Neurosurgeon Mark Finley has a deep, dark secret. No, it’s not that he’s a dominant who likes to mix pain with pleasure; it’s that he’s in love with his best friend’s wife. Mark is wracked with guilt when his friend dies on his operating table, but when Allison begs him to make love to her, no power can stop him. But he swears it’s a one-time event.
And it is until Allison turns up Mark’s favorite club. Mark can’t let another Dom have her, but he can’t have her either. Or can he?
Eighteen months ago
I stripped off the bloody rubber gloves and tossed them in the hazardous waste receptacle. My feet felt like iron weights and the floor like it was lined with magnets.
It wasn’t that I’d ever believed my own press—Dr. Mark Finley, part neurosurgeon, part superhero, able to save lives in a single bound. I knew that was bogus. I’d lost as least as many patients over the years as I’d saved. That was largely because I tended to take on cases other physicians had dismissed as hopeless. Unfortunately, as often as not, the first doctor’s assessment turned out to be correct.
Like with Clint Hoffman, whom I’d pronounced dead on the operating table less than five minutes ago. It wasn’t anything new or different. It was just my damned job.
Except today it was different. Because against every principle I’d ever learned in the practice of medicine, Clint Hoffman wasn’t just a patient.
He was my best friend.
And now I had to go out there and tell his wife, Allison, whom I’d been half in love with since the day I met her, that I’d killed him.
* * * * *
She knew the second I entered the waiting room. Her light gold-brown eyes, the color of my favorite whisky, filled with tears.
I couldn’t force a single word through my swollen throat as she threw her arms around my neck and buried her beautiful face in my blood- and sweat-stained scrubs.
She didn’t sob or wail. Like everything about Allison, her grief was decorous and understated. Ladylike. Her quiet tears soaked through to my skin, branding me with their wet heat.
Helpless to do anything else, I wrapped my arms around her slender back. Usually, when a patient’s family hugged me post-op, it was because I’d saved their loved one, so it seemed inexplicable that this embrace should feel more natural, more right than any other.
We stood there like that for several minutes—Allison weeping softly and me trying not to notice how well she fit in my arms, how lush her breasts felt pressed against my chest, how her wavy, auburn smelled like cinnamon and apples. Finally, she lifted her head and looked up at me with a small, tremulous smile.
“Thank you, Mark.”
Thank you? That was the last thing I’d expected her to say. “Damn you,” or “Go to hell,” or “I hate you, you murderer” seemed a lot more reasonable under the circumstances.
A tear clung to her thick, lower lashes, and I couldn’t resist the impulse to brush it away with my thumb.
“How can you thank me?” I asked, incredulous. After what I’ve done?
“Because you were willing to try what no one else would. You did what Clint wanted, and I can’t thank you enough for that, no matter how it turned out.”
I exhaled a ragged breath full of self-loathing. “He could have lived for months if I hadn’t operated.”
Damn it, I’d known from looking at the scans that the tumor was too close to the brain stem. Going in at all had been the height of arrogance. I had believed my own press, had thought I could do something no one else could. And my friend had paid for it with the last few precious months of his life.
Allison shook her head. “We both know that the life he had to look forward to in those months wouldn’t have been worth living. He hated being helpless, and it was only going to get worse.” Her eyes glistened, and she blinked to keep the tears from falling. “He didn’t want to die, but he didn’t want to live like that, either. You gave him a chance.”
She cupped my jaw in her palm, the roughness of my stubble against the softness of her skin reminding me how long it had been since I’d shaved. Fifteen hours of surgery. Hours during which she must have been curled up here in the waiting room. Her hair was a mess, and her eyes were both swollen with tears and sunken with exhaustion.
And she was still the most gorgeous, most desirable woman I’d ever seen.
Everything she said was true, but guilt stabbed me anyway. I should never have taken Clint’s case in the first place. Doing so violated every rule I’d learned in med school and residency—be compassionate and caring, but never, ever think of your patients as your friends. The converse, logically, was never to take friends as patients, and not only had I done that with Clint, who’d been my best friend since the seventh grade, I’d treated him in a way I would never have treated any other patient. Not only had I hastened his death, I’d given him hope where there was none.
As if that weren’t bad enough, now I was standing here in the waiting room with the woman I’d made a widow less than an hour ago and wondering how long it would be before I could get in her pants.
God, I was a bigger asshole than John Edwards and Tiger Woods put together.
“Mark,” she said, snapping my attention to her face. God, she was so beautiful my chest ached. “Would you do something for me?”
“Anything.” Except what I should have done from the start.
“Come over to the house when you’re done here. I don’t think I can be alone right now—” Her voice caught in her throat.
“But…why me? What about your family?”
I knew Clint’s family wouldn’t be much help. They’d been violently opposed to the surgery from the outset. Allison might not blame me for his death, but the Hoffmans sure as hell would. I’d be lucky to avoid a malpractice suit, although they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. I might have been a sucker for my friend, but there was no question of informed consent…or of my having screwed anything up during the operation.
Allison shrugged. “I don’t want any of them. You were closer to Clint than anyone but me. I need be with someone who cared about him as much as I did.”
And so, just as I’d done when Clint had begged me to take a look at his MRI films, I did the one thing I knew I shouldn’t.
I said yes.
* * * * *
Although it was already past midnight by the time I got to Allison and Clint’s modest house in St. Charles, neither of us could have slept. Instead, we cried a little, talked a lot, and drank…way too much.
Given the circumstances, it was probably natural that we ended up side by side on the couch with me cradling her against my chest. It might even have been natural that I found myself stroking her hair and dropping the occasional kiss on her cheek or temple. But there was nothing natural about what happened when she turned her face up to mine and parted her lips in an unmistakable appeal for a kiss. Because instead of doing the natural thing, instead of doing what a good man and a good friend would have done, I took her up on her offer.
I knew it was wrong even as my mouth closed over hers, but hell, Allison was like the tractor beam on the Death Star—dangerous, powerful, and impossible to resist. Once I’d started kissing her, there was no escape.
Logic and guilt fled, replaced by the longing of a decade of wanting what I couldn’t have. I slanted my mouth across hers, stroking her lips with my tongue before delving inside to explore the sweet territory beyond. Delicious. She tasted just as I’d imagined—like honey and sunshine and fresh water, but also a little salty. Like sorrow and desperation.
Alarm bells clanged in the back of my head. I broke the kiss, remembering why this was wrong.
“We can’t do this, Allison.” I barely recognized my strained, guttural voice.
“Please,” she whispered, her breathing labored, her eyes glassy. “I—I need this. I need something to prove that I’m still alive, that I can survive this, that there’s something worth living for.” Her eyelashes fluttered, color suffusing her cheeks. “I want you, Mark. Make love to me tonight. Make me forget.”
Christ. I’d have to be made of steel to resist a plea like that. Although, come to think of it, part of me was already halfway there.
With her breasts pressing against my chest until I could feel the hardening peaks of her nipples and the memory of how good it felt to kiss her fresh in mind, my cock roared to life, drowning out any reasonable, sensible alternatives.
And once that decision had been made for me, the rest was easy. I pulled her closer and kissed her again, more deeply, more thoroughly. She responded with equal intensity, as if her life depended on it, and maybe in a way, it did. In some distant corner of my mind, I knew I was being used, but I couldn’t bring myself to object because it was me she was using, and she was everything I’d ever wanted.
I felt like I was fifteen, and it was my first time again. I unbuttoned her blouse with trembling fingers and pushed it off over her shoulders. When I fumbled around to open her bra in the back, she undid it herself by unhooking a hidden clasp between her breasts.
And Christ, what breasts! I considered myself a connoisseur of breasts, and hers were the finest I’d ever seen—perfectly shaped and firm with small areolas and nipples that pointed upward, begging to be sucked. I obliged them, leaving her mouth to take one sensitive peak then the other between my lips and teeth. When I bit down lightly on the second one, she arched her back and threaded her fingers through my hair.
When she pulled my head tighter to her breast and whispered, “Harder,” I thought I might explode with lust...and joy.
Because however much I’d fantasized about making love to this woman, I’d never dreamed she would like it exactly the way I did—with that edge of pain to make the pleasure that much more intense.
Now I was truly in my element. More confident in my role, I worried the taut bud of her nipple with my teeth before soothing it with my tongue while I pinched and rolled the other between my thumb and forefinger. She writhed in my lap, the musky scent of her arousal telling me she was as hot and ready as I was. My cock and balls throbbed against the constraint of my jeans. I had to get out of them—and into her—as fast as possible.
Somehow, I made myself release her delicious breasts and got us both to our feet.
“Get naked,” I ordered. “Now.”