Here it is! The first two chapters of Leopold: Part One! Enjoy! 🙂
I stare down at the poor excuse for a slice of birthday cake sitting on what passes for my equally poor excuse for a desk. The “cake” is really only a peanut butter sandwich with a half-burned little tea light-type of candle sitting on top of it. On some level it’s a pathetic attempt at normalcy, not that I remember much how normal feels anymore.
Rummaging around in the plastic tub on my desk, I try to find the box of matches I accepted a while ago. After a few seconds of searching, I find them, pull one out, and light the candle.
Make a wish Elle. I close my eyes.
I wish my prince would come so I can have my happily ever after.
I cringe as I blow out the candle. Does any girl over the age of ten even believe in fairy tales? Let alone wish for one?
Guilt bubbles inside me as I stand from the folding chair that is the only other piece of furniture in the tiny room serving as my office. I should have wished for that. An office. A real place to sit and do my work. Or for supplies for the clinic. Or for medicine for the kids I treat. Damn, for anything that a real medical clinic should have.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I came to work in South America at this charity pediatric clinic in Rio de Campo, but it didn’t include having to wish for supplies. It also didn’t include the less-than-ideal conditions of this place—and that’s putting it mildly.
I don’t even reach the door of my little office before my assistant Raul comes rushing in, breathless. “Doctor…Elle. Doctor—” He reaches out with one hand, his other hand on his chest as he gasps for air. “I… He…”
My brow furrows and I walk over to him, concerned he might be having chest pain again. I place a hand on his shoulder. “Slow down. Take a breath—”
He pushes my hand away, still clutching at his chest. “No.” He straightens, slowing his breathing. “A…a man is here.”
My brow wrinkles again, but not with concern for Raul this time. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year worrying about the one employee at my clinic, but I don’t remember him ever looking so distraught.
He nods and gulps down the last of his breathlessness. “A man. An official man. He asks to meet with the doctor.” He nods again, and the deep creases on his forehead tell me how concerned he is about this visitor. “He says he is from Montovia.”
My heart races in my chest. My face feels like it’s on fire and I try to swallow my sense of dread. There is no official visit scheduled—no inspection. The country that founded this children’s clinic has never even been here to my knowledge. I’m only the second doctor who’s worked here since the clinic opened, but they haven’t been here at all in the almost-year I’ve served. I haven’t heard a peep from them—no emails, no calls. Nothing. It makes no sense that some official from Montovia would show up for an unannounced inspection. Central Europe is a hell of a long way from where we are in South America, and you’d think there would have at least been enough time for an email before they showed up at my door.
I suck in a breath and puff out my chest. I press my lips together, and I walk into the small lobby where a man is standing with his back to me. He’s tapping his fingers rhythmically on the counter, almost like he’s playing a tune on a piano.
He’s tall. Muscular. I can see the outline of his shoulders through his white dress shirt. He has his suit jacket folded over the arm that isn’t strumming out whatever tune he’s playing on my lobby counter. I wonder for a second who he’s trying to impress. We don’t see anyone in suits around here—even if they are official representatives from Montovia—and he would have to do a lot more than wear a suit to impress me. Besides, I have to wonder about his intelligence, wearing that outfit in weather like this.
I glance down at my clothes, which have probably been damp since I put them on. I don’t even notice it anymore, but I still remember how hot it felt when I first arrived here. Because of the constant heat and humidity, I stopped wearing makeup a long time ago. I don’t even do anything with my hair now other than throw it into a ponytail. There’s no point—makeup melts off when I wear it and if I leave my hair down, it curls into a frizzy, matted wad.
A hot mess. That’s what I am. A hot and sticky mess.
He’s going to be old. Something tells me that when this guy turns around, he’s going to be old enough to be my grandfather. Because that is how my luck is. Not that I believe in luck. I just somehow know. He’s going to be old and gross and a total dick, especially when he starts asking questions.
I clear my throat and the man turns. Our eyes meet and…holy shit.
He’s not old.
Not only is he not old or decrepit, but he’s also my age. And oh my fucking God—he’s not ugly, either.
He’s beautiful, to be honest. His hair is the same color as the sand on the beach where I lived before I came here. And his eyes—oh my God, his eyes. They’re like deep blue miniature oceans…
The heat rises in my face again—my whole body is on fire now. And this time, it has nothing to do with my fear of having an official visitor auditing my clinic. I’m almost embarrassed by how my body is reacting to simply having this man look at me. He hasn’t spoken a single word, and it seems like I’m about to melt into a puddle of warm goo.
Maybe I’ve been out of society for so long I’m having a psychological reaction. A very inappropriate reaction, judging by the way the heat in my body is coiling in places I should not feel while I’m at work.
Stop. This. Now.
I’m a professional. I’m a doctor, for Christ’s sake. It’s not like I’ve never seen a man before—it might be the mothers who usually bring their children into this clinic, but I’ve been around plenty of men in my life. I suppose it has been awhile, but the year I’ve been here has gone by quickly. And it’s not like I’m held prisoner—it’s been my choice to live like a hermit. Everything is easier that way.
I need to get it together since I know what’s coming next. I can guess why he might be here, but I can’t seem to make my brain think about that now. And I can’t help gawking at him—at what I’m imagining to be his perfect abs under the shirt clinging a little too much to his body because of the lack of air-conditioning. And his ocean blue eyes that haven’t left mine. And—
“Dr. Eleanor Parker?” He glances down at the file in his arm as his brows knit together. “You’re Dr. Eleanor Parker?”
“You can call me Elle. Everyone does.” The words fly out of my mouth before I even have a chance to think them through—my mouth has somehow disconnected from my brain. And it’s probably more that my brain has disconnected from everything in favor of the electrical current overtaking my body. It’s his European accent. If I can just ignore that…
His mouth falls open a little. “I thought you were going to be older. Much older.” He glances down again at the file he’s carrying on top of the suit jacket still folded over his arm. “Am I at the right place? The Montovia Children’s Clinic?”
I can’t seem to shake my sense of dread, wondering what he must think of the humble conditions of this place. But at least there are no chickens running around at the moment. And no one has brought a goat with them for a few days, so it doesn’t smell particularly bad today.
But I nod. It’s all I can do at this point. Even with my dread, I’m about to suggest some very inappropriate things to this man if I allow myself to speak much more. It isn’t like me to be like this, and my cheeks grow impossibly hot again. I am a professional. A doctor. And I don’t lose control of myself, my mouth, my body. Nothing. I am in control. Always.
I don’t know why I have to keep reminding myself, but I do. I am not this girl. Not anymore. And I’m not a girl at all. I’m a professional woman, and I do not let myself act like this.
“Right.” His brow creases and he tilts his head. “Well, Elle. We need to talk.”
This is certainly…unexpected.
I suppose I must be in the right place. I find it highly unlikely there’s more than one Montovia Children’s Clinic in the vicinity, but considering the amount of money my family has given this place, I expected something a little more…well, just a little more.
My gaze drifts around the room. We’re in what I suppose must function as the lobby, but it consists of little more than a couple of wooden benches and the counter next to me. Someone has left the windows open, making the whole room feel rather muggy—but I suppose that can’t be helped, as it’s quite clear the air-conditioning isn’t functioning properly. I’m regretting my choice of suit for this meeting, especially considering the doctor I’ve been sent across the world to meet looks as if she’s spent the afternoon tromping through the jungle, not administering vaccines to her patients. That cannot be sanitary. This must be what happens when the Montovia Medical Council hires an American for one of our charity clinics.
On the other hand…
My eyes fall back to the woman standing in front of me. She’s younger than I expected—much younger. Probably just out of her medical studies. Doctors are supposed to be gray and wrinkled and sporting crisp, white coats. Not young and wearing clothes that leave so little to the imagination.
Perhaps she discarded her coat in response to the air-conditioning situation. I can hardly fault her for that. The oppressive humidity seems to be affecting her as much as it is me, and, if I might be honest, the entire effect is quite…charming. Her clothes cling to her skin, and there’s a damp spot on her shirt right at the valley between her breasts. Her hair is tied up, but a couple of wisps have fallen and cling to her bare neck. In fact, every visible bit of her skin—from her neck to her bare arms to the exposed area above the low neckline of her shirt—glows with moisture. The more I look at her, the more I believe my initial assessment of her was wrong. She doesn’t look like she’s come straight from an energetic romp through the jungle, no—she looks a lot more like she’s come straight from an energetic romp in bed.
And between her glowing skin and those full breasts and those soft-looking lips, I’m beginning to think that’s a side of her I’d very much like to explore.
Perhaps this trip might not be much of a punishment after all. My father intended this as an educational venture—a chance to teach his problem son a lesson in proper behavior—but perhaps he should have investigated the situation more carefully. The urges inspired by the woman in front of me are far from noble.
I grin. I’m beginning to think I might very much enjoy this little adventure.
“Perhaps we might speak somewhere private?” I suggest, glancing at the man hovering behind the counter. He looks nervous, and I’d rather not have my discussions with Doctor Eleanor Parker disturbed.
Elle, I remind myself, pleased we’ve moved into such familiarities. She doesn’t immediately answer, and for a moment I think I’m going to have to repeat my question, but then she seems to find her voice.
“Of course,” she says. “My office is over here.”
Her office, as it turns out, is even less impressive than the lobby. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think I’d ventured into an interrogation room—there’s nothing but a folding table and chair in here. What the hell has she been doing with all the money we’ve sent?
She seems to have realized only one of us will have a seat.
“I’ll grab another chair,” she says. I start to tell her that I’m perfectly capable of standing—and frankly, after nearly fifteen hours on my personal jet, I’m grateful for the chance to stretch my legs—but then I decide I’d much rather watch her walk away. It turns out that her backside is as lush and round as the front.
Doctor Elle Parker, I think, my smile deepening. Who knew you would have a body like that?
When she’s gone, I set my coat down on the little table that’s apparently been serving as her desk. God knows how she gets anything done on the rickety thing—even the little bit of extra weight makes it shake.
Add that to the list of upgrades this place needs, I think, undoing my cuffs and rolling up my sleeves. My God, the heat in here is oppressive. How does she stand it? The air is so thick I can hardly breathe, and even the breeze coming in through the open window does little to make this place feel like less of a sauna.
When my sleeves are rolled up, I move on to my collar. As I undo the buttons, my eyes roam over the table in front of me. I was expecting something a little more organized—a computer or file system, at the very least—but aside from a few meaningless pieces of paper and a sandwich, there’s nothing on the table.
Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps my father knew exactly what he was doing. It’s going to be an endless chore trying to sort out financial records with someone who apparently keeps no records at all. Then again…
Elle has returned with another folding chair, and she’s sucking on her bottom lip in a way that makes my pants suddenly feel too tight.
Maybe a long visit won’t be such a bad thing after all, not with such pleasant distractions around. I can think of plenty of ways the doctor and I might occupy our time while I’m here.
“Here you go,” she says, unfolding the chair. “I’m sorry we don’t have anything nicer, Mr…?”
“You can call me Leo,” I say, extending a hand and flashing my most charming of smiles. “Forgive me for not introducing myself sooner.”
For a moment, she seems unsure, but then she reaches out and takes my hand. I bring her fingers to my lips, brushing a kiss against her knuckles, and I feel a shiver move across her skin.
Oh, yes. This will be easy. And very, very enjoyable.
She withdraws her hand a little too quickly, and I suppress a grin. She wants me, quite certainly. But I can’t rush things. I must take it slowly, or I’ll scare her away.
“Why don’t we sit down?” I suggest. “Forgive me. I seem to have interrupted your lunch.”
“My…” Her brow wrinkles in confusion, but then her eyes fall to the sandwich on the table. “Oh, no. That’s nothing. I’m done.” She grabs the sandwich and tosses it into the rubbish bin.
It hardly looked done to me, but I’m not about to comment on her eating habits.
“Please, sit down,” she says, taking her seat.
I follow suit, sinking onto the folding chair. It creaks under my weight, wobbling slightly as I settle back. What sort of clinic can’t even afford proper chairs? After all the money my family has sent?
Elle folds and unfolds her hands in front of her on the table. She looks almost nervous. “So you’re from Montovia? No one told me to expect a visit.”
My priority is to put her at ease. I give her another smile—the one that never fails with women—and spread my hands.
“It was an impromptu decision,” I say. “Nothing to worry yourself over. We just realized it had been quite some time since someone was sent to survey the condition of this clinic.” And my father was determined to get me out of Montovia before I could cause even more trouble.
She nods, but she takes her time before speaking. “You’ve come to see what we need.”
It’s clear to anyone who sets foot in this place that it needs quite a bit—so where has my family’s money gone?
“Of course,” I tell her. “If there’s anything you require—anything at all—we should talk about it.” And do more than talk, if I have any say in the matter. “Just think of it as an audit of sorts. I’m here to take a look at the financial statements and see how the funds are used.”
She immediately looks wary. “We do the best we can with what we have.”
“I’m not suggesting that you don’t,” I say lightly, leaning back in my chair and propping my hands behind my head. “But we won’t know for sure until we look at the accounting. Track the funds going in and out.” God help me, I might die of boredom by the time we’re done with the figures, but I should at least try to do something besides stare at her breasts while I’m on this side of the ocean, shouldn’t I? “Of course, we don’t need to go into this now. There’s plenty of time to go through the accounts. In the meantime, tell me a little more about how you ended up down here.”
When I look up at her, though, I realize her entire demeanor has changed. She’s suddenly gone very stiff, very still, and those soft-looking lips of hers are pressed in a hard line. Her cheeks are a most intoxicating shade of red.
“You believe I’m misusing funds,” she says, and it’s clear from the dark spark in her eyes she’s barely holding back her temper.
This isn’t exactly how I expected her to respond—women usually have a very different reaction to me—but I’m not afraid of a woman with a short temper. In fact, I rather like a little feistiness, and the thought of taking her to bed is becoming more and more appealing by the second.
But first, I have to ease her fears.
“I never accused you of misusing funds,” I tell her with a wave of my hand. “I simply want to ensure that you have everything you need. The funds the clinic receives should be more than enough to cover a proper desk, for example.” I drum my fingers on the card table between us. “And proper chairs for you and your guests.” My eyes fall to the damp spot on her shirt right between her breasts. “And I suspect there is even enough to get the air-conditioning fixed. We need to make sure everything is comfortable for you and your patients.”
But though my words are meant to reassure her—there’s no need for her to be working like this—instead, they only seem to anger her further.
“How dare you,” she says, rising out of her chair. “How dare you come here and accuse me of not caring about the comfort of my patients. Or act like you have any idea how things should be run down here. Have you even been to Rio de Campo before?”
I start to respond, but she cuts me off.
“This isn’t Montovia,” she continues. “Buildings here don’t have air-conditioning. And there are more important things than desks and chairs. You have no right to waltz in here and start lecturing me about how we use our funds when you haven’t even been here for five minutes—”
“Forgive me,” I say, standing as well. “But I believe I have every right—”
“You have no right,” she repeats. “Now get out. I have patients to see, and I don’t have time to listen to some pompous idiot who’s never been outside of the first world before. This isn’t Montovia.”
Forget feisty, I think, fighting back a laugh. She’s as fiery as they come. And all the more attractive for it, too—it’s all I can do not to let my gaze fall to her breasts, which are heaving against the clingy fabric of her shirt. She should shout at me more often. I rather like the view.
But sadly, I should try to resolve this.
“Elle,” I say calmly, “if we could just—”
“No. Get out.” She grabs my sleeve and starts dragging me toward the door.
I don’t resist—though I could overpower her quite easily, I suspect that isn’t the right tactic.
“Elle,” I say again. “I’ve spoken poorly. I never meant to accuse you of anything.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she says, pulling me through the lobby. “This conversation is over.” The man behind the counter looks startled by this little scene, but he doesn’t try to stop Elle from dragging me right to the door of the clinic and back outside.
“This isn’t convenient or fun for either of us,” I say, trying another angle. “It wasn’t my choice to come here. But I’m afraid I must ensure my family’s money is being used properly.” She’s released my sleeve, and I spin around just in time to see her grab the door—and freeze.
“What did you say?” She looks back at me, and her eyes have gone wide.
I straighten. It seems I’ve found the right approach. “I said that this isn’t convenient for either of us and—”
She shakes her head. “No, I mean about the money. You said it was your family’s money.”
“Why yes, I—”
“Who are you?”
Ah, yes, now I see.
It seems Doctor Elle Parker has started to realize who I might be. And I’ll be damned if I don’t use it to my advantage.
“I’ve already told you,” I say lightly, ready for this little game. “My name is Leo. It’s short for Leopold.”
She gives a jerk of her head, apparently out of patience. “What’s the rest of it?”
My lips curl into a smile. Perhaps I should have mentioned it sooner—but now I’m having far too much fun watching her squirm.
“I’m Leopold Augustus Xavier Lothair, second son of King Edmund II. Most people know me as Prince Leopold of Montovia.”
Pre-order Your Copy of Leopold: Part One now! Available everywhere July 5, 2016.