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DRAFT EXCERPT

“Idiots. Any first-year medical student could have discerned there was nothing normal about these blood cells.” Beatrice straightened from the microscope, shaking her head.

“Talking to yourself, Doc?”

She spun around and banged her hip on the edge of the lab table. “Ouch!”

An empty beaker teetered and toppled over the edge. Before she could react, Mathias darted across the room and caught it inches from the floor.

Good grief, he’s fast. She’d been concentrating so hard she hadn’t even heard the door slide open.

He straightened and set it with some others toward the back of the table. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. Are you okay?”

“I was just … you don’t have to … I’m fine.” She turned and started lining up the Erlenmeyer flasks by size, smallest to largest.

She was an intelligent, well-respected forensic pathologist who could stand in front of a banquet room full of colleagues, many of whom were much older, and speak with no problem. Yet, even after spending almost every day together for the past two months, she still tripped over her tongue and turned into a bungling idiot every time she was in the vicinity of this particular man. You’d think she’d be over that by now. There was no scientific basis for it, which frustrated her immensely.

“Everything okay?” He stepped closer, dragging along the scent of pine and power with him.

“Why do you ask?” She forced herself to look at him. Not that it was any great hardship.

“You mentioned something about idiots?” He picked up an unused flask at the far end of the table and handed it to her.

Her shoulders relaxed and she set the glass container with the other ones. She could talk about science all day, every day. Beatrice had the fanciful thought that he had figured that out about her and that’s why he asked what he did. See? Fanciful.

“I was referring to the incompetent ignoramuses who screwed up the DNA test during the recent serial killer investigation. Since it’s been my experience that labs don’t just make one mistake, they make multiple mistakes, I decided to do a random assessment of a handful of their past cases.” She flipped the file shut, added it to the stack, and flattened her hand on top. “My very preliminary review of their files has shown that the mistakes made in our case were merely the tip of the iceberg relevant to the number of deficiencies within that laboratory. If they haven’t already been, they need to be shut down immediately.” Beatrice had zero tolerance for careless lab work.

Mathias leaned a hip against the edge of the table. “If that happens, all their previous findings and any cases they’ve been involved with could come under scrutiny. Quite possibly overturning past convictions.”

“As they should. Innocent people could be sitting in prison due to their malfeasance.” She turned to him with a mean scowl. “You cannot possibly have a problem with that, can you?”

“Relax, Beatrice. If that happens, they should be held accountable.” The corners of his lips rose in a full smile that made his eyes twinkle.

“Why are you smiling? This is very serious.” She shoved her hands in her lab coat pockets.

“You’re gorgeous when you’re angry.”

“What? I’m … That’s … well, that’s ridiculous.” Her cheeks heated.

“And your cheeks get bright pink.” He reached up, her breath halted, and he stopped just short of touching her cheek with the back of his fingers.

For her own sanity, Beatrice inched back from him.

“Was there a reason you came in here?” She winced, realizing how harsh that sounded the second it left her mouth. She really needed to work harder on improving her human-to-human communication skills.

“Have you eaten lunch yet?” He crossed his arms, not the least bit put off by her tone.

“No, not yet.” She turned, pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, grabbed another case file from the incompetent lab and flipped it open with a bit more fervor than necessary.

He glanced at the clock on the far wall and straightened. “It’s quarter after two.”

“Uh huh.” Her eyes scanned down the page and she found another major mistake. “Morons.” She grumbled, shook her head and dragged a bright pink highlighter across the page.

“Come on, Doc.” All in one swift move, his left hand shut the file, his right snatched the pen from her grip, snapped the cap on, and held it high above her head.

“What are you—” Beatrice reached for the pen and they came chest to chest. Her breath halted and she gulped ... audibly.

Her nipples were instantly erect and pressing against him, but she couldn’t seem to move. Her eyes slowly journeyed from his large hand, down the length of his long, powerful arm, across his well-developed shoulder, upward to a powerful jaw, until her gaze connected with his cerulean blue eyes. At which point, her brain summarily short-circuited.

“I have been tasked with making sure you have everything you need. And what you need right now is food.” His voice was low and a bit gravelly as he tucked the highlighter in his back pocket.

She glanced quickly toward where the marker peeked out.

“I dare you.” One of his dark brows lifted in challenge.

Lascivious thoughts teased her, but she quickly dashed them away and reminded herself she was a professional. Besides, she would probably vaporize instantly if her fingers actually ever came into contact with his extremely well-developed gluteus maximus.

Due to his role as her babysitter, they had spent a great deal of time together over the past months. She’d discovered he was intelligent and deep-thinking and had an introspective air of calm and quietude that always seemed to hover around him. Unlike Killian, who excelled at being outrageous, but in a harmless, cheeky sort of way. There were also fleeting moments when she noted a haunted look in his eyes.

Did a small, hugely unfamiliar part of her wish he spent time with her because he wanted to and not because he was instructed to? Absolutely. Would she ever admit those perplexing feelings to another living soul? Absolutely not. Besides, she was here to do a job, not get involved with a co-worker. An embarrassing lesson she’d learned the hard way.

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