, but he chose to control them. Olivia, with one single action, had laid waste to his control, opening his eyes to the fact she’d blossomed into a grown woman at some point when he wasn’t paying attention.
“Are you coming to dinner?” Jenny popped her head around the corner and startled him.
“Yes. Just give me a moment.”
Jenny watched him closely, her gaze appearing to note too much. Her eyes narrowed slightly before she left him. Liam took another gulp of his glass and refilled it once more before strolling in to eat.
* * * *
Olivia sat down at the dining table, directly across from Jenny and the empty chair that would soon be filled with an all too overwhelming presence. Jenny smiled at her and sipped some wine before rising from her chair, obviously going to get her boyfriend. Luckily, she hadn’t come in moments earlier when Liam had been far too close to her with a look in his eyes she wasn’t sure she could define.