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Dating The Millionaire Doctor

By:Marion Lennox

CHAPTER ONE




F IVE - MINUTE dating was five minutes too long. He'd dated nine women tonight, and the last was the least inspiring of the lot.

Jake glanced down at his fact sheet, hoping for help. Victoria. Twenty-nine. Single. There wasn't a lot here to talk about.

'I'm pleased to meet you, Victoria,' he ventured. That's terrific, he  thought wryly. Snappy dialogue. Incisive. Excellent way to start things  rolling.

'My friends call me Tori,' she ventured, dragging her gaze from the door. Was she thinking about escaping?

'Is this your first try at speed dating?'

'Yes. And you?'

'Yes.'

This wasn't exactly scintillating, he conceded. Where did he go from here?

Each of his last nine 'dates' had been vivacious and chirpy. He hadn't  needed to make an effort. Now, when effort was required, he wondered  whether it was worth it.

Had Tori made an effort?

Victoria-or Tori-looked a real country mouse. She was wearing a  knee-length black skirt, scuffed court shoes and a white blouse with  ruffles down the front. Her chestnut-brown curls-had she cut the fringe  herself?-had been pulled into a rough knot, simply tied with a white  ribbon. She wore no make up and no jewellery.

Why was she here if she wasn't prepared to spend some time on her  appearance? he wondered. The lines around her clear green eyes were  stretched tight, making her seem a lot older than twenty-nine years. But  did she care? She looked as if she wanted to be here even less than he  did, which was really saying something.

The manager of Dr. Jake Hunter's Australian properties had promised Jake  he'd enjoy it, but enjoy was so far off the mark Jake couldn't believe  it. But he was here. He was stuck. He had to make conversation.

'So what do you do for a living?'

'I care for injured wildlife.'

That'd be right. She looked like a do-gooder. Not that he had anything  against do-gooders, he reminded himself hastily. It was just that she  looked … the type.

'So you'll have been busy in the fires?'

'Yes.'

And here was another conversation stopper. Six months ago wildfire had  ripped this little community apart, decimating the entire district. As  an outsider Jake didn't know where to take it. Should he say something  like, Was your house burned? Was anyone you cared about hurt?

Surely the fact that she'd come to speed dating was proof that it hadn't  touched her too badly. But don't go there, he told himself, and he  didn't. Which left silence.

'What … what about you?' she asked, sounding desperate, and he thought, Three minutes and fifty seconds left.

'I live in the U.S. but I own properties here, in the valley and up on  the ridge. I've come back now to check on them, maybe put them on the  market.'

'Were they damaged?'

'Not badly. My manager's been taking care of them for me. He's the one who talked me into coming tonight.'

'So speed dating's not your thing?'

'No,' he admitted, and decided to be honest. She looked the sort of  woman who called a spade a spade. 'Rob said you were a guy short. I got  dragged into this at the last minute.'

'You don't want to be here?'

'No.'

'Then I'm wasting your time,' she said, and suddenly the mouse had  changed into something else entirely. Her relief was palpable. She rose  and took his hand in a grip so firm it surprised him. 'This is the last  round so we can finish this now. Goodnight, Jake.'

Then, astonishingly, she smiled, a wide, white smile that had the power  to turn her face from plain to something extraordinary. But he didn't  have a chance to register the smile for long. She'd released his hand  and was heading for the door, her sensible heels clicking briskly on the  polished wooden floorboards of the Combadeen Hall.

And to his further bewilderment, the moment she rose she looked … cute?  Definitely cute, he thought. Her curls bounced on her shoulders. She had  curves in all the right places, the badly fitting skirt unable to  conceal her tiny waist, the lovely lines of her legs and the unconscious  wiggle of her hips as she stalked to the door.

He wasn't the only one watching. As she tugged the door open and walked  out into the night, as the door slammed closed behind her, he realised  everyone else in the hall was looking as well, as astonished as he was.

He'd just been stood up for a speed date. He'd been stood up by a smile that was truly stunning.

Should he follow?

Um, no. She was right. Speed dating was not his thing.

Nor was any other sort of dating, he acknowledged. He was in town to  check on his father's property, to sign documents to put the farmhouse  on the ridge on the market and to make a decision about the resort. Then  he was out of here. His job back in the States was waiting. He had no  place here.         

     



 

So why was he watching a country mouse stalk away from him, as if he cared?



Why had she come?

Her best friend, Barb, had lied to her. They can't have been a woman  short if that guy-Jake?-could patronise her by saying he was only here  to make up numbers, to do them all a favour.

Arrogant toerag.

Outside, the stars were hanging low in the sky. The air was crisp and  clean, and she filled her lungs, as if the hall inside had been full of  smoke.

Of course it wasn't, though maybe the smell of smoke would never  completely leave her. The fire that had ripped through these mountains  had changed her life-and she wasn't ready to move on, no matter what  Barb said.

'Please come tonight,' Barb had pleaded. 'We're desperate to make up the  numbers. It'll be fun. Come on, Tori, life can be good again. You can  try.'

So she'd tried. Not very hard, she conceded, looking ruefully down at  her serviceable skirt. She'd been living courtesy of welfare bins for  too long now.

Tori-or more formally Dr. Victoria Nicholls, veterinary surgeon-had no  financial need of welfare bins, but the outpouring of the Australian  public had been massive. The local hall was filled with clothes donated  to replace what was burned, and it was easier to grab what she needed  than to waste time shopping.

She hadn't shopped since …

She shook herself. Don't go there.

But maybe she had to go there. Maybe that was part of the healing. No,  she hadn't shopped since the fire. She hadn't dated since the fire-or  before, of course, but then she'd had Toby. Or she'd thought she'd had  Toby. There was the king of all toerags. Even the thought of him made  her cringe. That she could have imagined herself in love with him …

She'd been incredibly, appallingly dumb. She'd made one disastrous  mistake that had cost her everything, so what on earth was she doing  lining up for another?

Oh, for heaven's sake, she was supposed to be moving on. There were good  people out there, she told herself. Good men. She had to learn to trust  again. Jake had seemed …

Bored. Compelled to be there. But sort of interesting?

Maybe Barb was right; she did need to get out more, because Jake seemed  to have stirred something in her that hadn't been stirred for a long  time.

He'd been long and lean and sort of … sculpted. Rangy. He hadn't bothered  to shave, and there was another mark against him. She'd gone to all the  trouble of finding this stupid blouse and he'd come with a five-o'clock  shadow. Mind, it had looked incredibly sexy, with his deep, black hair-a  little bit wavy-and his lovely brown eyes and the crinkles around his  tanned face that said he normally didn't look as bored as this; normally  he smiled.

How stupid was this? She gave herself an angry shake. She'd met ten men  tonight, all of them seemed uninterested and uninteresting, and even  though Jake seemed … interesting … he was the rudest of the lot.

She'd been stupid once. Any relationship she might have in the future  must thus be dictated by sense and not by hormones, and all she'd felt  with Jake was hormones. Lots of hormones.

Disgusted, she climbed into her battered van and headed out of the car  park, back up the mountain. She'd been away for long enough.

No matter what Barb said, she wasn't ready for a new life. She already had an all-consuming one.

Or did she? Barb was right, she accepted. The life she knew was coming to an end.

Where did she go from here?

Wherever-as long as her decisions were based on sense and not hormones,  she told herself fiercely and headed back up the mountain.



'Anyone strike your fancy?'

Jake's manager and friend from university days was watching a blonde  totter across the car park to her cute little sports car. She was  definitely Rob's choice for the night. Maybe he'd even take it further.

As opposed to Jake. He had no intention of ever taking things further.  Yeah, it had been crazy to agree to speed dating. He was here for less  than a week, and every one of the women he'd met tonight had diamonds in  their eyes.

He didn't do diamonds. Diamonds had been drilled out of him early.

Jake had been brought up by a mother who spent her life bewailing an  Australian father who was, according to her, the lowest form of life on  the planet. Love made you cry, his mother told him, over and over from  the time he was a toddler, since she'd taken him back to the States  and-as she'd said repeatedly-abandoned her dreams for ever.

Maybe his mother's broken dreams had left their legacy. Who knew? He  needed a shrink to tell him, but a shrink couldn't change him. He didn't  do long-term relationships. He'd never felt the slightest need to take  things down that road. Women were colleagues and friends. They were  often great companions. The occasional mutually casual relationship was  great, but why open yourself to the angst of commitment?         

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