'I really ought to get to the ward,' she said.
'You're on the same shift as I am. Which doesn't start for...' he glanced at the clock'.. .forty minutes. We've got time for a shower and breakfast.'
There was the slightest, slightest flush against her cheekbones. And it vanished before he was really sure that she'd blushed. But he hadn't said anything out of place...had he?
Unless she'd interpreted 'shower' and 'breakfast' rather more intimately than he'd intended.
And that thought alone set his whole body tingling, as if champagne instead of blood was whooshing through his veins. He pulled himself back together with an effort. 'I hear the staff canteen does an excellent bacon sandwich,' he said.
And it'd be just his luck that she was vegetarian.
She said nothing.
Still sore at him? 'My shout,' he said, 'because I need lo talk to you about something.'
That got a reaction. 'What?' She sounded suspicious and her eyes were slightly narrowed.
It was almost as if he'd waved a magic wand, because she seemed to relax again. 'OK. Meet you in the lobby in ten minutes?'
Most women he knew would take at least half an hour to get ready after a workout. But he was beginning to realise that the Hon. Victoria Radley wasn't like any other woman he'd met. 'Ten minutes,' he agreed.
And then she did something that threw him completely. She smiled. A proper smile. And his heart rate practically doubled.
He'd only just got his pulse back to normal when he reached the lobby, still slightly damp, nine minutes later. Precisely sixty seconds after that, Vicky joined him.
'I had a call from the hospital CEO yesterday,' he said as they walked down to the hospital.
'About Declan Foster. His parents wrote in and said how good you'd been.'
Vicky shrugged. 'Just doing my job.'
'And a bit more besides. I've noticed your paperwork is meticulous and you always make sure that the patients, as well as their relatives, know exactly what's going on. And I think teaching a small boy to play chess might not be in your job description.'
'It was as good a way as any to spend a lunch-break,' Vicky said lightly.
'Several lunch-breaks,' he corrected. He'd noticed.
She frowned. 'Do you have a problem with that?'
'No, as long as you're not overdoing things. We all need time to recharge our batteries, Victoria.' At her sharp look, he added, 'May I call you Victoria? I prefer working on first-name terms.'
For a moment, he thought she was going to say no.
Then she nodded. 'It's Vicky.'
'Vicky.' He could actually taste her name. Crisp, slightly astringent. And it made his mouth water.
Oh, he needed coffee. Before he said something stupid. 'You're supposed to take breaks.'
There was a slight edge to her voice, and he sighed inwardly. 'I'm making a mess of this. What I'm trying to say is, I'm sorry. When we first met...I didn't mean to imply you were a slacker. You caught me on the hop, doing a recce. I was embarrassed, and I said the first thing that came into my head.'
Clearly she wanted him to eat humble pie. OK. As long as it meant she kept talking to him, he'd do it. 'You're dedicated. Very dedicated. I've never met anyone who works this hard before.'
'It's the only way to break through the glass ceiling,' she said as they walked into the canteen.
The glass ceiling? That was something he hadn't even considered. 'This is the twenty-first century. It's supposed to mean equal opportunities.'
She raised an eyebrow. 'How many female heads of department do you know? How many women professors?'
He thought about it. 'Not many.'
'Exactly. If they have a family, they're expected to take a career break, which holds them back because they've spent five years raising children and need to brush up their skills again—not to mention the years of experience they've lost and the fact their male colleagues are now five years ahead of them. If they don't take a career break, they get a reputation as hard women who don't care enough about their families, and it's held against them.'
He frowned. 'Discrimination is illegal.'
'But it happens.'
He had no answer to that. 'So I take it you don't have children?'
He just about managed to stop himself asking the next question. And what does your partner do? Because it was none of his business whether she was involved with someone or not. And he'd already told himself he wasn't going to act on his attraction to her. He needed to talk about something neutral. Fast. 'What would you like for breakfast?' he asked as they reached the canteen.
'Coffee, fruit and yoghurt, please.'
Polite and distant again. Which was what the professional in him had wanted—but what the man in him hadn't wanted. 'Do you mind if I have a bacon sandwich?'
She gave him a wry look. 'They're your arteries.'
When they sat down, he added tomato ketchup to his sandwich. 'Lycopene,' he said with a grin.