Nikos took one look at the gasping child and murmured, ‘Give the prednisolone—now,’ in a tone that suggested the question should never have been asked.

Alan gave Ella an apologetic look and she gently pulled her hand from Tamsin’s. ‘I’m not going anywhere,’ she soothed as the child gave a whimper of protest and clutched at the air. ‘I’m right here. Just getting you something to help you breathe.’

She felt Nikos’s gaze on her as she reached for the dose she’d already prepared in anticipation of that exact outcome.

‘Her sats are 95 percent.’ Ella turned back to the child, making encouraging noises as she coaxed the medicine down the little girl, painfully conscious of Nikos’s powerful frame on the other side of the trolley. ‘The charts are behind you if you want to take a look.’

But Nikos didn’t look at the charts. He was looking at his little patient.

‘Tamsin?’ A smile danced in his eyes and his expression changed from detached to playful. ‘You have no idea how happy I am to see you.’

Tamsin shrank closer to Ella, like a tortoise retreating into the safety of its shell to hide from danger. ‘Go away.’

Nikos leaned on the trolley to reduce his height and make himself less intimidating. ‘I will if you want me to, but first I was hoping if you could help me out with this. I have no idea what to do with it.’ From his pocket he produced a small stuffed mermaid with long golden hair. Despite her growing stress levels Ella couldn’t help smiling because it was so typical of him to know exactly how to relate to each patient.

People said he was cold, but she knew that wasn’t always the case.

The little girl’s expression changed from panic to interest. Still clutching Ella’s hand, she reached out for the toy, but Nikos held it just out of reach. ‘First you have to give her a name. What are we going to call her?’

Ella caught the startled expression on Alan’s face and knew that he was wondering why a professor of international repute would choose this moment to play mermaids with a little girl.

He looked at Nikos and saw him playing a frivolous game.

But Ella saw something very different.

She saw a skilled doctor using a distraction technique as a tool to give him answers. She saw Nikos’s gaze rest on the child’s chest as he assessed her breathing. She saw him encouraging the child to speak to him, so that he could evaluate how breathless she was.

And she saw a more relaxed child.

Look and learn, Alan, she thought wryly.

Nikos removed his stethoscope from his pocket. Tamsin immediately tensed and opened her mouth to protest loudly, but Nikos simply smiled and listened to the mermaid’s chest, a look of total concentration on his handsome face.

‘Well?’ Playing along, Ella asked the question with a solemn expression on her face. ‘How’s the mermaid?’

Nikos nodded slowly. ‘I think she might have swallowed some sea water but, other than that, she is good.’

Tamsin grabbed at the stethoscope. ‘Me.’

‘You want a turn?’ Ella stroked Tamsin’s silken curls. ‘Would you like to listen?’ She took Nikos’s stethoscope and pretended to put it to the child’s ears.

Seeing Ella smiling at Nikos, Tamsin started to relax. And Nikos was so skilful at dealing with her that by the time he finally placed the stethoscope on the child’s chest, the little girl was so fascinated by him that she simply reached up a chubby hand and tugged at his dark hair. Then she pushed the mermaid in front of him again and Nikos smiled.

‘She’s all yours, koritsi mou. Make sure you look after her.’

Ella felt her heart flip because this side of him always left her in a puddle. She’d seen him verbally dissect experienced doctors who had fallen short of his expectations, she knew he was capable of being ruthless when the need arose, and yet with a small child he was a pussy cat—extraordinarily gentle, all that latent strength and power firmly leashed.

It was so hard to hate this man. So hard.

Choked by the thought of what could have been, she concentrated her attention on the monitor.

‘Her sats are improving.’

Nikos nodded. ‘She’s doing fine.’

Despite the simmering tension between them, they worked together seamlessly, their movements smooth and slick as they did what needed to be done—a veneer of normality covering dangerous undercurrents…