Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt – from Heartache to Forever, by Caroline Anderson

We’ve got a slightly longer excerpt today – but when you reach the end of Caroline’s first chapter we think you’ll see why.  Have your hankies at the ready, ladies!  From Heartache to Forever is published in September.

41mP7wk-SyL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_CHAPTER ONE

‘Ah, Beth, just the person. I’ve got a favour to ask you.’

Her heart sank. Again?

‘How did I know that was coming, right at the end of my shift?’

She turned towards James with a wry smile and then everything ground to a halt, because the man standing beside the ED’s clinical lead was painfully, gut-wrenchingly familiar.

His strangely piercing ice blue eyes locked on hers, his mouth opening as if to speak, but James was still talking, oblivious to the tension running between them.

‘Beth, this is Ryan McKenna, our new locum consultant. Ryan, this is—’

‘Hello, Beth.’

Her name was a gentle murmur, his eyes softening as he took a step forward and gathered her up against his chest in a hug so warm, so welcome that it brought tears to her eyes.

‘Oh, Ry—’

He let her go long before she was ready, stared down into her eyes and feathered a kiss on her cheek.

‘OK. So I’m guessing you two know each other already, or this is love at first sight,’ James said drily, and Ryan laughed a little off kilter, taking a step back and giving her some much-needed space to drag herself together.

‘Yeah, we know each other,’ Ryan said, his voice oddly gruff. ‘We—er—we worked together, before I went abroad. Best scrub nurse I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.’

There was a whole world left unsaid, but James just nodded, still unaware of the turmoil going on under his nose.

‘Well, it’s good to know you got on, we rely on team work. Beth, I was going to ask you if you could be a star and give Ryan the once-over of the department and then take him for a coffee? They really need me in Resus, and I’m sure you’d like to catch up?’

‘What, now?’ she asked, feeling a flicker of something that could have been panic.

‘If you can spare the time. I’d be really grateful and they do need me.’

She met Ryan’s eyes, one eyebrow raised a fraction. ‘Are you OK with this?’ he murmured.

As if James had left her with a choice…

‘It’s fine, Ry. I don’t have to be anywhere,’ she said quietly, surrendering to the inevitable, and she turned back to James. ‘Go. You’re right, they could really use you. Sam’s tearing his hair out and Livvy’s rushed off her feet. We’ll be fine.’

He nodded, his face relieved. ‘Thanks, Beth. You’re a star. And while you’re at it, if you could convince him to apply for the permanent post, you’ll have my undying gratitude.’

Her heart thudded, the flicker threatening to turn into a full-on panic attack.

‘I thought the application window was closed?’

‘It’s been extended. So—if you could twist his arm?’

He was smiling, but his meaning was clear, and they were desperate for another consultant, but simply seeing Ryan again had sent her emotions into freefall and her hard-won status quo felt suddenly threatened. A locum post was one thing, but she didn’t know if she could cope with him here on a permanent basis, not when she was finally putting her life and her heart back together after the last two agonising years.

Not that it, or she, would ever be the same again…

Anyway, it wasn’t relevant, because he was committed to Medicine For All, the aid organisation he’d been working with for the past two years, and she knew how strongly he felt about that. He’d walked away from Katie because she didn’t understand, so there was no way he’d be looking for a permanent job and he obviously hadn’t been clear enough with James.

‘Leave it with me,’ she said, which wasn’t a yes but it was the best she could do, because she was oddly torn between wanting to run away and wanting to talk to him, to find out how he was.

Because something had changed him, she could see that at a glance. He was thinner, his face slightly drawn, shadows lurking in the back of his eyes. The same shadows that lurked in hers after all that had happened between them? Or other shadows, from the things he’d seen in those two years? Both, probably.

‘Sure?’ James asked, maybe finally picking up on the tension running between them, and she nodded.

‘I’m sure. Go. Leave it to me.’

‘Thank you. I know you’ll do your best. I’ll see you on Monday, Ryan. I’m really pleased you’ve agreed to join us.’

‘So am I. I’ll look forward to working with you.’

They shook hands and she watched James go, then Ryan turned back to her with a wry smile that touched her heart.

‘Forget the guided tour. Is there somewhere quiet we can go and get a coffee?’

She felt a wave of relief and nodded. ‘Yes. There’s a café that opens onto the park. We can sit outside.’

The café was busy, but they found a little bistro table bathed in April sunshine and tucked out of the way so they could talk without being overheard, and he settled opposite her and met her eyes, his searching.

‘So, how are you?’

Her heart thumped. ‘Oh—you know.’ She tried to smile. ‘Getting there, bit by bit. You?’

That wry, sad smile again, flickering for an instant and then gone. ‘I’m OK.’

She wasn’t sure she believed him, but there was something else…

‘So, how come you’re here, in Yoxburgh? Is that deliberate?’ she asked, needing to know if he’d sought her out or just stumbled on her by accident, but he nodded slowly.

‘Yoxburgh? Yes, sort of. I needed a job, there was one here, and I know it’s a lovely place. But I didn’t know you were here, if that’s what you’re asking, not until I saw you.’

‘Would you have applied if you’d known?’

He shrugged. ‘Not without talking to you first to see if you were OK with it.’

‘Why? If you needed a job—’

‘There are plenty of jobs.’

‘But not here.’

‘No. Not here, and I wanted to be here, but now—well, that depends.’

Her heart hiccupped. ‘On?’

‘You, of course. If you’re working in the ED, we’ll probably be working together. I’m OK with that, we worked well together before, but us—you and me—that’s different. Much more complicated, and the last thing I want is to make things difficult for you, so I need to know if you’re going to be OK with me being underfoot all the time?’

Was she?

‘Just so long as you don’t expect to pick up where we left off. Well, not that, obviously, but—you know. Before…’

He frowned, his eyes raw. ‘I don’t expect anything, Beth. The way we left things, I’ve got no right to expect anything. For all I know you might be back with Rick.’

‘Rick?’ It startled a laugh out of her because after everything that had happened Rick was so far off her radar it was almost funny. ‘No way. He was a lying cheat, why would I be back with him, any more than you’d be back with Katie?’

He gave a startled laugh. ‘OK, I can see that, but—someone?’

‘No. It’s just me, and I’m happy that way. You?’

He laughed again. ‘Me? I haven’t had time to breathe, never mind get involved with anyone. Anyway, people get expectations and then it all gets messy.’

‘Not everyone’s like Katie.’

‘No. They’re not.’ He studied her, his eyes stroking tenderly over her face. She could almost feel their touch, but then he closed them and shook his head with a little laugh. ‘I can’t believe you’re in the ED. What brought that on? I thought Theatre was your life.’

‘You can talk. I thought surgery was yourlife.’

He shrugged. ‘People change. I was facing a lifetime of increasing specialisation, and I didn’t want to spend every day doing the same thing over and over again until I’d perfected it. I wanted a change, and MFA provided me with that, and over the course of my time with them I realised I like trauma work. I like the variety, the pace, but you…’

‘I wanted a change, too.’ Needed a change, because everywhere she’d looked there’d been reminders of what she’d lost, and she’d found working in Theatre with anyone but him just plain wrong. ‘So, when did you get back?’

‘Two weeks ago. I’ve been back a few times on leave, picked up a bit of locum work here and there to refill the coffers and keep my registration up to date, but this time it’s for good.’

For good?

She felt her eyes widen, and her heart thumped. ‘Really?’

His smile was sad. ‘Yes, really. I’ve seen enough horror, lost some good friends, seen way too many dead chil—’

She flinched, and he gave a quiet groan.

‘Sorry. I didn’t…’

‘It’s OK,’ she lied. ‘And I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like. So, was it after you lost your friends you decided to come back?’

He gave a wry laugh. ‘No. Oddly, that was when I decided to stay on longer, to carry on the work they were doing because it was so necessary, but there’ll always be others waiting to take my place and it was time to come home because I’m just as needed here in many ways. My grandparents are frail and my mother’s shouldering the whole burden on her own, and it just seemed like it was time. Time to move on with my life, to get back to the day job, as it were. Back to the future.’

With her?

He’d said it was time to move on with his life, but he was the one who didn’t do relationships. Not after Katie had tried to get pregnant to stop him going away.

But what if he’d changed now, got MFA out of his system and was ready to settle down? It sounded like it, and maybe he wanted to try again with her? Maybe a bit more seriously this time—although it could hardly have been more serious than the way it had turned out. But if he did?

She wasn’t sure she was ready for that, not yet. She was still working through life day by day, hour by hour, step by step. She stared down into her coffee, stirring the froth mindlessly.

‘So that’s me,’ he murmured. ‘How about you? Are you happy here, in Yoxburgh?’

Happy? She could hardly remember what that felt like.

‘As happy as I can be anywhere,’ she said honestly. ‘It’s a lovely place, and that weekend we spent here—it was really special, the walks, the feel of the sea air—we said then what an amazing place it would be to live, and then a job came up here and I thought, why not? I was sick of working in an inner city, the noise and the dirt and the chaos, and I wanted to get away from all the reminders. I just needed peace.’

Peace to heal, to reconcile herself, to learn to live again, and where better than here, where it all began—

She sucked in a breath and looked up again. ‘So how come you applied for the locum job?’

He shrugged. ‘Same reason, I guess. I loved it here, the peace, the tranquillity of the coast and the countryside, and I needed that, after all I’ve seen. And there were the memories. I know we were only here for a weekend, but it was hugely significant.’

He looked away, his brow creased in a thoughtful frown, then he looked back and met her eyes. ‘If I’d known you were pregnant, Beth, I wouldn’t have gone away—not then, at least. I would have found a way out of it, delayed it or something. Not that it would have changed anything, but at least I could have been there for you. And I did try when I knew, but you didn’t seem to want me there, and I couldn’t really do anything anyway, nothing constructive, so I left and I tried to airbrush you out of my life, out of my thoughts, but I couldn’t. I realised that, the moment I got back when all I could think about was seeing you again, making sure you were all right.’

He’d tried to airbrush her out of his thoughts? And failed? Well, that made two of them. Even so…

‘Why didn’t you act on it? You’ve been back two weeks and you haven’t contacted me.’

‘You’ve changed your phone number.’

She felt a twinge of guilt. ‘I know. I’m sorry, I suppose I should have told you. But you could have found me if you’d really wanted to. You know enough people.’

He nodded. ‘You’re right, and I was going to as soon as I knew what I was doing, where I was going to be, but whatever, I’ve found you now, I’m here, I’m back for good, and at least I know you’re all right. Well, as all right as you can be, I guess.’

Their eyes locked, his heavy with understanding, and she felt her heart quiver.

‘I’ve missed you,’ she said, the admission wrung from her without her consent, and he smiled sadly.

‘I’ve missed you, too. I didn’t realise how much, until I saw you again. All that airbrushing just didn’t work.’

Her eyes welled, and she blinked the tears away.

‘Ry, I’m not the person I was. I’ve changed.’

‘I’m sure you have. So have I. Don’t worry, I don’t expect anything, Beth, but it is good to see you again and I’m so sorry I let you down. I wish I could undo it.’

She nodded, looking away from those all-seeing eyes, turning her attention back to the froth on her coffee. She poked the last bit of froth with the spoon, then looked up again.

‘So if you really are done with MFA, are you going for the permanent post? James was groaning the other day about the calibre of the applicants so they’ve obviously had to extend the closing date, and it sounds like he wants you to apply.’

He looked thoughtful. ‘That depends.’

‘On?’

‘You, again, of course.’ He shrugged again. ‘I don’t want to do something that you don’t want, Beth. If you don’t want me here, I won’t apply, especially since we’ll be working together. I know I’ve accepted the locum job, but if that’s an issue, too, I can always pull out. I haven’t signed anything yet.’

She frowned at him. ‘But you’ve said you’ll do it! You’d never go back on your word.’

‘I would if it would hurt you. The last thing I want is to hurt you again.’

She shook her head. ‘You didn’t hurt me, not like Rick hurt me. You didn’t lie and cheat and sleep with my best friend and then pretend it was over when it wasn’t. Your only failing was your commitment to Medicine For All, but I got that. I understood, and I admired you for it.’

‘Katie didn’t.’

‘I know, but I’m not Katie, and you’re not Rick, and you’ve never hurt me. And you were there for me when it mattered, and you stayed until it was over. That meant so much.’

‘I could have stayed longer. Shouldhave stayed longer.’

‘No. I didn’t want you to, Ryan. You needed to go back, to fulfil your commitments, and I needed to be on my own. You were right, you couldn’t do anything constructive to help me, and there were people in other parts of the world who really did need you. Don’t feel guilty.’

‘But I do.’

‘Well, don’t. I don’t need your guilt, I’ve got enough burdens. You did the right thing.’

She straightened up and smiled at him, pushing back the shadows. ‘Why don’t I give you that guided tour James was talking about, and introduce you to some of the others? And then you can decide if you want to apply.’

‘You don’t mind? I might get it. You have to be sure.’

She shrugged. ‘Ryan, we’re in desperate need of another consultant and I can’t stand in the way of that, but I can’t promise you a future with me, not in any way, so if you’re thinking of applying because of that—’

‘I’m not. I’ve told you, I don’t expect anything from you.’

‘Good. Let’s go and do this, then.’

*

The department was much as expected—modern, well equipped, but ridiculously busy, and he could see why he was needed.

And they had a permanent post going. It would be a great job, a perfect place to settle down—with Beth?

No. She’d warned him off, said she’d changed, and so had he, and yet he’d still felt his heart slam against his chest at the sight of her, felt a surge of something utterly unexpected when he’d pulled her into his arms and hugged her.

Love?

Of course not. He didn’t do love, not any more, and anyway, it wouldn’t work. She wanted other things from life, things he didn’t want, things that didn’t include him, but they could still be friends. They could work on that, and it was still a great hospital in a beautiful part of England. What more could a man want? And anyway, it was only a temporary post at the moment. It wasn’t like he was committed. If they couldn’t work together, he could always leave it at that and move on.

‘Seen enough?’

He met her soft grey-green eyes, so bad at hiding her feelings, and he could tell she wanted to get away.

‘Yes. Thank you, Beth. I need to get on, anyway, I’ve got to find somewhere to live by Monday. Any idea who to ask?’

‘Hang on, Livvy Henderson might know.’ She stuck her head back into Resus. ‘Livvy, do you know if anyone’s moved into the house you were renting? Ryan’s looking for somewhere.’

‘Ah, no, Ben’s got a new tenant.’ She flashed him a smile. ‘Sorry I can’t help. I hope you find something, Ryan.’

‘I’m sure I will. Never mind. Thanks.’ He turned back to Beth. ‘So—any other ideas?’

‘Baldwins? They’ve got a few properties near me advertised to let. Might be worth asking them. They’ve got an office on the High Street. It depends what you want.’

He laughed, thinking of some of the places he’d slept in over the past two years, and shook his head. ‘I’m not fussy. Just so long as it has a garden. I need to be able to get outside. And somewhere to park would be handy.’

‘Go and see them. I’m sure they’ll have something.’

He nodded. ‘I will. Thank you. I was thinking I’d check into a hotel and maybe look at some places tomorrow.’

Something flickered in her eyes and then was gone, as if she’d changed her mind. ‘Good idea,’ she said, but nothing more, and he wondered what she’d been going to say. Whatever, she’d thought better of it, and he realised he had some serious work to do to rebuild their friendship.

Baby steps, he thought, and then felt a stab of pain.

‘Right. Well, I’ll see you on Monday.’

The eyes flickered again, and he could see the moment she changed her mind. ‘Give me a call, tell me how you get on.’

‘I don’t have your number, remember.’ And nobody changed their number unless they wanted to hide, so from whom? Rick? Him? Or from the others, the well-meaning friends who hadn’t quite known what to say to her? He could understand that. He’d blocked quite a few numbers.

He pulled out his phone and found her entry. ‘OK, give it to me?’ Then he rang her, and heard her phone buzz in her pocket.

‘OK. I’ll let you know how I get on with—Baldwins?’

‘Yup. Good luck.’

*

Was it those words, or was it just that the fates had finished playing Russian roulette with him?

Whatever, the agent showed him a whole bunch of stuff, none of which appealed, and then said, very carefully, ‘There is something else. It was for sale but it didn’t shift, so the owner got tenants in and they’ve done a runner and left it in a state, but he’s disabled and can’t afford to pay someone to sort it out, so if you didn’t mind rolling up your sleeves I’m sure I could negotiate a discount. It’s a great place, or it could be. It’s a three-bed bungalow on Ferry Lane, overlooking the marshes and the harbour, and you can see the boats on the river in the distance.’

The river? He could feel his pulse pick up. ‘Does it have a drive?’

‘Oh, yes, and a double garage and a big garden. They had a dog so the house smells a bit, but with a good clean and a tidy-up…’

‘Can I see it?’ he asked, impatient now, because it sounded perfect, doggy or not, and he’d grown up with dogs.

The agent glanced at his watch. ‘I can’t take you today, I’m on my own here, and I’m out of the office until eleven tomorrow, but I can give you the key. I take it you’re trustworthy?’

Ryan laughed. ‘I think so. After all, what can I do to it that the tenants haven’t? Apart from clean it?’

‘Good point. Here. And take my card and give me a call.’

‘I will. Thanks.’

He hefted the key in his hand, slid it into his pocket and headed back to the car, cruising slowly along the clifftop before turning onto Ferry Lane and checking out the numbers. And there it was, a tired-looking bungalow set back at the top of a long concrete drive with weeds growing in the cracks.

Uninspiring, to say the least, and it didn’t get better as he went up the drive, but as he got out of the car he caught sight of the view and felt peace steal over him.

He slid the key into the lock, went through the front door and was confronted by multi-coloured chaos.

The agent was right, it did smell of dog, the kitchen and bathroom were filthy and the garden was a jungle, but every time he looked out of a window and saw the river in the distance his heart beat a little faster.

It might be awful now, but with a good scrub, the carpets cleaned and the grass cut, it would be transformed. Oh, and about a vat and a half of white paint to cover the lurid walls and calm it all down. All he had to do was roll up his sleeves and get stuck in.

He pulled out his phone and rang the agent.

‘I’ll take it,’ he said, and the man laughed.

‘I thought you might. Your eyes lit up when I mentioned the river.’

‘Yup.’ He laughed. ‘So, where do we go from here? It’s just that I am in quite a hurry, I start work on Monday. Is there any danger we can sort it by then?’

‘Yes, we can do it today. We’re open until seven tonight. If you come in at six, that’ll give me time to get it all sorted.’

So he rang Beth, although he hadn’t meant to, and told her about it.

‘Where is it?’

‘Just up Ferry Lane on the left. It’s number eleven.’

‘Are you still there?’

‘Yes—why?’

‘Can I come? I’m only round the corner and I have to see this.’

He laughed. ‘Sure. You’ll be shocked, it’s pretty dire, but I’ll get my bodyweight in cleaning materials and paint and it’ll be fine.’

‘It can’t be that bad.’

He just laughed again, and went outside to wait for her.

*

‘Oh, my word…’

‘Yeah. Great, isn’t it? You’ve got to love the shocking pink. But look.’

He wrapped her shoulders in his warm, firm hands and turned her gently towards the window, and she felt her breath catch. ‘Oh—you can see the river! It’s where we walked that day—’

The day he’d lifted her off the stile and into his arms and kissed her, and she’d fallen a little bit in love with him. The day it had all begun…

‘I know,’ he murmured, his voice a little gruff. ‘It’s beautiful down there, and the thought of having it on my doorstep, being able to look at it all the time, is just amazing.’ He dropped his hands and stepped away from her, but she could still feel the echo of his fingers, the warmth that had radiated off his body.

‘Come and see the rest. He said it’s got three bedrooms but I only got as far as the first one and gave up.’

She could see why. The place was dirty and untidy, as if the tenants had picked up their things and walked away without a backward glance, and there was a pervading odour of dog. There was a lot to do before it was a home.

They walked through it, examining all the rooms, finding the third bedroom at the opposite end to the other two, tucked away beyond the kitchen with a patio door to the garden. It even had an en suite shower room.

‘So will you make this your bedroom?’

He shook his head. ‘No. I’ll use it as a study because of the door to the garden. Do you know what, the house is actually in pretty good condition under all the dirt. I don’t think it’ll take a lot to turn it around.’

She eyed the grubby carpets, the faded curtains, the filthy bathroom. ‘If you say so.’

‘It’s only dirt. I’ll get on it in the morning. I’ve got to go down to the office now to sign something, then I need to eat and find a bed for the night. Any suggestions?’

Why? Why did she say it? She had no idea, but without her consent her mouth opened.

‘I’ve got a spare room, and a casserole in the slow cooker that’s enough for three meals so that should do us, so we can eat after you’ve done the paperwork and then come back here and make a start if you like? I’m on early tomorrow but I can help you now, and again after my shift. Bear in mind it’s Friday tomorrow, so you’ve only got three days before you start work and I guess you’ve got other stuff to do first. Like find some furniture, for starters.’

He laughed. ‘Furniture would be handy.’ His smile faded as he searched her eyes, his own unreadable. ‘Beth, are you sure? That’s a lot to ask.’

Sure? She wasn’t in the slightest bit sure, but it seemed the sensible thing to do, the most practical, and she was nothing if not practical.

‘I’m sure,’ she lied. ‘And anyway, you didn’t ask, I offered.’

She just hoped it wasn’t a huge mistake.

*

It was just as well she’d agreed to help, because the house was worse than he’d thought.

After they’d eaten he changed into jeans, rolled up his sleeves and they went straight back to tackle the mess, armed with the contents of her cleaning cupboard. She hit the kitchen while he tore up the bedroom carpets, and by the time he’d done that it looked a whole lot better. Then he studied the sitting room carpet.

Was it salvageable? Doubtful, but with a clean…

He turned back the corner to see what was underneath, and blinked. Seriously? An original wood block floor? He pulled back more, then more, and started to laugh because it was so unexpected and wonderful.

‘Hey, come and see this,’ he called, and Beth went into the sitting room, clad in shocking pink rubber gloves that matched the awful walls, a streak of dirt on her cheek, and his heart crashed against his ribs.

How could she look so sexy?

‘Wow! That’s amazing. It’s gorgeous!’

It wasn’t alone. He dragged his eyes off her, looking way more appealing than she had any right to look with dirt on her face and her hair all sweaty, and studied the floor. ‘Well, I don’t know about gorgeous, but it knocks spots off the carpet and it’ll save me money. I wonder if the hall’s the same?’

It was, so was the dining room, and he was stunned.

‘It’s incredible. I love it. I think you’re right, a bit of polish and it will be gorgeous. Right, let’s go. It’s late, you’re working tomorrow and I could kill for a cup of tea.’

‘Me, too. It might wash the dust out of my throat.’

He chuckled, and her eyes softened with her smile. Without thinking, he pulled her into his arms and hugged her, burying his face in her hair and breathing in dust and bleach and something else, something familiar that made his heart ache.

‘Thank you. Thank you so much for all you’ve done. You’ve been amazing and I wouldn’t have got nearly as far without you.’

She eased away, leaving him feeling a little awkward and a bit bereft. ‘Yeah, you would, because you wouldn’t have stopped. Right, time to go.’

*

‘Tea or coffee?’

‘Tea would be lovely, thank you. Want a hand?’

‘No, you’re fine. Go and relax, I won’t be long.’

Relax? He was too wired for that, and stiffening up nicely after all the heaving and bending. He was going to hurt in the morning. Ah, well. At least they’d made a start.

He flexed his shoulders and strolled over to the shelves in the corner of her sitting room beside the fireplace, where a silver trinket box had caught his eye. It was a heart, he discovered, smooth and rounded, incredibly simple but somehow beautiful, and crying out to be touched.

He picked it up, and it settled neatly into the palm of his hand as if it belonged there, the metal cool against his palm, the surface so smooth it felt like silk. There was something written on it, he realised, and he traced it with his fingertip, his heart starting to pound as he read the tiny inscription.

A date. A date he recognised, a date he could never forget because it was carved on his heart, too.

He heard her footsteps behind him.

‘Tea,’ she said, her voice sounding far away, the clink of the mugs as she put them down oddly loud in the silence. He turned slowly towards her, the heart still nestled in the palm of his hand.

‘What’s this?’ he asked gruffly, knowing the answer, and her smile nearly broke his heart.

‘Her ashes.’

Her face blurred, and he bent his head and lifted the tiny urn to his lips, his eyes squeezed tightly shut to trap the tears inside.

‘You kept them,’ he said, when he could speak.

‘Of course. I didn’t know what else to do. You weren’t there by the time I picked them up, and I didn’t want to stay where we were because of all the reminders and I knew if they were there I’d feel tied, so I had to keep her with me until we could decide together what to do.’

He looked up, blinking so he could see her face, and her smile cracked.

‘Oh, Beth…’

He reached out his free arm and pulled her against his side, and she laid her hand over the delicate little urn in his hand, her fingers curling round over his as she rested her head on his shoulder.

‘Grace didn’t suffer, Ry. At least we know that.’

He nodded, and she lifted the little heart gently out of his hand, kissed it and put it back on the shelf, next to a pretty cardboard box. She touched it fleetingly.

‘That’s her memory box,’ she said softly. ‘The midwives gave it to me in the hospital. Would you like to see it?’

He shook his head, mentally backing away from it, unable to face it. ‘No. Not tonight. I’m too tired, Beth. I think I might head up to bed. I’ve got another long day tomorrow and you’re working.’

Her smile was understanding, as if she’d seen straight through him.

‘When you’re ready,’ she said gently, but he’d spent two long years running away from it and he wasn’t sure he’d ever be ready for what he knew must be in that memory box.

Time to stop running? Maybe, but not now. Not tonight.

Not yet…

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Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt – Falling for her Italian Billionaire by Annie Claydon

NEWRelease1First impressions matter, but often a heroine has to wait before she hears what a hero really thinks of her.  But I decided to ring the changes a little in this book, which is the first of my ‘London Heroes’ duet.

Gabriel DeMarco wakes up in hospital with a beautiful woman by his bedside.  The after-effects of the drugs that were slipped into his drink last night mean that he’s not able to stop himself from voicing exactly what’s on his mind…  

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

Gabriel DeMarco opened his eyes. That seemed to be quite enough work for today, so he closed them again.

‘How are you feeling?’ A woman’s voice flowed over him like warm honey. It was a nice voice, quiet yet firm. The kind of voice that any man should take notice of.

‘I could go back to sleep.’ The words slipped out before he had a chance to tell himself that sleeping probably wasn’t what the voice wanted him to do. And at the moment it seemed like a siren’s call, which couldn’t be resisted. ‘Or…I could wake up.’

It sounded as if the voice was smiling. ‘Why don’t you wake up? You’re in hospital.’

Really? The thought didn’t bother him as much as it should. He was comfortable and relaxed, as if lying on a cloud. He tried opening his eyes and light seared through his brain, making his head hurt. He’d just have to keep them closed for a while…

‘Which hospital?’ Not that it mattered particularly. But talking might convince the voice that he’d complied with her request.

‘The Royal Westminster. You’re in the private wing.’

That made sense. Someone must know who he was, and that the son of Leo DeMarco, head of one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in Europe, could stand the cost of a night’s stay in hospital. Or maybe he’d been here longer than just one night. Gabriel couldn’t remember.

He flexed his fingers, running his hand across his chest and then moving his legs. Everything appeared to be working. No pain. Whatever he was in here for was probably very minor…

‘Open your eyes.’

No… He didn’t want to. Maybe he said as much, without knowing it, or maybe the voice just read his mind, because he felt the touch of a hand against the side of his face.

‘Come on. Open your eyes.’

He couldn’t resist. This time the pain wasn’t so bad, because the hand was shading his face. When he turned his head in the direction of the voice, a mass of red-blonde curls and a pair of blue eyes snapped suddenly into focus. What had happened to him suddenly came a very poor second in importance to who she was.

‘What’s your name? Are you a nurse?’ Stupid question. She wore a dark blue sleeveless summer dress, which seemed to be held together by a few buttons and a belt around her waist. Clearly not a nurse unless they’d changed the uniform from sensible to sexy.

‘My name’s Clara Holt. I’m not a nurse, although I’m medically trained. Your father sent me.’

His father? Since when had he started sending women to sit at Gabriel’s bedside? The thought occurred to him that maybe his father had, for once, made a marvellous choice. She was perfezionemolto bella… Porcelain skin and shining gold hair. Right now, making the gorgeous Clara happy was all he wanted to do…

‘Grazie.’ Her lips curved into a slight smile. He’d missed out her lips, and that was unforgivable…

‘You speak Italian?’

‘Only a few words.’

She knew the ones that mattered. Every woman should understand the words a man said when he called her beautiful.

Wait. How many of his thoughts had sprung to his lips by mistake, and what language had he voiced them in? The feeling that this wasn’t right was beginning to nag at the edge of his consciousness. If he thought a woman beautiful, he usually had the manners to wait, and make quite sure it was the kind of compliment she wanted to hear.

Gabriel shook his head, trying to clear it, and struggled to sit up. Pain shot across his temples and he suddenly felt very nauseous. The wonderful Clara reached out, gently pushing him back down onto the pillows.

‘You’ll feel better in a moment, just take it slowly.’

She was an angel. Clara could take him up to her cloud any day of the week and…

No! He still wasn’t thinking straight. He fought to locate a sensible question in his head, and came up with only one.

‘What’s the matter with me?’

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt – Her Secret Miracle by Dianne Drake

We have a treat for you today – an excerpt from Dianne Drake’s new release, ‘Her Secret Miracle’.  Take it away, Dianne!

9781474090018

Bound by their miracle baby

Dr Michi Sato will never forget her passionate night with surgeon Eric Hart—especially as it resulted in her longed-for son. Now his heart condition means Michi must fly to New York for treatment…and tell guarded bachelor Eric he’s a father!

 

 

Chapter One

MICHI SATO LOOKED UP at the massive building, wondering how many stories high it was. She guessed somewhere between twenty-five and thirty, all belonging to Eric and, maybe someday, Riku?

She really hadn’t given Eric’s status much of a thought up until now, and simply seeing his name in gold looming over the massive bank of revolving glass doors caused her stomach to churn. Even as outgoing as she was, she wasn’t up to this. Finding herself so close to Eric now, after all this time, caused too many unanswered questions to come to mind.

Her motivation for that night, his motivation as well. Certainly nothing long term had been meant. They’d both made that clear during pillow talk and foreplay. Then look what had happened. Especially after her doctor had told her only weeks before it was an impossibility. That her condition had gone from bad to abandon all hope.

“I’m so glad he was wrong,” she said, kissing Riku on the cheek. “Mommy hasn’t done everything the best way she could have, but that’s all going to change now.” After Eric knew he had a son. After Riku’s surgery. There were so many things weighing her down now, so much guilt she had to come to terms with, she didn’t know where to begin. But she was here to start a new course. At least, that was what she kept telling herself. New course, new direction, new leaf turned over. It sounded good, but in practice…well, that was the part she wasn’t sure about. But the first step was behind her now, and that was good.

Of course, she’d told herself other things, too, that she’d backed away from, hadn’t she? Namely, not telling Eric he was daddy to her two-year-old. She’d tried, had made futile attempts at calling, texting and using any other means of electronic communication available. Then she’d given up. But that didn’t make things better. In fact, in the long run it would make things worse than she could probably even imagine.

“Mommy’s going to make it all better,” she said. How? She didn’t know. But she’d figure it out.

And now, on the second step of her journey—trying to figure out how to tell him—here she was, looking in Eric’s window, holding his son, and so confused her head was spinning. In just a few days Riku’s long-awaited surgery would take place—a surgery Eric should know about as it had been his specialty when he’d been a practicing surgeon.

Of course, that would have meant telling Eric somewhere along the way that he had a son, then also telling him his son had a heart defect. Neither of which she’d done. Yet. Except the yet part was looming like a black raincloud over her. All the good intentions in the world wouldn’t stop it from bursting and pouring down on her. It was up to her to make the plan that would avoid it—step into a doorway or, in this case, Eric’s office.

But, no. Instead, here she was, like a little girl with her nose to the toy-store window, hoping for the prettiest doll inside. Expecting to get it but fearing she wouldn’t. Expecting Eric to overlook that she’d kept his son from him all this time but fearing he would not forgive her. And in some fragmented way, hoping the three of them could become a family on some level. All while the black cloud was getting closer and closer to bursting.

“Be glad you’re too young to know about responsibilities,” she said to Riku, turning so her body would shield his from the slight gust of warm wind whipping up the streets and down the alleys. “Or how to make something right you’ve already made such a mess of.”

Realistically, she wasn’t counting on things turning out well as far as Eric was concerned. Sure, he could walk away from the entire situation, which didn’t seem at all like the man she’d known for little more than a night. Or he might recognize Riku as his son, then want more of Riku in his life than she was prepared to give him. And that seemed the greater possibility. But would he go so far as try for full custody since she’d hidden his sick child from him for two years? Or argue that she was negligent given how he was an expert in the procedure his son needed to have done?

This was what scared her. And why Eric scared her. He might want more of Riku than she could bear to give up. Now, she feared, she was about to find out just how much, and she wasn’t sure what she’d do once she knew. Wasn’t ready for that, wasn’t ready to face the consequences she’d set into motion, whatever they might be.

Still, she had always to remember this was about Riku, not her. Not even Eric. Right now, her son was the only one who counted, and when she did tell Eric about him, she hoped he would be able to see that was the case. At least until after Riku’s surgery.

“Your daddy’s inside that building, Riku,” she said, turning again so the boy bundled in her arms could look through the window. “He’s a very nice man. And kind. A perfect man to be your father. I know you don’t understand what I’m telling you, but you will someday.”

And she prayed he didn’t hate her when he did understand, even when she’d finally gathered the courage to correct her mistakes long before Riku would be old enough to hate her for what she’d done.

That was another fear she had to live with: the possibility that Riku could turn away from her once he was old enough to know what his mother had done. If that day ever came, well…she wouldn’t think about it. The way she hadn’t thought about other consequences.

So, true to form, she wasn’t going to deal with that now, when she was so confused, so angry at herself, and so afraid for her son’s life. Especially not when every ounce of everything inside her was devoted to Riku and what was ahead for him.

“I wish you could tell me what to do,” she told Riku, snuggling him in even closer to her. “Your mommy didn’t make some wise choices and now she’s very discouraged that what she’s done might touch you in ways I never intended to happen.”

Riku’s response was to reach up and grab Michi’s hair, then giggle.

“Do you know how cute you are?” she asked, trying to extricate herself from his playful grip. This child was her world, nothing else mattered. And it still surprised her how much she’d changed in such a short time. “OK, so you’re not going to answer me. But take my word for it, you’re the cutest little boy ever.”

It was a mild November day, the sun was bright, the slight gusts of wind warm enough that people had taken off their jackets to enjoy the unexpected rise in temperature. But Michi tucked Riku’s little fist into the blanket in which he was wrapped. So maybe she was overprotective. What of it? She’d had so much difficulty bringing him into this world.

She’d lost count of how many times she’d almost lost him before his birth; didn’t know how long she’d been hospitalized to prevent a miscarriage early on and a stillbirth later. It had been such a struggle, then afterwards a beautiful baby boy…with a heart defect. All of it had been so much to deal with, the hysterectomy after Riku’s birth being the least of her concerns. That mess with the social worker calling her unfit had been traumatic. So, if she wanted to be overprotective, she had good cause.

In her defense, she’d tried contacting Eric early on, but the information on him from the seminar had been old, and she’d refused to ask her aunt to forward information on to him as that would have revealed her pregnancy long before she’d wanted to. So, she’d put it off. Had promised herself she’d do it later. But later had brought her pregnancy difficulties, then a sick baby, outside complications…too many “laters” had added up until she’d known she’d passed the point of reasonability. All that, plus she simply hadn’t been coping. One step at a time. That was all she had been able to manage. One difficult, often heartbreaking step at a time.

Still, she had always intended to find Eric at some point, maybe when Riku was through the worst of it. Or maybe when she wasn’t so consumed by guilt and confusion and strange emotions she couldn’t even identify.

Even with all the mistakes she’d made, though, look what she had. The world. Riku was the whole world to her. And now, as she hugged him and stood looking into the Hart building, the urgency to make this right was pounding at her. “He’s in there somewhere,” she said, hoping yet not hoping to catch a glimpse of Eric. “Anyway, it’s silly standing out here, not sure what I’d do if I did see him,” she said to her son. “Besides, look who’s here.”

She twisted so Riku could see his great-aunt walking with outstretched arms to greet them. Riku stretched his arms out to her as well.

“Just what we need,” Agnes Blaine said. “A whole afternoon to spoil my nephew.”

Michi laughed. “Not too much spoiling, I hope.”

Takumi, Agnes’s partner of twenty-five years and Michi’s uncle, stepped to Agnes’s side. “That would be between Riku and us.” He bent over and kissed his nephew. “And maybe the clerk in the toy store.”

Michi loved these people. They’d been there for her at the end of her pregnancy, then through some of Riku’s early tests. And they were part of the small circle of family she’d trusted enough to let them care for Riku for a few hours, or even a full day.

“The amount of spoiling we bestow upon our nephew is a personal matter,” Agnes teased, looking up at the gold embossing over the building: Eric Hart Property Management. “You haven’t…?”

Michi shook her head, then stepped back. Agnes and Takumi knew to leave it alone. Her whole family did. Yes, everybody knew Eric Hart was Riku’s father, but it was not a topic anyone ever discussed. At least, not in front of Michi. “He’s just up from his nap, so he should be good for a while. And I shouldn’t be gone long.” Just long enough to spend some time alone, to think.

“We’ll be back home when you get there,” Takumi said, pulling Michi into his arms. “Be patient with yourself,” he said. “Everything will be as it’s meant to be.”

And, in the blink of an eye, she was alone on the sidewalk in front of Eric’s building. It was the first step. And her second step would take her inside.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Celebrating Caroline Anderson’s 100th book – ‘A Single Dad to Heal her Heart’

Well, it’s finally here, the publication of my 100thbook!!!! And for anyone who knows my books and has been loyal enough to read them for the last 28 years, there’s a little surprise in store, because my heroine, Livvy, is the daughter of my first hero and heroine in Relative Ethics, Oliver and Bron Henderson, and she’s amazingly old enough to be a doctor in her own right! 

I’ve been a bit mean, in the way of these things, and played God by giving both Livvy and Matt a lot to deal with, but Matt’s two little children bring a little sweetness and light into the story, and Amber, his daughter, is quite the matchmaker and a real little heartbreaker in the making.  Will I still be writing when she has her own story?  Who knows!

Here’s a little taster for you.  If you enjoy it, I’d love to know!  

CHAPTER ONE

‘Wow, look at that glorious view!’

         Stifling her impatience, Livvy glanced back across the scree slope to the valley floor stretched out below them, the late spring grass a splash of vivid green.  In the distance Buttermere lay like a gleaming mirror, the bleak slate hills behind it rich purple in the sun.

         And between her and the view – admittedly glorious – was Matt, dawdling his way up the winding, rocky path and driving her nuts because it was the last day of their team-building exercise in Cumbria and there was a trophy at stake.

         They’d been there since Friday, four teams all in some way connected to the Emergency Department of Yoxburgh Park Hospital; Sam and Vicky from the ED, Dan and Lucy from Orthopaedics, and Ed and Beth from Paediatrics, which had left her and Matt as the Trauma team.  

         She’d only started at the hospital a few weeks ago and she’d met him a few times fleetingly when he’d come down to the ED, but ever since they’d arrived at the lodge and sat down together to decide who would be in each team, she and Matt had seemed a natural fit.   

         ‘Are you OK with that?’ she’d asked at the time, and he’d nodded, his grin a little cheeky.

         ‘Yeah, suits me.  You’re small enough that I can pick you up if you dawdle.’

         ‘I don’t dawdle, and you’d better not!’

         ‘Don’t worry, Livvy, I think I can just about keep up with you,’ he’d said drily, and he had, seemingly effortlessly.  They’d tackled all manner of challenges, and he’d been witty, mischievous, not above cheating and game for anything Sam threw at them.

         Until now.  Now, with everything to play for, he was stopping to admire the view?  

         Yes, it was beautiful, and if they had time she’d stop and drink it in, but they didn’t because so far the four teams were neck and neck, so the first to the summit of Haystacks would take the crown.  And Matt was trailing.  

         Deliberately?

         ‘Are you dawdling on purpose or just studying my backside?’ she asked, hands on hips and her head cocked to one side, and he stopped just below her, a smile playing around that really rather gorgeous mouth that she was itching to kiss.  

         He took a step closer, curling his hands around her hips and sending shivers of something interesting through her.  They were standing eye to eye, and his mouth was so close now…

         His smile widened, crows’ feet bracketing those laughing eyes the colour of the slate that surrounded them, and he shook his head slowly from side to side.  

         ‘Cute though it is, and it has been worth watching, I’ll admit, I was actually studying the scenery then.’  The smile faded, replaced by awe.  ‘Stop and look around you, Livvy, just for a moment. It’s so beautiful and you’re missing it – and anyway, it’s only supposed to be fun!’

         She sighed, knowing he was right, but still impatient.  ‘I know, but we can’t let Sam catch us now, we’ll never hear the end of it.  We can look on the way back when we’ve won.’

         He shook his head again and laughed. ‘You’re so competitive.  Just be careful, that edge is unstable.  Why don’t you let me go first?’

         She laughed at him and took a step backwards out of reach.  ‘What, to slow me down?  No way. And besides, I’m always careful,’ she threw over her shoulder as she turned, and then she took another step and the ground vanished beneath her feet…

‘Livvy-!’

*

         He lunged for her, his fingers brushing her flailing arm, but she was gone before he could grab her, her scream slicing the air as she fell.  And then the scream stopped abruptly, leaving just a fading echo, and his blood ran cold. 

         She was below him, lying like a rag doll against a rock, crumpled and motionless, and for a moment he was frozen.   

         No. Please, God, no…

         ‘Livvy, I’m coming.  Hang on,’ he yelled, and scanned the slope, found a safe route that wouldn’t send more rocks showering down on her and scrambled down, half running, half sliding across the shale.  Fast, but not too fast.  Not so fast that he’d put himself in danger too, because that wouldn’t help either of them.

         As he got closer he could see her shoulders heaving, as if she was fighting for breath, and then as he got to her side she sucked in a small breath, rolled onto her back and started to pant jerkily, and his legs turned to jelly.  

         She was breathing.  Not well, but she wasn’t dead…

         He took her hand and gripped it gently.  ‘It’s OK, Livvy, I’m here, I’ve got you. You’re OK now.  Just keep breathing, nice and slow.  That’s it.  Well done.’

         Her eyes locked on his, and after a moment her breathing steadied, and he felt his shoulders drop with relief.

         ‘What – happened?  Can’t – breathe…’

         ‘Just take it steady, you’ll recover soon,’ he said, his voice calm, his heart still pounding and his mind running through all the things that might be damaged.  Starting with her head… ‘I think you’ve been winded.  Stay there a minute-‘

         ‘Can’t.  I need to sit up.’

         He gritted his teeth.  ‘OK, but don’t do it if you think you’ve got any other injuries.’

         ‘No.  Haven’t,’ she said, and she struggled up into a sitting position and propped herself against the rock that had stopped her fall.

         ‘Ah-!’ 

         ‘OK?’

         She nodded, shifting slightly, her breathing slowing, and she closed her eyes briefly.

         ‘Yeah.  That’s better.  The path just – went.’

         So she remembered that, at least.  ‘“I’m always careful”,’ he quoted drily, and she laughed weakly as relief kicked in.  

         ‘Well, nobody’s – perfect,’ she said after a moment, and then her eyes welled and he reached out a hand and brushed the soft blonde hair back from her face with fingers that weren’t quite steady, scanning her face for bruises.  

         ‘Are you OK now?  You scared me half to death.’

         She met his eyes with a wry smile, and for once the sparkle in her eyes wasn’t mischief.  ‘That depends on your – definition of OK.  I’m alive, I can breathe – just, I can feel everything, I can move, so yeah – I guess I’m OK.  Do I hurt?  Oh, yeah. These rocks are hard.’

         ‘I’m sure.  Don’t move.  Let me check you over.’

         ‘You just want to get your hands on me,’ she quipped, her breath still catching

         ‘Yeah, right,’ he said lightly, trying not to think about that right now because however true it might be, he could see she was in pain.  He simply wanted to be sure she didn’t have any life-threatening injuries and then maybe his heart could slow down a bit.  ‘Why don’t you let me do my job?’ he added gently, trying to stick to business.

         ‘Yes, doctor.’

         ‘Well, at least you can remember that.  How many fingers am I holding up?’

         ‘Twelve.’

         He tried to glare at her but it was too hard so he just laughed, told her to cooperate and carried on, checking her pupils, making her follow his finger, feeling her scalp for any sign of a head injury.

         Please don’t have a head injury…

         ‘My head’s fine.  It’s my ribs that hurt.’

         So he turned his attention to her body, checking for anything that could be a worry because she’d hit that rock hard and a punctured lung could kill her.  He squeezed her ribcage gently.  

         ‘Does that feel OK?’

         ‘Sort of.  It’s tender, but it’s not catching anymore when I breathe and I can’t feel any grating when you spring them, so I don’t think I broke any ribs,’ she said, taking it seriously at last.  ‘I thought I had an elephant on my chest.  I had no idea being winded was so damn scary.’

         ‘Oh, yeah.  I’ve only ever been winded once, when I fell out of a tree.  I must have been six or seven, but I remember it very clearly.  I thought I was dying.’

         She nodded, then looked away again, just as they heard a slither of shale and Sam appeared at their sides.

         ‘How is she?’ he asked tightly.

         ‘Lippy and opinionated but apparently OK, as far as I’ve checked.  She was winded.  At least it shut her up for a moment.’

         Sam chuckled, but Matt could see the relief in his eyes.  ‘Now there’s a miracle.’

         ‘Excuse me, I am here, you know,’ she said, shifting into a better position, and Sam looked down at her and grinned.

         ‘So you are.  Good job, too, we don’t need to lose a promising young registrar, we’re pushed enough,’ he said drily, and sat down.  ‘Why don’t you shut up and let him finish so we can get on?’ he added, and Matt laughed.  As if…

         ‘Any back pain?’ he asked, but she just gave him a wry look.  

         ‘No more than you’d expect after rolling down a scree slope and slamming into a rock, but at least it stopped me rolling all the way down,’ she said, trying to get to her feet, but he put a hand on her shoulder and held her down.

         ‘I’m not done-’

         She tipped her head back and fixed him with a determined look.  ‘Yeah, you are.  I’m fine, Matt.  I just need to get up because there are rocks sticking into me all over the place and I could do without that. You might need to give me a hand up.’

         He held his hand out but let her do the work. She’d stop instinctively as soon as anything felt wrong, but he was horribly conscious that he hadn’t ruled out all manner of injuries that might be lurking silently, but that was fine, he had no intention of taking his eyes off her for the rest of the day.

         She winced slightly, but she was on her feet.

         ‘How’s that feel?’ 

         ‘Better now I’m off the rocks.  Did you see what happened?  Did I step off the edge, or did it crumble?’

         He snorted.  ‘No, it crumbled.  I told you the edge was unstable, but did you listen?  Of course not.  You were in too much of a hurry.  When you weren’t walking backwards, that is.’

         ‘Only one step-’

         ‘I’ll give you one step,’ he growled.  ‘So, are you OK to go on?’

         ‘Of course I am.  You seriously think I’m going to give up now just because of this?’

         ‘You might as well.  I don’t get beaten,’ Sam said, getting to his feet, and she laughed in his face.  

         ‘We’ll see about that,’ she retorted, stabbing him in the chest with her finger, then she took a step and yelped.

         Matt frowned. ‘What?’

         ‘My ankle.’  She tried again, and winced.  ‘Rats.  I can’t weight-bear on it.  I must have turned it when the path gave way.’

         ‘Well, that’s just upped my chances,’ Sam said with a grin, and Matt rolled his eyes.

           ‘You two are a nightmare.  Right, let’s get you off here and have a better look at that.’

*  

Livvy flexed her ankle again and regretted it.  She was so mad with herself, and she was hideously aware that it could have been much, much worse.  If it had been her head against that rock instead of her chest…

         After all she’d been through, that she could have died from a moment’s lack of concentration was ridiculous.  She’d meant what she’d said about being careful. She was always careful, meticulous with her lifestyle, fastidious about what she ate, how much she exercised – she woke every morning ready to tackle whatever the day brought, because whateverit brought she had at least been granted the chance to deal with it, and she never stopped being aware of that glorious gift.

         And now, after the physical and emotional rollercoaster of the last five years, she’d nearly thrown it all away.

         Stupid.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.

         ‘OK?’

         She nodded, her teeth gritted, because her ankle was definitely not OK and the rest of her body wasn’t far behind.  She was going to have some stunning bruises to show for this.  What an idiot.

         They carried her carefully across the loose rock slope to where the others were waiting, clustering round her and looking concerned as they set her on her feet, and she felt silly and horribly embarrassed.

         And annoyed, because she’d been really looking forward to climbing up Haystacks and there was no way she was going up it now, and she couldn’t see how she could get down, either, so one way or another she was going to miss out on the climb and coincidentally cause the others a whole world of aggravation.

         Either that or just sit there and let them pick her up on the way back.

         Whatever, they’d be worried about her, Matt especially since he’d seen her fall, and she felt awful now for scaring him.  Scaring all of them, and putting a dampener on the whole trip.

         ‘Sorry, guys,’ she said humbly.  ‘That was really stupid.’

         ‘It was an accident, they happen,’ Dan said calmly, but Matt just snorted and turned away.  Because he was angry with her?  Maybe, and she felt like the sun had gone in.  

         ‘Want me to look at it?’   

         ‘It’s fine, Dan, it’s only a sprain and anyway I’m not taking my boot off.’

         ‘OK.  Just keep your weight off it.’

         ‘I can’t do anything else,’ she said in disgust, and lowered herself gingerly onto a handy rock.

         ‘So what now?’ Matt asked, still not looking at her.

         She followed the direction of his gaze and traced the rough path that seemed to wind endlessly down until it met the track that led to the car park.  Funny, it didn’t look so beautiful now.  It just looked a long, long way away.

         ‘We’ll carry her down,’ Sam said.

         ‘No, you won’t, you’ve got to finish the challenge!’ she protested, but Sam shrugged.  

         ‘Well, we can’t leave you here, Livvy.’

         ‘Yes, you can.  I’ll be fine.  I’m not ruining anyone’s day just because I was an idiot.  Please, all of you, go on up and I’ll wait here.  I might even work my way down.  If I take my time I’ll be fine.  I can go down on my bottom.’ 

         ‘No,’ Matt chipped in, turning round at last, his expression implacable.  ‘I’ll take you back.  Our team’s out, anyway.’

         ‘Are you sure?’ Sam asked him, but she shook her head, really unhappy now.

         ‘Matt, I can’t let you do that.  You were looking forward it!’

         He just smiled, his eyes softening at last. ‘It’ll keep.  It’s millions of years old, Livvy.  It’s not like it’s going anywhere.  I can climb it another time.’

         ‘But-‘

         His tone firmed.  ‘But nothing.   We’re team mates, and we stick together, and it’s what we’re doing.  End of.’         

         She rolled her eyes.  ‘Are you always this bossy?’

         ‘Absolutely.  Ed, can I borrow the car?’

         Ed nodded and delved in his pocket and tossed him the keys.  ‘Mind you don’t crash it.  Annie’ll kill us both.’

         ‘I’ll do my best,’ he said mildly.  ‘Go on, you guys, go and have your climb and I’ll take Livvy back and come and get you when you’re done.  Call me when you hit the track.

         ‘Will do – and no more stunts, Henderson, we need you in one piece!’ Sam said as they headed off, leaving her alone with Matt. 

*

He laughed and shook his head in disbelief.    

         ‘I can’t believe I’m so stupid.’

         She looked up at him, her face puzzled.  ‘You are?’

         ‘Yes, me.  I’ve spent the last three days trying to work out who you remind me of, and it’s just clicked.  You’re Oliver Henderson’s daughter, aren’t you?  It’s so blindingly obvious I can’t believe I didn’t see it.  You’re the spitting image of him.’

         ‘Do you know him?’

         He perched on a rock in front of her so she didn’t have to tilt her head.  ‘Yes, I was his registrar, years ago.  He’s a great guy.  I’m very fond of him, and your mother.  How are they both?’

         ‘Fine.  Doing really well.  He’s about to be sixty, but he doesn’t look it and he’s got no plans to retire and nor has Mum.’

         ‘I’m not surprised.  They’re very dedicated.’

         ‘They are.  Dad just loves surgery, and Mum would be bored to bits without the cut and thrust of ED, so I can’t see them retiring until they’re forced, frankly! So, when were you at the Audley Memorial?  I must have been at uni or I’d remember you, unless you’re much older than you look.’

         He chuckled.  ‘I’m thirty six now and I was twenty seven, so that’s – wow, nine years ago.’

         ‘So I must have been twenty, then, which explains it, because I didn’t come home a lot in those days.  I had a busy social life at uni, and it was a long way from Bristol to Suffolk.’

         ‘Yes, it is.  Give them my love when you speak to them.’

         ‘I will.  I’ll call them later today.’

         ‘So, how are we going to do this?’ he asked quietly, getting back to the core business, and she shrugged.  

         ‘I have no idea.  I can’t hop all the way down, but I can’t walk on it either, so it looks like the bottom shuffle thing.’

         ‘Or I can carry you,’ he suggested, knowing she’d argue.

         ‘How?  Don’t be ridiculous, it’s not necessary.  And anyway, I weigh too much.’

         He laughed at that, because she hardly came up to his chin and sure, she was strong, but she definitely wasn’t heavy, he knew that because he and Sam had already carried her to the path.  He got to his feet.

         ‘Come on, then, sling your arm round my neck and let’s see how we get on with assisted hopping.’

         Slowly, was the answer.  He had to stoop, of course, because she was too short to reach his shoulder otherwise, and after a while they had to change sides, but she said it hurt her ribs, which left only one option.

         He stopped and went down on one knee.

         ‘Are you proposing to me?’ she joked, and it was so unexpected he laughed.  Ish.

         ‘Very funny.  Get on my back.’

         ‘I can’t!’

         ‘Why?’

         ‘Because I’m not five and I’ll feel like an idiot!’

         He straightened up, unable to stifle the laugh. ‘You just fell off the path!’ he said, and she swatted him, half cross, half laughing, and he couldn’t help himself. He gathered her into his arms, hugged her very gently and brushed the hair away from her eyes as he smiled ruefully down at her.

         ‘I’m sorry.  That was mean.’

         ‘Yes, it was.  I feel silly enough without you laughing at me.’

         ‘Yeah, I know.  I’m sorry,’ he said again, and then because he’d been aching to do it for days and because she was just there, her face tipped up to his, her clear blue eyes rueful and apologetic and frustrated, he bent his head and touched his lips to hers.

         It was only meant to be fleeting, just a brush of his mouth against hers, but the tension that had been sizzling between them since they’d arrived on Friday morning suddenly escalated, and when her mouth softened under his he felt a surge of something he hadn’t felt for two years, something he thought he’d never feel again.

         Not lust.  It wasn’t lust.  That he would have understood.  Expected, even, after so long.  But this was tenderness, yearning, a deep ache for something more, something meaningful and fulfilling, something he’d lost, and it stopped him in his tracks.

 

‘A Single Dad to Heal her Heart’ is available now, from Mills and Boon UK, Mills and Boon Australia, Harlequin and Amazon. ‘Relative Ethics’ (Oliver and Bron Henderson’s story) is also available in e-book format from Mills and Boon UK and Amazon.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Maple Island (Excerpt)

I’m posting an excerpt today from my latest release, Resisting her English Doc.  As this is the second book, of a four book series, I’ve chosen two short passages from the middle of the book, which mentions the heroes and heroines from the three other books in the Maple Island quartet.

So – just to set the scene – everyone on Maple Island has gathered together for the Fright Night, in the Library, which has been organised by Pamela Vandenberg, the librarian, and Fleur Miller, the heroine of my book.  She’s taken Dr Rick Fleming and his daughter Ellie along, and they get a chance to rub shoulders with Alex and Maggie (Annie O’Neil’s hero and heroine, from Book 1), Rafael and Summer (Karin Baine’s hero and heroine, from Book 3) and Cody (Susan Carlisle’s hero from Book 4).  Annie, Karin and Susan all chose their characters’ costumes for the event.

We also meet Salty Harrington – who was the hero of the hour when he helped save two children from a stranded ferry.  He’s the Clinic’s most awkward patient, and his story runs through all four of the books.

Next week we’ll be blogging again about Maple Island, so please drop in again, to have a chance to win one or more of the books in this four book series!  But in the meantime, please meet the Maple Island cast and crew.

 

Salty Harrington was parked in one corner in his wheelchair, in charge of storytelling, and Ellie had run off to join the circle of children around him. A cocked hat, an eye patch and a wicked-looking cutlass were all that Salty needed to look exactly like a pirate. Fleur had left Rick’s side, to speak with a mummy who he guessed was Pamela, although it was difficult to tell under all those bandages. A taller mummy, who arrived with drinks for them both, and pressed his bandaged mouth against Pamela’s bandaged cheek, must be her husband.

The clinic staff were out in force, along with a few of the patients. Summer Ryan, the daycare assistant, was dressed as a white witch, complete with a basket of fragrant herbs. And the new spinal surgeon, Dr. Rafael Valdez, wore an immaculate dark suit and top hat, his face painted to resemble a skull, with intricate traceries of black and red on his cheeks and forehead. His little daughter Gracie was clinging to his hand, dressed as a fairy princess. Rick smiled. If Ellie was anything to go by, three-year-old girls rarely wanted to dress as anything else.

Wondering what Salty was filling the children’s heads with, he wandered over. Ellie was sitting cross-legged on the floor with a dozen others, drinking in the story.

“Are there trolls on the ship, Uncle Salty?” One of two identically dressed trolls, with pointed hats and patchwork jerkins over colored leggings and boots, piped up.

“Every ship has trolls, little ’un.Two trolls together is especially lucky.” The two little girls squealed with delight, and Rick saw Cody’s head turn at the sound of his daughters’ voices. It seemed that Cody’s imagination had been exhausted by finding costumes for his girls, and he’d come in a surgical mask and gown, looking exactly the same as he did most days at the clinic.

“No doctors in fancy weskits, though…” Rick jumped as Salty singled him out for comment and grinned, moving away. Clearly Salty had had his fill of doctors today.

Fleur was still talking to Pamela and Rick made his way over to the drinks table, accepting a fizzing purple concoction from a red-haired Bigfoot in a leather jacket. Tonight was going to be an interesting night.

*****

“Where’s Pamela?” Rick looked around.

“She was dreadfully nervous about this evening and ended up downing one too many of those purple cocktails. Her husband’s taken her off for a lie-down in the family pyramid.”

“She needn’t have worried. Tonight was amazing.” The library looked even spookier now that it was empty. Long, dark shadows, one of which seemed to be moving…

“Hey, you two. Take it home…” Fleur called out laughingly, and when Rick focused more carefully, he could make out two figures. Zombie superheroes, the tallest of whom had his cloak wrapped around the smaller one’s shoulders, were busy smudging each other’s face paint.

“Fabulous party, Fleur. Goodnight.” Maggie’s voice emanated from the smaller zombie, as she led Alex from the shadows. Rick and Alex exchanged a gruff “See you at work” and Fleur closed the library doors behind them.

“I’ll just check there’s no one else here and lock up.” Fleur flipped on the overhead lights, and suddenly the artistry of the decorations became apparent. Floating cobwebs, a few torn and painted sheets and cleverly placed lighting were all that she’d needed to turn the library into a place of shadows.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Their Unexpected Babies (Excerpt)

This December, I have a new book coming out, called Their Unexpected Babies. It returns to a favourite topic of mine and one I wrote about in my very first book – surrogacy.

I’m endlessly fascinated by surrogacy, the couples who choose it, the women who offer their womb for nine months, knowing that the child they carry is not for them. In my first book, I explored surrogacy from the point of view of the surrogate herself and in this new book, I’m exploring it from the point of view of a woman who can’t carry a child of her own.

I hope you enjoy this little excerpt!

Dancing was an art form. There were those who could do it well, who looked as if they’d been born to dance. And there were those who did it badly—and Leah was one of them. Dancing might even be a bit too fancy a word for the moves her body was able to perform. Fancy swaying might be more realistic.

She felt awkward trying to do anything more complicated than that, being all angles and long limbs, like a newborn foal, trying to stay upright. It wasn’t her favourite thing to do and, quite frankly, she couldn’t wait for this to be over.

Just keep smiling! Pretend you’re having a great time.

Everyone else was. One or two had even paired off with a couple of guys who had bought them drinks. Thinking of which, she was beginning to get a little thirsty. She looked over at the bar, to see if there was much of a queue, and instead met a steady pair of beautiful blue eyes gazing back at her.

He was at the bar—the man in question. Holding a tall glass with what looked like water in it, condensation dripping down its sides. Black shirt, open at the collar. Black trousers.

She couldn’t look away. She wanted to, but he held her gaze, and somehow, before she knew it, he was standing in front of her.

‘May I have this dance?

The old-fashioned request was charming. If he’d said anything else, come out with a cheesy line, then she would have raised a sardonic eyebrow and turned away, but his question—polite, gallant, charming—hit all her buttons.

She could feel her cheeks flushing and was thankful he wouldn’t be able to see that in the darkness. But the terrible thing about being in the dark was that it also made you throw a bit of caution to the wind. It created intimacy. And she couldn’t help but laugh.

‘You’ve seen me dance, right? The flailing?’

He smiled. ‘It was utterly charming.’

‘Charming?’

He leaned in. ‘Adorable.’

And she liked him. He smelt great. She didn’t know what it was, but she just felt secure with this guy. What was one more flail? They were in a public place. Nothing was going to happen.

‘Sure. Okay.’

She bit her lip as he led her to the centre of the dance floor, and just as she was about to begin the music changed. It was almost as if this man and the DJ were in cahoots, because the music switched from a frantic, heated rhythm to something slow and soulful. The kind of music that begged couples to dance in each other’s arms. Bodies pressed close. Intimate. Knowing.

She smiled and stepped shyly into his embrace, draping her arms over his shoulders as he pulled her to him.

He smelt delicious. Edible. A musky heat. And she closed her eyes as they swayed in tune together, sensing him inhale the scent of her shampoo as he lifted a tendril of her hair up to his nose. It was such an intimate gesture she felt shivers tremble down her spine, and her breath hitched in her throat as she wondered what he’d do next.

But he was a perfect gentleman. His hands didn’t wander and she found herself wondering about this man in her arms. Who was he? Where had he come from? What was his name?

Why was he so hot?

She let him have the next dance. And then the next. And when she had to sit down, to give her feet and ankles a rest from the vertiginous heels she had unwittingly chosen for that evening, he walked her over to a place to sit and helped her slip them off. He massaged her feet for her whilst she squirmed in delight on the banquette and thanked the heavens that she’d had a pedicure two days ago.

He looked at her and smiled. ‘Are you ticklish?’

‘A bit.’

‘Then I’ll be careful.’

She liked the way he held her feet firmly, determined not to tickle her, but to give her the maximum benefit of his strong, capable hands.

You know your way around a woman’s foot.’Leah cringed once the words were out.

But he didn’t raise an eyebrow. ‘I know my way around many parts of the female anatomy.’

She blushed. The foot massage already had her biting her lip, trying her hardest not to moan and groan in delight at what was happening to her flesh, and his words made her wonder what magic he could cause in other places, with other parts of his anatomy?

But the thought was fleeting and quick. That wasn’t who she was, so she knew she didn’t have to worry about that. But somehow they got talking and chatting, and his name was Ben. So simple. So wonderful. It suited him.

She discovered they liked a lot of the same things—old movies, reading, and the exact same brand of salted caramel chocolates—and when he learnt how close she lived, he offered to give her a piggyback home.

‘A piggyback?’ she asked in amused disbelief. They weren’t kids.

‘You can’t dance in those shoes and you certainly can’t walk in them. I’m amazed you didn’t break an ankle just getting here.’

The idea of him walking her home thrilled her. She didn’t want to part company with him yet. But she didn’t want to do this alone. Just in case. He could be anyone.

Hannah offered to accompany them for safety. Her friend lived in the block opposite her own. As good as his word, Ben carried her all the way back, like a groom carrying his new bride over the threshold of their new home, telling them jokes and making them laugh, paying attention to both women fairly, though it was clear his interest was in her. And when he gently set her down on her feet, her soles pressed against the chilly pavement, she impulsively offered him a coffee or a nightcap, not yet willing to say goodbye.

He’d smiled. ‘Coffee would be nice.’

Hannah waved them both goodbye, giving Leah a big thumbs-up sign in secret, when Ben wasn’t looking.

She smiled and fished her keys out of her bag.

What am I doing? I don’t do this. I don’t invite random guys back!

But another voice in her head said, Go for it! When are you going to get another chance?

So she made him coffee. And they sat together on the couch, drinking it until it was gone, and the tension in the room was palpable.

‘I should go.’ His voice was loaded with regret. ‘It was lovely spending a few hours with you, but I have an early start in the morning.’

She nodded. ‘Me, too.’

She wasn’t kidding either. She started a new job tomorrow. Going to the club had been in celebration of that.

He stood up and she stood with him. They were so close! Millimetres apart. Leah gazed up at his face, his mouth, and then he pulled her gently towards him and lowered his face to hers.

The kiss was perfect. Gentle.

Soft.

And then…

And then it wasn’t. And they couldn’t remove their clothes fast enough.

9781335641335

 

From irresistible attraction…
To ready-made family!

After her best friend agrees to be her surrogate, Dr Leah Hudson’s dream of being a mum is finally coming true! But throwing caution to the wind for one night with sexy Dr Ben Willoughby has shocking consequences… Leah’s pregnant! Now, with two babies depending on her, Leah must push her feelings for committed bachelor Ben aside—unless he proves that Leah and the babies can depend on him

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Hot Docs!

Excerpt – Nurses in the City

 

Amy and I are at it again with another duo set in Sydney.

Reunited with Her Brooding Surgeon is Grace’s story:

Grace Gibson loves her job as a transplant coordinator at a Sydney hospital but she’s blindsided when a ghost from her past reappears. Devastatingly handsome surgeon, Marcus Washington, was her childhood neighbour – but he’s all man now and hiding a wealth of pain. Will Grace be the woman to break down his walls and claim his heart?

and Tempted by Mr Off-Limits introduces Grace’s brother, Hamish:

Lola Fraser knows better than to fall for her best friend’s brother, paramedic Hamish Gibson. Living together whilst he’s training could get awkward—fast! But as they work together on a heartrending case they can’t resist the temptation to take their minds off work. Surely one night will be enough…until they discover it isn’t!

Read on for an excerpt of Reunited with Her Brooding Surgeon

Grace followed Marcus out of the room. His strides were long and Grace found her gaze drawn to his hips. He’d removed his suit jacket leaving the shape of his buttocks under his pants clearly defined as his legs ate up the length of the corridor. Grace forced herself to keep her eyes lifted, she didn’t want to be caught ogling him or running into something because her attention was elsewhere.

She got the feeling he was trying to put as much distance between them as possible. But she had no idea why. Her curiosity got the better of her and she hurried after him. She wanted to know what his issue was. Why he was so abrupt with her. She didn’t think she’d done anything to put him off-side yet his aloofness was definitely directed at her. She had to admit he was an empathetic doctor with a good bedside manner and maybe she’d just have to be satisfied with that. But she still wanted some answers.

‘Dr Washington!’

He stopped and turned towards her.

‘Have I done something to upset you?’ She asked as she caught up to him.

‘No.’

Grace waited for him to elaborate but he was silent. Man, he could be the poster boy for the strong, silent type.

Oh well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, she thought as she said. ‘Do you remember me?’

Marcus looked down at the petite redhead standing in front of him. She had her hands on her hips and looked as if she’d like to tear him to shreds. ‘What do you mean? Of course I do,’ he replied, attempting to use his most reasonable tone in an attempt to calm her down. ‘We were just in Connie’s room and I only met you a few hours ago.’

‘I meant from before.’

***

He watched her with his steady gaze but said nothing. He wasn’t going to admit to anything. Not until he knew what she wanted. She reminded him of a firecracker about to explode.

‘You grew up in Toowoomba,’ she said. It was apparent she wasn’t going to be intimidated and she wasn’t asking him a question. She looked small and easy to handle but, just like a firecracker, he got the impression that once something set her off, you’d know all about it and there’d be nowhere to hide.  ‘I lived around the corner from you. You were at school with my brother, Lachlan.’

It was obvious she knew who he was. He’d suspected as much. He had recognised her too. Well, not her as such, but her hair matched with her name was a giveaway. Her golden copper locks were distinctive. He hadn’t wanted to think she was the same person even though it was blatantly clear, just as it was clear she remembered him.

He cursed his luck. ‘Was I?’

He knew he was being bullish but he couldn’t help it. He’d spent twenty years trying to get away from his past. Twenty years spent reinventing himself and wiping away all traces of his childhood. He hadn’t been back to Toowoomba in all that time and he’d even debated the wisdom of returning to the east coast for this three-month stint but the opportunity of this experience at the Kirribilli General Hospital had been too good to refuse. Guilt and opportunity had brought him back. And now it seemed it was about to make him pay.

He hadn’t expected to run into any one from his past and he certainly wouldn’t have expected to be remembered. He didn’t want to remember who he had been and the life he’d lived then. He didn’t want to think about it and he definitely didn’t want to talk about it. So, he stayed silent, refusing to incriminate himself by admitting any recollection. He couldn’t admit to Grace that he had lied. That he had recognised her.

‘I guess I look a bit different,’ Grace admitted when he stayed mute. ‘I must have been about seven the last time I would have seen you.’

Was there are a question in there? Was she wondering why he’d never come back? Had she even noticed?

He wasn’t going to respond to vague insinuations but she was right. She looked nothing like he remembered. He remembered her brother and he remembered Grace as Lachlan’s little sister with skinned knees and missing teeth. The only thing that remained of the seven-year-old she’d once been was her hair. Her fiery copper locks hung in loose waves over her shoulders, its rich colour bright and vibrant against the contrast of her navy uniform. He’d hadn’t seen a colour like it since leaving Toowoomba.

But everything else about her was different. She no longer looked like anyone’s kid sister. She had filled out in all the right places. She was tiny, a good foot shorter than his six feet two inches, but her proportions were perfect. Her shirt was tucked into navy trousers, pants which would have been unflattering on most figures, yet his eye was drawn to her small waist, the swell of her breasts and the curve of her hips. He felt an unexpected surge of lust. Bloody hell, that was inappropriate. He lifted his head and met her amber eyes. They blazed at him. She appeared to have the fiery temper to match her hair but what was getting her so riled up? Had she noticed his inappropriate once-over? He needed to douse the flames of her temper, he needed to make sure he didn’t set her off completely. Something told him there would be no stopping her if he did that.

Or maybe he should take up the challenge he could see in her eyes. She gave off an air of not being one to back down. Of having the courage of her convictions. That didn’t appear to have changed. He remembered more about her than he cared to admit. She’d been loud and boisterous, full of energy, he’d always known when she was around and he suspected that hadn’t changed in twenty years. He wondered what had.

The idea of putting a flame to her wick just to see what would happen was strangely exciting but he resisted the temptation. He didn’t want to bring unnecessary attention to the two of them. He didn’t want anyone asking awkward questions. Going under the radar was always best. He’d learnt that from experience.

But what did she want? What was she after? What did she remember of him? What secrets could she spill?

He hoped not many.

As a child he’d been quiet, shy and nervous. The complete anti-thesis to Grace. He’d been nervous around the kids at school and nervous around his father. His life had been unpredictable and devoid of routine but it hadn’t been until he was at boarding school as a teenager that he’d realised that not everyone’s lives were like that. He’d never experienced anything different. Most of the time he just tried to get from morning to evening without being noticed. It seemed his presence irritated people – his classmates and his father – and he was never sure about what was going to happen, how people were going to react, although more often than not it was unfavourably. He’d learnt to keep his head down, to try to be inconspicuous, but that was never easy when he looked so different.

Thanks to his Caribbean mother he wasn’t white but he wasn’t indigenous either. He was part black but not the black that was common in Toowoomba. There wasn’t another person in the town who had the same genetic mix as him. Everywhere else in the world he would have been called African -American, even though he wasn’t American or African, but in rural Australia that wasn’t a common term and he was called any number of other things and none of them had been complimentary. And if that wasn’t enough to make him stand out then his family history and his unorthodox father certainly made sure that everyone singled him out.

His mother had disappeared when he was six leaving him behind with a father who had chosen to develop a relationship with alcohol instead of with his son. His young life had been full of disappointments and he’d learnt early on not to ask for or expect much. He’d learnt early on that the only person he could count on not to let him down was himself.

He’d worked hard to escape a miserable childhood and to avoid all memories of his past. He’d worked hard over many years to forget who he was and where he came from.  He didn’t want to be remembered as that boy. That wasn’t him anymore.

And he didn’t want anyone to remind him.

Which made Grace the last person he wanted to see.

 

You can buy these books here

Reunited with her Brooding Surgeon

Nurses in the City UK

Nurses in the City USA

 

Happy Reading,

Emily and Amy