'And it's not because they're not posh enough for me—I'm not like that. It's because they don't understand. They want to come first.'
'And you're dedicated to your job.'
He didn't sound judgemental. He sounded as if he understood. 'It's the same for you?'
'Near enough. Except for me it's not studying, it's raising money for the unit. You can't run a marathon if you skip your training sessions.'
You couldn't get to the top of your particular specialty if you skipped your training sessions, either. So he knew exactly where she was coming from. Let your partner talk you into missing 'just one' session and it would snowball, and before you knew it you'd be a million miles away from where you'd planned to be. Vicky swallowed. 'I didn't mean what I said. About—about sleeping with you to get promoted.'
'And I shouldn't have snapped at you.'
'That wasn't an apology.' He leaned forward and kissed her lightly on the mouth, his lips just brushing hers. 'That was an apology.'
She touched her mouth. It was tingling. Throbbing. As if she'd eaten a highly spiced meal and the spices had sensitised her skin. How could just the barest skim of his lips against hers do that?
Then she realised that he was waiting. 'Sorry. Did you say something?'
'I was just thinking...maybe you'd like to apologise, too.'
With a kiss.
He wanted her to kiss him.
'If that's what you want to do,' he added softly.
And he was giving her the choice.
Back off, and keep things as they were. Or lean forward and kiss him. Open herself up to the possibilities.
She wasn't scared of operating. Of the delicate job she did in Theatre, where the tiniest wrong move could have the most ghastly consequences. She had confidence there in spades. So why was she scared now?
To kiss, or not to kiss.
He was trying to keep his expression neutral, she could see that. But his eyes gave him away. Deep, dark and pleading.
She leaned forward. Touched her mouth lightly to his. Closed her eyes and waited for him to grab her—and, when nothing happened, opened her eyes and looked at him. His face was still very close to hers, and he was smiling.
'Not so bad, was it?' he whispered.
'No. It was all right.' More than all right. And her mouth was still tingling. Anticipation, perhaps. Of a longer kiss. Deeper. Hotter. Like the one they'd shared on the beach, only this time there wouldn't be anyone else around or any clothes as a barrier between them. Just the two of them between freshly laundered cotton sheets.
'Jake...' Her voice cracked.
He was insane. Utterly insane. That was the only possible reason why he took her hand and brought it to his lips. Kissed each finger in turn—still keeping his gaze steady on hers. 'I didn't intend this to happen. I really thought we could just be friends.' He brushed his lips against her fingers again. He loved just the touch of her skin against his mouth. Her clean scent. 'I don't do relationships. Especially with colleagues. I know how messy it can get.'
'So why now? Why me?'
Good question. Though he didn't have an answer. 'I've never met anyone who's had this sort of effect on me before.' And that in itself was scary. It meant he could be hurt. In all his previous relationships he'd managed to keep enough distance to be safe. But he had a nasty feeling that Vicky was going to matter to him. A lot. And it was already too late to back out. 'I want to see you, Vicky. But I'll respect your studies—just as I know you'll respect my fundraising.' She'd already proved that to him. 'I'm not going to stand in the way of your career.'
'See me?' she asked softly.
He nodded. 'A relationship. The real thing. You and me. Dinner. Going to places together. Sharing things.' Making love. Not that he was going to say that right now. He didn't want to scare her off.
'What about work?'
He shrugged. 'So we work together. But we'll keep it quiet, if you'd prefer. It's nothing to do with anyone else anyways. Just you and me.'
'Just you and me,' she echoed.
He waited. If he pushed too hard now, she'd run. She was clearly as thrown by this as he was. But the way she'd kissed him on the beach...he was sure she felt the same pull. And the same fear of letting go enough to act on that attraction. Was she brave enough to give it a try?
Her fingers tightened round his, and her eyes were very, very blue. 'This feels like jumping out of a plane without a parachute.'
'That's how we know we're alive,' he whispered.
'If you help me with my studying, I have to help you with your training?'
And take time out of her schedule? He shook his head. 'Not unless you want to. But if we're on the same shift, maybe we could swim together before work. And there's always multi-tasking.'
'Running and studying at the same time. If you're training properly, you should be able to hold a conversation. So I can test you on your knowledge as we run.'