Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Their Marriage Meant To Be

PROLOGUE

Five years ago

A wisp of her son’s golden hair fell across his forehead as the fan at the side of his hospital bed blew air around the small room. Bex reached out to smooth it back, her touch light, delicate. Tender.

It was easy to pretend he was just sleeping, after a hard day playing outside in the garden. His little face was so relaxed in repose. The lovely, long eyelashes that he’d inherited from his father rested still and inert upon his soft pink cheeks.

If only he was sleeping.

If only he didn’t have half his face obscured by the tube that was breathing for him.

If only he’d not had a stroke.

The nurses had turned him onto his left side, and he had one hand gently curled into a relaxed fist. He still had dimples where his knuckles should be. How she loved his little hands. They were so expressive. The way he’d clap them when he was happy. The way he’d raise them above his head, begging to be picked up. There was nothing Charlie loved more than to be held by her, so he could play with her hair as he rested his head against her chest.

The doctors said that he wouldn’t be doing that any more.

He wouldn’t be doing anything any more.

Was it her fault? Could she have prevented this? If she’d only got him to hospital sooner…

The burn of tears scorched her eyes, filling them with salty tears that ran freely down her face as she leaned over him, adjusting his blanket and trying to sing him his favourite lullaby.

Although the words got stuck in her throat halfway through, she eventually succeeded in getting to the end.

This wasn’t how the fairy tale was meant to end.

If she ignored the machines in the room she could pretend that he was breathing on his own. She could pretend that she’d just put him to bed for an afternoon nap having read him a story.

At the side of the bed was his favourite book. His favourite grey teddy. She picked up the bear and tucked it in beside her son, stroking his hair once again, unwilling to stop touching him, because it meant that he was here, still vital, still alive.

She was unwilling to acknowledge that in reality Charlie was already gone.

The nurses had told her to take as long as she liked, before they’d slipped quietly from the room.

She had to wait for Ethan. He needed to be here for this. He should be here already. She didn’t know why he wasn’t. She needed his support. Needed to feel his arms around her when they came in and switched off the machines.

She bent low and gently dropped a kiss to her son’s forehead. His skin was warm and soft, as it always was.

‘I love you. I love you so much! You are my everything.’

The lump in her throat almost stopped the words and she had to wipe her eyes, unable to see for tears. Sniffing, she continued to stroke his face, his hair. Trying to imprint upon her memory how he felt. The shape of him. The scent of him. The curves of his face, his soft cheeks, his perfect, perfect sweetheart lips.

Never again would she hear his wonderful laugh.

Never again would she hear Charlie say ‘Mummy!’ and see his beaming smile as he raised his arms, wanting to be picked up.

What she wouldn’t give to feel his little body clamped onto hers, the weight of him on her hip, his little sticky face and hands…

Life was much too cruel. To do something like this to an innocent little boy.

‘Sleep tight, Charlie. Sleep tight. Mummy will love you always.’

And she allowed her grief to consume her as the sound of her desperate cries filled the room.


The only thing that can heal them?

Each other!

The day they lost their son, veterinary nurse Bex and vet Ethan’s world was left shattered. Struggling to cope, their marriage fell apart. Now, five years later, Ethan is back in Bex’s life…to treat a critically ill horse in her care. Being in each other’s company again reminds Bex of every single thing that she loved about Ethan. But will it prove they are meant to be together – forever?

Amazon (UK)

Amazon (US)

Amazon (Australia)

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, New Releases

Excerpt: A Nurse to Claim His Heart

I have a new book coming in April and it’s a duet with the lovely Scarlet Wilson! My heroine, Penny, is a trivia-loving NICU nurse who Dr. Benedict has never managed to forget. When a viral video sparks dating rumors, they use it to raise fund for a cause close to Benedict’s heart. But what happens when the fake romance starts feeling all too real?

I hope you enjoy this short sneak peak into A Nurse to Claim His Heart. You can read the full first chapter here: https://bit.ly/ClaimhisheartCh1. Available for pre-order from your favorite book store now!

“CHAPTER ONE

CROSSING HIS ARMS, Dr. Benedict Denbar played the “can I get comfortable in the small metro seat?” game. He considered standing, but it was early in the morning, and he was going to be on his feet all day while working at Wald Children’s Hospital. At least the uncomfortable plastic let him avoid the crush of people pressed into the metro car. It wasn’t much in the way of quiet time before his shift started, but it let him clear his head before starting the day as the attending physician in the level four neonatal intensive care unit.
The NICU was quiet. In fact the doctors and nurses did their best to keep the noise level below forty-five decibels as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics to protect the tiny babies in the unit. But the quiet wasn’t restorative and the stress of the environment, where patients shifted from stable to critical in hours, sometimes minutes, wore on many of his colleagues. He’d seen dozens of doctors and nurses seek different specialties.
And he didn’t blame them. But the NICU was his calling. His place to make a difference. His place to make amends.

“He closed his eyes as his thoughts wandered to Olivia. They’d traveled there so often lately, as his dream of a high-risk maternity unit in the children’s hospital was finally becoming a reality. Assuming Wald’s Children’s Hospital could fund the multimillion-dollar investment.
He’d been on the committee suggesting fundraising ideas, and there were several high-profile fundraisers planned. But was it enough?
He blew out a breath. This was his dream. Benedict needed the unit funded. Needed to find a way to support the mothers of the babies in his unit.
Medical care for NICU patients had come a long way since he’d stood over Olivia’s incubator, not knowing that the heated crib was actually called an isolette. But too many mothers were separated from their children while they received care and their children were treated in the high-risk nursery.
If only she’d been born a few weeks later…a few days even. If the world were fair, he’d be helping plan her eighteenth birthday now. But life wasn’t fair.
And if she’d lived, he wouldn’t be sitting on an uncomfortable chair in DC. Hell, he probably wouldn’t have become a physician…at least not a pediatrician specializing in neonatal care. His life would look completely different.
All sacrifices he’d have gladly made to raise Isiah’s daughter. His brother had been gone for nineteen years this month. Nineteen years… A lifetime.
He’d now lived more of his life without his baby brother than with him, but Benedict still found himself searching for him. Still longed to call him at the end of the day. It was a funny feeling to miss part of yourself.
Benedict shook himself and straightened in his seat. He’d thought of Isiah a lot over the last few months. And Olivia, and her mother, Amber—his wife.
At least his wife according to legal documents. A connection bonded by a vow he’d made to Isiah, but never even sealed with a kiss. A vow that shouldn’t have been necessary, if Isiah had only listened to Benedict’s arguments about his shift from certified drag racing to illegal street racing for cash.
Amber had arrived at his door less than two weeks after Isiah’s funeral. Tears streaking across her face as she protectively cradled her belly. He’d known her predicament and that her mother would disown her for getting pregnant at eighteen. An unwed mother would not be welcome in her home. It might have been the twenty-first century, but that didn’t matter.
Isiah had planned to use the winnings of his last illegal street race to run away with her. If only he’d told Benedict, they’d have found a different way.
There was almost always a different way. Something else you could try. But that was a lesson that came with age and experience. And blinded by love, his brother hadn’t been able to think clearly.

His phone dinged, and he pulled it from his pocket. His mother’s face with a new ring held in front of her face and giant smile with a guy he did not recognize flashed on his screen. He couldn’t stop his eyes from rolling to the ceiling. If she made it to the altar, this would be her sixth husband, and he’d lost count of the number of fiancé’s she’d dumped or been dumped by. Yet, with each new relationship, she sent him a text…that he never answered.
Love.
Benedict scoffed and ignored the stare from the elderly woman sitting next to him. He hadn’t meant to let noise out, but love or the feeling that people claimed was love really was too fallible to be trusted. It either turned to hate or destroyed.
Responsibility, friendship, even honor, last longer than love. Which was why he’d stepped in where his brother could not. Accepting a platonic union as they’d helped each other mourn the loss of his brother and then the loss of Olivia when she was born too early.
So tiny.
And with that, his connection to Amber should have ended, and in many ways it had. They’d married when he was nineteen, and separated three days before he’d turned twenty-one, just after he’d enrolled at Oregon State University, determined to help babies like Olivia.
But Amber hadn’t wanted the shame of a divorce. Her family, difficult though they were, were all she had left now that Isiah and Olivia were gone. She’d asked him to stay married, at least on paper. And he’d agreed, after all he’d promised till death, and Benedict hadn’t wanted to follow down his parents’ path of broken vows. He’d meant the words when he said them—vows were not to be made lightly no matter what his mother and father thought of their promises.
So they’d stayed married. Amber got to keep the illusion that she was married for her mother and Benedict got to do right by the woman his brother had loved. It wasn’t as though he’d ever planned to marry for love anyway. He’d seen how dangerous that was, so what did it matter if he remained married to Amber for duty’s sake?”

A young couple entered the metro with a newborn. The young man wrapped his arms around the mother. They looked exhausted, but most parents at that stage wore exhaustion well, almost basked in it as they loved on their baby. The woman laid her head against her partner’s shoulder while cradling the infant wrapped against her chest. It was picture perfect, but one never knew what went on in other people’s homes.
He deleted the text from his mother, then looked at the message he’d sent Amber yesterday about starting their divorce procedures. She’d left it on Read. He shook his head as he added following up with her to his mental to-do list. A few weeks ago, she’d asked to wait a bit longer while she dealt with her mother’s illness.
But how long?
The metro slowed, and Benedict leaned forward as the door to the Foggy Bottom Station opened. Penelope Greene, Penny, stepped onto the train. She met his gaze, nodded and quickly shuffled to the other side of the car.
He tried not to let that hurt.
He and Penny were colleagues. Nothing more. Though seven years ago, they’d been as close as work colleagues could be. Coffee breaks, laughter and support as she found her way as a junior nurse, and he navigated the last days of his residency. He’d been attracted to her, desperately so. Their friendship nested on the edge of so much more. He’d dreamed of kissing her more often than he cared to remember.
But Penny had made no secret of the fact that she wanted a family. A re-creation of the happy home that she and her little sister, Alice, had grown up in.
For a brief second all those years ago, Benedict had wished he could give her those things. Wished that he believed a happily-ever-after was possible. Wished he were free to promise things that no one could really promise. Life shifted too unpredictably for anyone to truly promise for better or worse and forever.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Tis the season to be in a box set

I bet you’re all looking forward to Halloween? My office is throwing a party in a pub, promising games, food, drinks and “scary” cocktails. Whilst I doubt they mean the 100% proof rice liquor that once saw me waking up dazed in a rice paddy in Bali (true story) I’m still not sure I’ll go this year. I’d have to rummage into boxes deep at the back of my storage cupboard to find my cloak and witch’s corset… and even if I did, I doubt the corset would fit. Hey, I ate a lot of cheese in lockdown, what can I say?

Anyway, maybe I’ll decide on that later, but for now I’m more excited about CHRISTMAS!

Why?

Well because, for the first time in my life, I will be part of a box set! And I don’t mean the part that jumps out of a decorated gift parcel in another ill-fitting piece of seasonal apparel. I mean a Harlequin box set.

Check it out.

3 BOX SET

How cool is it that my words – all fifty-thousand of those wintery babies – get to dwell amongst the snow-covered greatness of Alison Roberts and Louisa Heaton? It’s like Christmas came early.

Here’s the premise of my first Christmas romance, WHITE CHRISTMAS WITH HER MILLIONAIRE DOC.

Can Christmas together mend their broken hearts? 

Montana Ski-resort owner and single dad, Dr Jax doubts the new locum from NYC can survive five minutes in his busy clinic, let alone two months! Until dedicated Dr Ophelia’s kindness towards his son thaws a heart that’s been frozen since his wife died.

Yet Ophelia must return to her own reality and, no matter how tempted, a just-for-Christmas romance can’t lead to forever… can it?

And here is a sneaky snippet, the meet-cute, I guess you’d call it.

Enjoy lovely people, and whether you’re more pumped up for Halloween or Christmas, I hope you have yourself some seriously happy holidays.

****

The teenage girl at the coffee cart in the airport took seven minutes to make her latte. It was almost amusing, watching how she did it with such pride, at a pace that wouldn’t much rival a snail’s. She’d be fired for being that slow in Brooklyn.

‘Dr Lavelle?’

Ophelia spun around at the voice, and promptly had her words snatched away by her sudden intake of breath. He was much taller than she’d expected.

‘Jax Clayborn,’ she managed, adjusting her hat and matching scarf. His dark almond eyes studied her with the same depth and intensity that had stirred her up in their video call, but it reached inside her now on a whole different level. Jax was as striking as she remembered, but he was all about presence too, commanding the attention of everyone who passed, especially the women.

‘It’s so nice of you to come pick me up.’ She watched him remove one glove, then took his bare outstretched hand. Big, she noted, like my father’s hands.

Tufts of his dark hair flicked outwards from his beanie hat, and when he clamped his palm firmly to hers, something told her she should wake up now and pay attention. It was the strangest feeling. It totally caught her off guard as he studied her eyes up close.

‘Shall we?’ he said. He pushed a stuffed bear into her hands and then bent to pick up her suitcase.

‘What’s this?’ she asked, turning it over in amusement.

‘A welcome gift. Everyone gets one.’

The air was freezing outside. A dark cloud promised more snow. Craggy white-peaked mountains framed Jax like a moving painting as he carried her case towards a huge white truck in the parking lot. Damn, he looked good in those jeans, she thought. He was even seriously pulling off a flannel shirt under his ski jacket—not an easy task for any man.

He caught her eye as he flipped the trunk on the shiny four-wheel drive. ‘Again, my apologies for being late, Doctor, I was out on the slopes, then I got the call about the bear attack…’

‘A bear attack?’ she echoed.

Jax lifted her suitcase into the back as if it were nothing but a feather and flicked the red scarf she’d tied around the suitcase handles. ‘I wouldn’t go waving this colour around here. Unless you want to attract that bear right into your room.’

She swallowed. ‘I’ll remember that.’

The first step up into the truck was almost knee height. Ophelia placed the stuffed bear on the seat first and tried to climb in gracefully. Jax hovered behind her to make sure she wouldn’t fall—he was probably fighting the instinct to make a comment about her rather impractical high-heeled boots, she thought.

‘I like the heated seats, nice touch,’ she told him, self-awareness making her hot.

‘I liked them too, last time I broke down in a minus-thirty snowstorm,’ he remarked.

When he dropped to the leather seat behind the wheel and closed the door, she still hadn’t managed to fasten her seat belt.

‘Need help with that?’

She stopped breathing as the smooth sleeve of his padded winter coat slid a millimetre above her lap. His fingers made a split-second job of clinking the chunky seat belt into place, and there it was.

His wedding ring.

Disappointment surprised her but there was something in Jax’s expression as he spotted her clocking the ring that stunned her into looking away. She knew that kind of emotional pain very well indeed. A bad divorce?

No, he’d likely have taken the ring off if that was it. It was more than that, something worse.

Something had happened to his wife.

‘So, where did you say this bear attack took place?’ she asked when the silence during the drive got too heavy. He didn’t seem too chatty. She was aware of his every slight movement in the driver’s seat, the way his eyes scanned the mirrors and the roadsides intently, as if he was expecting a grizzly to pounce at any moment.

‘Guy got unlucky out on the Trout Camp Trail… Eagle Peaks Mountain Club community, slightly northwest of Sunset Range.’

The geographical information meant nothing to her. She was still thrown from seeing that look in his eyes, the same one she’d seen all too often in the mirror… She’d know the face of grief on anyone. What had happened to his wife? Jax was older than her, maybe by a decade, but being widowed at his age would be grossly unfair, not to mention tough.

‘Seems like it was a pretty surprise encounter,’ Jax continued. ‘Pretty is probably the wrong word for it. Poor guy had to crawl up to the road after the bear left him for dead.’

She winced. ‘That’s…terrible.’

‘The ranger up there found him. He thought it was weird that some guy was taking a break, just sitting in the snow. Then he saw the blood everywhere. Guy couldn’t speak but he scratched out “BEAR” in the snow with a stick.’

Ophelia put a hand to her mouth. ‘God, I can’t even…’

‘The fire department brought him to us, but we sent him to Willow Crest Trauma. The lacerations were beyond our team’s capabilities to fix on-site. He had puncture wounds on his face, and all down his back. Slashes all up his arms and stomach, and you don’t want to know what those claws can do to a man’s—’

‘I’m pretty sure I can imagine.’ Ophelia hoped she didn’t look as horrified as she felt. She thought she’d seen it all in New York, but never a bear attack. ‘I can’t imagine it, actually,’ she admitted. ‘It’s just too horrendous.’ What sort of job had she walked into?

‘Don’t worry, this kind of thing is very rare. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’ll give you a tour if you like, show you where not to go. Are you going to open that, by the way?’

Ophelia held the stuffed bear up to face her. ‘This?’

‘Open it.’

Obediently she dug inside the bear’s belly to find a clasp. Pulling out the aerosol container inside, she held it up over the dash. ‘Bear spray. Are you serious?’

‘If you need it, start from the feet, right up to the head. And if that doesn’t work…’ He reached across her knees again, and she caught a whiff of his scent, no cologne, something primal and musky that was all his. It left her breathing in expectantly, wanting more. Pulling the glove compartment open, he revealed loose rags, a few sticks of gum…and a gun.

Ophelia froze. ‘Have you ever actually used that?’

He seemed to contemplate her question. ‘I wouldn’t carry it if I didn’t need it.’

‘So, you have, then.’

He snapped the compartment shut, and his almond eyes narrowed behind the wheel. ‘We’re not at the top of the food chain out here, Ophelia. No matter what happens, we all respect that. But we always shoot as a warning, never to kill. I can teach you how to use a gun for protection.’

‘I probably won’t take you up on that.’

‘As you wish.’

When she looked at him, he was smiling faintly, as if she amused him. He’d probably laugh out loud if she mentioned her own attempts at self-defence, the Taekwondo classes in an old gym hall in Brooklyn that she’d given up on after only three weeks. She shuffled in her seat. How was he affecting her like this?

For more… and you know you want more, readers, you can pre-order WHITE CHRISTMAS WITH HER MILLIONAIRE DOC here.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt: Island Fling with the Surgeon

I have a dear friend who has been super-supportive of my writing career, buying my books whenever they come out and even recently asking me to sign my latest, which she swears is her favorite. While I definitely have more than one friend who buys my books, her love of Island Fling with the Surgeon means a lot to me, because she’s one of those people who doesn’t hesitate to give her honest opinion. Well, maybe she just wouldn’t *say* anything if she hated it, but she wouldn’t say she liked it if she didn’t!

As I keep saying, this was a fun book to write. My impulsive, mischievous heroine and steady, loving hero are the kinds of people I’d love to hang out with, and I want to party with their extended families. While we can’t make it back to the Caribbean just yet, or have the opportunity to visit far-flung family and friends, I hope this book will remind us all of what awaits once we can again!

Excerpt: Island Fling with the Surgeon

Zach leaned back as the deepening shadows cast Gen’s face into a mysterious, gorgeous study in gray scale. They were sharing companionable silence, while she watched the final colors of the setting sun fade from the sky, and he found himself equally enthralled by her profile. The more time he spent with her, the more fascinated he found himself becoming.

It was all well and good to say they were play-acting in an effort to fool the people around them, but he knew, for him, the acting was starting to feel far too real.

Leaning over her earlier, he’d realized he was tempted to kiss the top of her head or her cheek.

It had been a long time since he’d felt drawn to another person the way he was to Gen. He could spend hours with her and never feel bored or uncomfortable—except when his body reacted to hers in untoward ways, like when they’d danced together.

Whew.

That had been far too real for comfort.

She’d moved like silk in his arms, her lush body swaying in perfect time with his. It had been easy to imagine they really were a couple, and all he had to do was dip his head and she’d lift hers for a kiss.

Which was something he’d been thinking about way too often.

Kissing Gen.

It had crossed his mind repeatedly that kissing her on her cheek when her mother was around would seem highly unusual. After all, they were supposedly in the midst of a months-long relationship. Wouldn’t it be more natural for them to greet each other with a kiss on the lips?

But that was a direction he was chary of going in, since he wasn’t sure he was ready to take such a step.

It seemed far too dangerous to go down that path, especially with his heightened awareness of the attraction building toward the beautiful woman across from him.

What he was beginning to feel for her was way too close to desire to be entirely comfortable, despite the fact it would make his performance all the more realistic.

Shaking the thoughts away, he got up to turn on the lights in the house and catch his breath.

“Would you like some pudding?” he asked, as a way to distract himself. “I have some stewed local plums and ice cream.”

The sound of her little chuckle made him smile too.

“That’s not pudding. That’s fruit and ice cream. But no, thank you.” Her chair creaked as he watched her get up. “I’m going to head home. I’m operating early tomorrow morning.”

As she spoke, she came into the kitchen, blinking at the brightness of the light. When she rubbed her left eyelid, he realized she was probably more tired than she was letting on.

“Okay,” he said, his brain unerringly going back to his previous thoughts about kissing. “Drive carefully, and let me know when you get home.”

“Will do,” she replied, taking up her handbag. “And why don’t you come by my place tomorrow evening for a change. I’m so in love with your house, I keep coming here, making you cook for me. It’s time I returned the favor.”

He chuckled. “I don’t mind. I like cooking.”

And he liked having her there. She brought new life to the house, blowing away the cobwebs of his previous funk.

“And I very much like eating your cooking,” she agreed serenely, as they walked to the stairs. “But come by anyway. I have a hankering for steak, done on the grill.”

“I’d like that,” he admitted, and it was no lie. He’d only glimpsed the inside of her town house when he’d gone to pick her up for one of their excursions. It would be nice to get a more intimate look. “You need me to bring anything?”

“Nope.”

They were at the foot of the steps when she paused, looking up at him, and something in her expression froze him in place.

“Zach,” she said softly, coming a little closer. “I’m going to kiss you. If you have any objections, now’s the time to voice them.”

His throat was suddenly so tight it rendered him unable to voice anything at all. So instead, he opened his arms to her, reminding himself it was all just play-acting, even as his body hardened and his heart rate went into overdrive.

She smiled slightly, but it had an uncertain edge to it, and he saw the color staining her cheeks just before she stepped into his arms.

And even though he tried to hold back, he couldn’t resist moving his mouth against hers, deepening the kiss in minute increments until he felt the tip of her tongue touch his lower lip.

Then all bets were off.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Reading

Here’s to Five! An Excerpt from Reawakened at the South Pole

Cover of Reawakened at the South Pole By Juliette Hyland

Five medical romances, five books with my name on them! When Reawakened at the South Pole comes out on September 28th it will be my fifth medical romance, almost exactly two years to the date from when I signed my first contract. A dream come true to say the least. I loved writing Helena and Carter’s happily ever after. I know I say that about all my characters (mostly because it’s true, writing happily ever afters is the best job ever!).

It’s available for pre-order now and until September, you can enjoy this short excerpt.

“I am angry that anyone could think that you were anything less than one of the strongest people they’d ever met.”

His finger traced a line along her chin, burning her as his gaze gripped hers. “You are gorgeous, Helena.”

She let her gaze linger on his face. Drinking in the soft look of his eyes, the roughness of the stubble on his cheeks and the fullness of lips that she yearned would caress her.

“Kiss me.” Her demand poured from the depths of her soul. These were the words she wanted to say all those years ago, the words she wished she’d stated last night.

Carter’s fingers slipped to the base of her neck as he pulled her close. The little distance between them evaporated as his lips met hers. The kiss was firm, not demanding as one hand pulled her hips tighter to his.

Wrapping her arms around Carter’s neck, Helena deepened the kiss. She’d waited far too long to know how Carter Simpson kissed, and she would not waste this moment. The world tumbled as his tongue dipped along her bottom lip.”

“Carter.” Her head fell back as he traced lines of kisses first along her jaw and then down her neck. But as his fingers slipped along the edge of her shirt, Helena froze.


He pulled back immediately and smiled as he dropped a light kiss on the tip of her nose. “I want you, Helena. I’ve wanted you for weeks. Years, if I’m being honest. But this goes only as far as you want it to.” He swallowed and held her close.


Blood pounded in her ears as Carter gripped her. His fingers skimming across her back in soothing motions. She wanted him. He’d seen her scar—at least part of it—and hadn’t recoiled. Swallowing the last bit of fear, Helena looked up and kissed him.


“I want you, too…”

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

A Return to St. Eustace

In July of last year, one of the favorite of all the books I’ve written was published. Being a tropical girl, I’d wanted to set a book on an island in the Caribbean, yet couldn’t decide on a specific one. After going over it in my head again and again, I decided to create a fictional island nation, called St. Eustace, (not to be confused with the Dutch island of Sint Eustatius) and set Best Friend to Dr. Right there.

Then, as is the way of authors, I moved on.

But that world, those characters, the setting kept calling me back.

The fact is, the Caribbean is a rich, multicultural area, which attracts so many people for so many different reasons. Centuries ago it was an area people ran to, to hide, to escape, to reflect, to prosper, and it’s really little different now. That aspect of the Caribbean is one that fascinates me and that fascination led me to a new storyline, and back to St. Eustace.

So, Island Fling with the Surgeon was born, and will be released in August 2021. In it two flawed but delicious characters navigate their way through a faux love affair, that becomes oh, so real! There are also glimpses of familiar characters from Best Friend to Doctor Right. I hope you enjoy the excerpt below!

Make-believe?

Or more than she bargained for?

When Dr. Genevieve Broussard convinces nurse Zach Lewin to enter a fake relationship to help keep her meddling mom off her back, she’s confident there’s no danger of it turning into anything more. Her first priority has to be her surgical career, and both Gen and Zach are still reeling from recent betrayals. But as the summer heat in the Caribbean loosens inhibitions, their fake “affair” is at risk of becoming all too real…

Excerpt

The drive over to Coconut Beach took only about fifteen minutes, but Zach found his thoughts repeatedly going back to Genevieve, no matter how he tried to keep them on other matters. So much so that, on turning into the car park next to the beach, he thought perhaps his eyes, following the lead of his brain, were playing tricks on him.

That couldn’t be Dr. Broussard sitting on the bonnet of her car waving to him, as he pulled into a nearby space, could it?

It most certainly was, and as she hopped down from her perch and made her way toward his car, bemusement had the muscles in his neck tightening.

What the heck was going on?

He had hardly closed the car door behind him before she started speaking.

“Hey, I’m sorry to stalk you like this, but I really needed to talk to you, and the hospital wasn’t the best place to do it…”

Although she stopped to take a breath, Zach didn’t have a chance to utter even one word before she asked, “Would you be my boyfriend?”

Gen hadn’t meant to blurt it out like that, but she was so nervous her palms were sweating, her knees were weak and the words just tumbled out of her mouth. The look of shock on Zach’s face just made it all worse. Heat climbed the back of her neck, and she rubbed at it, trying to dispel the prickling sensation.

“I’m sorry?” he said, his voice clipped and terribly precise, sharp enough to cut. “I beg your pardon?”

“Oof,” she replied, then wished she could pull the inarticulate sound back into her mouth, especially when his eyebrows contracted into a fierce scowl. Who would have thought she’d won prizes for elocution in the past, if that was the best she could come up with? “No, I’m sorry. I know it sounds crazy, but will you give me a chance to explain?”

He was still wearing that scowl, and the searching nature of his gaze made her wonder if he thought she was nuts.

She was wondering the same thing herself and couldn’t blame him if he were!

“I’m waiting with bated breath for you to do just that,” he said, with a hint of sarcasm overlaying the words.

She rubbed at her nape again and tried to regain some hint of composure.

“I’m not propositioning you, although I know it sounds like it.” The urge to start babbling again had her stopping and taking a deep breath. After blowing it out, she continued. “The truth is, I lied to my mother and told her you and I were involved in a relationship.”

“You what?”

He said it softly, but he couldn’t have sounded any more dangerous if he’d shouted.

Gen held up her hands. “I know. I know. It was stupid, but Mom is always on at me about not having a social life, and one night I just couldn’t take it anymore. So, I made up a story to get her off my back.”

Not the entire truth, but close enough under the circumstances.

“Why me?”

Now she could hear curiosity warring with his outrage, and it made her embarrassment deepen, if that were at all possible.

“I don’t know for sure,” she replied, trying to be honest. “I think it was because you’d just arrived, and I’d worked with you in the OR for the first time, so your name just popped into my head.”

Zach shook his head slowly, still giving her a suspicious glare.

“And now—?”

“Now Mom’s coming to visit, and I can’t let her know I lied.”

His nostrils flared slightly, as he drew in a harsh breath. “Just tell her it didn’t work out, and we’re not friendly anymore. Wouldn’t that solve the problem?”

“No!” Yikes, now she was barking at him. She had to get a grip. “It would make it worse—for me anyway—because then the whole cycle would start again.”

His gaze made her feel like a recalcitrant child, and now her entire body flushed hot. Looking around, she spied a small gazebo farther along the beach and gestured toward it.

“Can we sit down and talk about it?” Yeah, she was pleading, but although it felt weird, she was willing to do whatever it took to get Zach on board with her plan, no matter how crazy it was.

He didn’t reply for such a long interval she was absolutely sure he was going to tell her to get lost, but finally he nodded and waved his hand in the direction of the hut.

“After you.”

“Thank you,” she said, as they started walking that way. “I really appreciate it.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” he said in that cool, cutting tone. “I haven’t agreed to anything.”

“You agreed to at least hear me out,” she pointed out, perhaps more sharply than she should, all things considered.

That earned her a stern, sidelong glance, but he was gracious enough to say, “That’s fair.”

By the time they sat across from each other at the shaded table, she was struggling with what she was going to say. It had sounded, if not sensible, at least reasonable when she’d rehearsed it all in her head, but now all that she’d planned to say fled in the face of that interrogatory gaze.

“Well?” he said, not breaking eye contact. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

She was suddenly catapulted back in time to the principal’s office, where she was supposed to explain how one of her many escapades had gone awry—and the sensations were still the same.

Embarrassment.

Shame.

But also, the unmistakable high of an adventure unfolding.

The last made her smile, and Zach’s scowl grew even more ferocious.


Excerpts, Guest Blogs, Origin Stories

Origin Story: Kathy Douglass

Today we welcome Harlequin Special Edition author, Kathy Douglass to our Origin Stories feature.

Books have always been an important part of my life. I remember as a kid my mother reading Hop on Pop and Go Dog, Go to me and my siblings. I loved those times. But as much as I enjoyed having a book read to me, I loved being able to read to myself. I loved the freedom of being able to escape into the pages of a book whenever I wanted. And let me tell you, that was quite often. 

Our house was filled with books. I’m talking floor to ceiling, two books high and two books deep bookshelves. We had boxes of books in the attic as well as the basement. When I was a kid, I “found” age-appropriate books on the dining room table or the piano bench. I was an adult before I realized that my parents were actually leaving the books out for me (and my brothers and sisters) to read. 

As I got older, I began to go through the boxes in the attic and basement. I found some of my older brother’s Hardy Boys and some of my older sister’s Bobbsey Twins and became an instant fan of both. But it never occurred to me that I could actually write books of my own. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I even considered writing. 

The first time I thought of writing, I was on vacation with my best friend. As the plane was landing at the airport, I remember wishing I had a pen and paper so I could describe what I was feeling. And then a story formed in my mind. I told my friend about it and she agreed that it sounded intriguing. And then we went on with our vacation.

Fast forward a few years and I’m a mother with two small children. I had an idea for a story and once more told my best friend about it. She reminded me that I had talked about writing a book all those years ago.  I had forgotten. Somehow in the busyness of life, I had forgotten my dream. Well, this time I was determined that I wasn’t going to let my dream vanish without even attempting to make it a reality.

In the beginning finding the time and energy to write was hard. My responsibilities hadn’t vanished just because I had renewed my interest in writing. I bought some spiral notebooks and when my kids were in preschool or napping, I wrote some really horrible romances. And then one day, my husband surprised me with a computer. He said if I was going to be an author, I needed the proper tools. 

His faith in me sustained me when the rejection letters piled up. “The next book will be the one,” he’d say.

Eventually his prediction came true. 

My first book with Harlequin Special Edition, How to Steal the Lawman’s Heart, was published in February, 2017. Since then, I have published many more books with them. My latest, Redemption on Rivers Ranch, will be in stores on May, 25.

Excerpt: Redemption on Rivers Ranch

Lights were blazing in the house. No one was supposed to be there.

Carson considered calling the sheriff but decided against it. Only the world’s worst criminal would turn on every light in the house. He’d assess the situation and go from there.

Pulling into the driveway, he noticed an SUV with out-of-state license plates. Mrs. Johnson had given him a key to the house, so he headed up onto the porch, opened the door and stepped inside.

Whoever was inside had made themselves at home. They’d dropped suitcases by the stairs leading to the upstairs bedrooms. Music was blaring from the back of the house. Someone was singing at the top of her lungs. The fact that she was nowhere in the vicinity of the right key didn’t stop her from singing with gusto. Her attempt to hit a high note pierced his ears and propelled him forward if only to save his hearing.

A child laughed.

What in the world was going on here?

Carson stepped into the kitchen. A woman and girl of about seven were dancing around the old Formica table, trying to convince a boy who looked about ten to join them. The boy was leaning against the sink, his arms folded over his chest, clearly uninterested in participating in the revelry. The woman laughed and the sound struck a chord inside Carson, stirring a distant memory inside him. He silenced the echo, focusing on the matter at hand.

The intruders were so wrapped up in each other that they hadn’t noticed him. He twisted the knob on Mrs. Johnson’s ancient radio, silencing the music.

The woman spun around, then pushed herself in front of the girl. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” 

By rights Carson should be the one asking questions. “I’m the owner’s neighbor. Who are you?”

The woman stepped closer, sizing him up. She studied his face for so long that she could have been searching for an answer to life’s mysteries. After a long moment, she smiled. “Carson?”

He nodded and looked at her more carefully. The coffee-colored eyes danced with mischief. It couldn’t be. Fifteen years had passed since his friend had visited. But looking closer at her beautiful face with clear light brown skin, high cheekbones and full lips, he knew it was her. “Gabriella?”

She launched herself at him, squeezing him in a tight hug. “It’s been years.” 

“Yes, it has.” He’d been invited to her wedding years ago, but hadn’t attended. Carson hugged her briefly, then stepped back and forced himself to ignore the way his body reacted to the contact.   

Holding Gabriella had felt like sticking his finger into a live electric socket. And when they ended the hug, his blood was still humming. He smothered the response. He might be the son of a killer, but he’d never hit on married women. He wouldn’t start with his childhood friend.

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Kathy is a born reader who as a child always had her nose in a book. That love of reading grew with her and she went from reading Bobbsey Twins to long romance novels. Then she started law school and her reading was limited to legal opinions. One day she discovered Harlequin romance novels. They were a perfect fit for her busy life. She could complete her required reading and enjoy a romance novel. 

When her first child was born, Kathy stopped practicing law to become a stay at home mom. Her second child followed nineteen months later. With two little ones in the house, reading suddenly became limited to children’s books. 

All too soon her children were attending pre-school two hours a day. She spent those few precious moments renewing her relationship with romance novels. After a while she felt the urge to write the stories she wanted to read – sweet, small-town contemporary romances featuring African American characters. 

Kathy’s first book was published with Harlequin Special Edition in 2017. Since then, she’s published nine additional books and one short online read with Harlequin. When she’s not writing, Kathy enjoys spending time with her family.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt – Healing her Emergency Doc, by Caroline Anderson

Hi, all!

It’s that time again, and my new book, Healing Her Emergency Doc, is out now!  So excited to see it in print, and even though it’s my 103rd, that excitement never fades.

But before you launch into the little taster below, if you haven’t already read it there’s a fabulous opportunity to snap up my previous book, Tempted by the Single Mom, over on Amazon US for a knockdown price! There’s a link here to an excerpt, too.

Happy reading!

Caroline xxx

x500_deeed33a-08b2-4731-bb3a-ca5e8b26fa38_360x‘Laura?

The voice was deep, soft, and weirdly familiar. She hadn’t heard it for years, but it still made her heart tumble in her chest.

No. It can’t be

But her heart was doing a little jig behind her ribs as if it knew better, and she felt suddenly dizzy and light-headed.

Don’t be ridiculous. It’s just low blood sugar. Or interview nerves. And anyway, it won’t be him. Not here…

Slowly, reluctantly, she looked up and met those totally unforgettable slate grey eyes. Eyes that had teased, and laughed, and—just that once—burned for her.

But not now. Right now they looked a little stunned. She knew how that felt.

What’s he doing here?

The interview? No—but why else would he be wearing a suit? And if he was in the running, she was scuppered. He was too good—too convincing, and the interview panel would fall for it, just like they all did. Like she had.

Almost… But she hadn’t made it easy for him.

She’d turned him down over and over again, but he wasn’t a quitter, so it had turned into a game. He’d ask, she’d say no.

It had taken him five years, but at the Leavers’ Ball he’d had one last go, cranked up the charm to full volume, and he’d almost convinced her to go home with him. Almost.

She hadn’t seen him since that night, but just remembering it made her squirm. Awkward wasn’t in it.

Please don’t bring it up.

Surely he wouldn’t, not here. Maybe he wouldn’t. He was smiling at her now, the warm, effortlessly sexy smile that had always made her stomach turn over and her heart beat a little faster. So that hadn’t changed, then.

Why aren’t I over you?

Her breath locked in her throat, and she dredged up what was probably a very unconvincing smile and found her voice at last. ‘Tom. What are you doing here?’

Stupid, inane question.

His mouth quirked, his smile wry now.

‘Do I really need to answer that?’

She rolled her eyes. ‘Probably not.’

He gave a soft huff of laughter, and dropped casually into the seat next to hers, and she shifted slightly away from him, because the scent drifting from his body brought back memories she would rather have forgotten.

‘So, how are you?’ he asked, and she swallowed.

‘I’m OK. Busy.’ At least it wasn’t a lie, although she’d be more OK if she could land this job in the Emergency Department she’d been working in for months, and he’d just messed that up for her. ‘How about you?’

‘Oh, I’m good,’ he said. ‘Busy, of course, like you, but it goes with the territory, I guess. So what have you been up to since uni? Presumably not married with three kids if you’re going after a senior post.’

‘No, no kids, I’m still single. How about you? Did you finally settle down?’ she asked, to shift the conversation away from herself, and then regretted showing the slightest sign of curiosity. Not that she didn’t want to know…

But his mouth tightened into what could barely be called a smile and those incredibly expressive eyes went blank.

‘Oh, you know me, I’m a free spirit,’ he said, his voice light and breezy and oddly unconvincing as he glanced away.

There was a whole world left unsaid, but he clearly didn’t want to discuss it. Because he’d just come out of a messy relationship, too? She could understand that. She didn’t want to talk about hers, either. They were both allowed their privacy, but it must have been pretty bad, because the Tom she knew would never leave London without a very good reason.

‘So, where are you working now?’ he asked, lobbing the ball firmly back into her court, but she wasn’t about to tell him, so she stuck to the bare bones of the truth.

‘Nowhere permanent at the moment. I’ve been doing a bit of locuming for a while.’

He frowned. ‘That doesn’t sound like you. I thought you always wanted security?’

Trust him to get straight to the heart of it. She slapped on a smile and kept her voice deliberately light and airy as he’d done. ‘I do, but I never had a gap year, so why not? But it’s been nearly a year now, so it’s probably time to get back to focusing on my career.’

‘So is that what this is about, this interview? Getting back on track?’

‘Pretty much,’ she said, wondering when being economical with the truth morphed into a lie. ‘Plus I need to earn a living and having a regular income is quite handy like that.’

He chuckled, suddenly looking more like the Tom she remembered, his eyes crinkling at the corners. They’d always done that, and she hated the effect it was having on her. That it had always had on her.

The meeting room door opened and James, the ED clinical lead, ushered the first candidate out and looked round. ‘Thomas Stryker?’

‘Good luck,’ she said mechanically, and he got to his feet.

‘You know you don’t mean that,’ he murmured with a wry smile tugging at his ridiculously beautiful mouth, and turned towards James, the smile widening.

‘Hi. I’m Tom.’

‘James Slater. Come on in, Tom.’

The door to the meeting room closed behind them, and she stared at it, her shoulders slumping in despair.

He’ll get it. He’s bound to. Why didn’t I do more interview prep? For all the difference it’ll make, with him in the running.

That would teach her to take things for granted. She looked at the other two candidates. She might have stood a chance against them, but now…

Now, there was Tom, always smiling, always up for whatever challenge/opportunity/pretty girl/party presented itself. He’d aced his medical degree, presumably sailed through the early years of Foundation training and after another five years was now a prime candidate for the vacant senior SpR post in the ED at Yoxburgh Park Hospital. The role she’d hoped would be hers, the job she’d been told by James Slater to apply for, because it had her name written all over it.

Well, so it might have had, but James hadn’t met Tom then, of course, and Tom had that way of convincing people that they wanted all sorts of things that in their right minds they wouldn’t contemplate—although thankfully her common sense had rescued her from that particular catastrophe.

The door opened again, and her head snapped up. She could hear him laughing, hear the smile in his voice as he thanked them, almost smell the success on him as he walked confidently out of the room and took his seat again beside her.

‘You look happy,’ she said, forcing a smile, and he grinned.

‘Well, I got through to the second round, so I’m not unhappy,’ he said softly, and then studied her searchingly, his brows pleating together. ‘Are you OK?’

‘Of course.’ She looked away before he could read the lie in her eyes. ‘It’s just a little—awkward. It’s the last place I would have expected you to look for a job.’

She could feel him still studying her, his eyes boring through into her brain, trying to read her mind.

‘It’s not that that’s bugging you. It’s us.’

‘There is—was—no us.’

The soft huff of his laugh drifted across her skin, teasing her nerve endings.

‘No, there wasn’t, was there? And you’re still feeling guilty about that,’ he murmured slowly, and she could hear the laughter in his voice.

‘Why should I feel guilty?’ she muttered, and she felt her skin tingle as he laughed again. She could feel him studying her intently, and she had to force herself to sit still.

‘You tell me.’ His voice dropped another notch and the laughter disappeared. ‘Why did you run away?’

Really? Here and now? Because she was so not going into it here.

‘I didn’t—’

‘Laura Kemp?’

Saved. Bless James and his timing. She leapt to her feet.

‘Good luck.’

He really didn’t mean it, either. He was only being polite, just as she’d been, but she thanked him anyway and walked towards James, her legs oddly wobbly and James’s smile of encouragement not really working, because he was only part of a panel and they had to go for the best person for the job.

Had to. And it wouldn’t be her. Not in a million years, not with Tom in the line-up, but she wasn’t going down without a fight. No way. If he got this job over her, it was going to be because he’d earned it, not because she’d given it away.

She straightened her spine, pinned on her best game face and walked into the interview with her head held high.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt: Reunited with Doctor Devereaux

My latest book is a second chance romance set in a small Southern town. The love interests are former high school sweethearts who now have more of an enemies vibe after their breakup left a lot of hurt feelings.

Anyone else love a good enemies to lovers story?

An unexpected reunion…
A second chance at love?
Years ago, trauma surgeon Danny Owens broke his promise and broke GP Camilla Devereaux’s heart. Now Danny is back. The terms of his late father’s will mean Danny and Camilla have to work together for the next six months. They loved each other once, and it’s clear there’s still something burning between them. Can they leave the past behind and embrace the bright future they deserve…together?

Get your copy here.

Excerpt:

He stepped through the open door. Another intense wave of grief rushed over him when he stood in front of the antique walnut desk his father had kept polished to a shine. He ran a finger across the dark, gleaming surface.

Why didn’t you give me the chance to say goodbye to you, old man? Did you hate me that much?

“What are you doing here, Danny? I am perfectly capable of taking care of a child with asthma. I don’t require the assistance of a big-city trauma surgeon.” Camilla crossed her arms over her chest and his gaze flicked down to the hint of cleavage her blouse revealed. Immediately adjusting her clothing, she hissed out, “Keep your eyes on my face and your thoughts to a PG rating, please.”

“Maybe I just wanted to check out my inheritance,” he snapped, trying to regain the high ground with her. He knew he couldn’t afford to let his guard down, but even so, the baldness of those words sat hard on his heart. Maybe it was the heartbreak he glimpsed in her eyes before she shut down and the emotionless facade of their teen years returned to her gaze. But it was too late by that point to retract the words; the harm had been done. “That came out badly.”

He was the one who had hurt her. She had done nothing but love him and she certainly had the right to be suspicious of his motives now. He’d given her plenty of reason. He’d broken her heart because he knew he wasn’t good enough for her. He’d been of no use to anyone, even himself. So, why was he acting so defensively toward her?

Guilt, maybe? His mom had always said, A guilty conscious will stalk you for the rest of your life. If this wasn’t proof of that…

Tilting her head, Camilla scrutinized him. He tried not to let her see what he was feeling, but her time in foster care had made her an expert at decoding faces. She’d always been able to read him like a book, while he’d struggled to name a single emotion from her. She’d kept her feelings close to the chest, burying things so deep he wasn’t sure she even processed them.

When they’d first started dating, he’d tried to get her to open up to him about her past, to discover details about her childhood, but she had shut that line of questioning down fast. Even when they’d been together long enough for her to trust him, there were things she still refused to share, topics that he couldn’t touch without her walking away.

Camilla had a policy that the past was the past and it had no place in her present or future. Knowing that, his last words to her eight years ago had been cold, cruel, and designed to cut straight to her core—the only way he knew how to protect her from himself.

He still hated himself for using that knowledge to his advantage.

In doing so, he had put himself in the position of being her past, and despite being forced together for the foreseeable future, there had never been more distance between them.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt – Rescuing the Paramedic’s Heart, Emily Forbes

Welcome to Bondi!

As the world slowly comes out of the dreadful fog that was 2020 there is the hope that, with vaccinations, we will be able to go about our lives more normally very soon. In Australia we have been relatively lucky and domestic travel is opening up even while our international borders stay closed. As the northern hemisphere sees summer approaching a literary trip to Bondi Beach in Sydney might be something to enjoy.

My latest book is the first in my four-book Bondi Medics series about the Carlson siblings – Lily, Jet, Poppy and Daisy.  This is Poppy’s story.

Excerpt –

CHAPTER ONE

‘Easy? Keep an eye on Backpacker’s Express, I reckon we might have trouble.’

Jet Carlson’s voice came through the radio, catching Ryder’s attention as he stood beside the lifeguard buggy. Jet was up in the circular lifeguard tower that overlooked Bondi Beach, keeping watch over the one-kilometre curve of white sand, issuing updates to the lifeguards on patrol. Ryder reached into the buggy and picked up his binoculars and scanned the beach, looking towards the troublesome rip to the south. He picked out a dark-haired man swimming alone where the first waves were breaking as the Pacific Ocean rolled into the shore.

He picked up the walkie talkie, certain he was looking at the same man Jet had spotted. ‘Copy that, Central, I see him,’ he responded.

He stood by the buggy as he kept his eyes on the swimmer. The water to the man’s left was deceptively calm between two sets of rolling waves. Ryder knew the tide was turning and the calm water indicated a passage of water flowing out to sea. If the man got any closer, he’d be pulled out to sea with the tide.

It was the danger period, after lunch on a hot Sunday. It wasn’t peak season yet; it was only the middle of spring and school hadn’t finished for the year but the beach was still busy. Holiday makers, shift workers and backpackers all flocked to Bondi at any time of the year. The tide was going out and the notorious rip was going to cause grief. Most likely to an unsuspecting tourist. No matter how hard the lifeguards tried it was impossible to get all the beachgoers to swim between the flags. Ryder knew it was sometimes because they didn’t understand English or the dangers or where to swim, at other times they just chose to ignore the lifeguards and the risks, thinking their swimming ability was better than it was or that the warnings were some kind of joke or scaremongering tactics and the treacherous conditions wouldn’t affect them. It didn’t help matters that the main access point to the beach was closest to the dangerous southern end. But no matter what the reason was for swimmers ending up in the wrong place, the lifeguards’ job was to look after them all. The drunk, the ignorant, the stubborn, the unlucky.

Life was precious and Ryder felt a strong sense of responsibility and, at the end of the day, a strong sense of satisfaction in a job well done whether that had been saving a life or just preventing a disaster. Not every day brought an emergency although there was always some excitement but a quiet day on the beach was preferable to one filled with drama. Either way he enjoyed the work. It was interesting and varied and he met people from all over the world and from all walks of life and he reckoned that would hold him in good stead for his future career as a psychologist. If he could cope with the Bondi beachgoers, he could cope with anything.

He hadn’t worked at Bondi for long. It had only been a couple of months since he’d been offered a position and had become one of several lifeguards employed by the local council to patrol the popular beach three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. It was a highly coveted job and usually went to qualified Sydneysiders who had grown up surfing the waves at the local beaches and had years of experience of the conditions. He’d had years of experience as a surfer and as a lifeguard at Cottesloe Beach in Western Australia but that was on the opposite side of the country, on the shores of the Indian Ocean. But the Pacific Ocean was familiar to him – he’d spent his childhood surfing the breaks at Byron Bay on the coast north of Bondi. The ocean on Australia’s east coast had been home to him until one fateful day, just before his eighteenth birthday, when he’d been uprooted from everything that was special to him and moved thousands of kilometres away to the other side of the continent.  

Eventually he’d settled in his new home and when he’d arrived in Bondi, part way through his transcontinental road trip, he hadn’t planned on staying but he’d been offered a temporary position and it had been too good to refuse.

He was happy with temporary, he knew he couldn’t stay forever, he was needed back west, but for the moment this was good. Casual work would allow him to extend his break and make sure he was refreshed and energised when he went home.

It was a perfect situation, he thought as he had a quick glance along the beach, trying to figure out if there was anyone else keeping an eye on the man he had under watch. Was anyone else aware of his position? In situations like this it could be helpful to speak to someone who knew the swimmer. It could help determine how competent they were in the water. But he didn’t really need confirmation, he’d bet his next pay check on the fact that this guy wasn’t a strong swimmer. He could see him pushing off the bottom, not wanting to get out of his depth, but the outgoing tide was already taking him further from the beach and the minute he got washed off the sandbar he’d be in deep water.

As Ryder watched a wave broke over the man’s head, submerging him. That second or two when he went under was long enough to make him lose his footing. As he surfaced, he was swept into the channel and away from the beach.

He was in trouble.

‘Easy?’ Jet’s voice came through the radio, using Ryder’s nick name.

‘I’m on it.’ Ryder leapt out of the buggy, whipped off his distinctive blue lifeguard shirt, grabbed the rescue board from the rack on the side of the all-terrain vehicle and sprinted into the surf. He threw his board in front of him and dived onto it. He paddled strongly out past the small waves that were crashing onto the shore, past the swimmers who were oblivious to the drama unfolding a few metres off the beach, past the break.

He scanned the sea as pulled his board through the water and caught a brief glimpse of the man’s head as it appeared behind a wave before he lost sight of him again. He dug deep, paddling harder, knowing time was of the essence. His shoulder muscles bunched and already he could feel the burn but he was used to that. He was breathing deeply, his lungs straining and he could feel his heart racing but he wouldn’t stop. He was getting close now.

He crested a small wave just in time to see the man go under again.

Two more strokes.

He reached over the side of the board, plunging his arm into the water up to his elbow. He scooped his arm through the water but came up empty. He could see the man’s dark hair. He leaned over further, plunging his whole arm into the ocean, the sea reaching to his armpit, and this time his fingers grabbed hold of the man’s head. He pulled him to the surface by a fistful of hair. He knew it would hurt but having your hair pulled was a small price to pay in exchange for your life.

He dragged the man from the water, holding him by one arm. He wasn’t breathing. Ryder needed to get him securely onto the rescue board and back to shore. The man was of slight build and probably weighed no more than seventy kilograms. Ryder was six foot three inches tall, fit and strong, a muscular ninety kilograms with no excess weight but even so, he strained with the effort of pulling a dead weight out of the water. He grabbed his patient under his armpits and hauled him up, draping him across the board. He pulled his legs out of the ocean and waited to see if he would start breathing on his own.

The man coughed twice, expelling sea water, and began breathing. Now Ryder just had to get him back to the beach.

He got the man balanced, getting him to lie on his stomach in front of him. It was a long paddle back to shore and he didn’t want the board tipping. He didn’t want to lose his patient and have to go through the process of getting him out of the water a second time.

*

Poppy changed into her swimming costume, shorts and a t-shirt as Lily left for work. She’d go to the beach for a quick swim she decided, say hi to her brother and then come back and make a start on dinner.

 She checked her phone for what felt like the hundredth time as she slid her feet into her flip flops. Still nothing. She tossed it back on the bed. She wouldn’t take it to the beach, she wasn’t planning to be gone for long, if Craig called while she was out she’d call him back later.

She left her car parked on the road in front of the house and walked down Edward Street towards the beach. After consecutive six-hour days in the car driving from Brisbane to Sydney she needed to stretch her legs and the fifteen-minute walk to Campbell Parade would help to clear the cobwebs.

She turned onto the pedestrian path and walked along the Promenade past the skate park and the mural wall towards the Lifeguard Tower.

She stopped before she reached the tower and lent on the railing and looked out over the beach. The sun was behind her and the sea shone in the afternoon light. The sand was crisp and white and, despite the fact that it was not yet the summer holidays the beach was busy. She took a deep breath, filling her lungs with the sea air and stood for a moment enjoying the feeling of warm sun on her skin as she watched the water.

The waves were small but she could spot the rips, the deceptive smooth waters between breaking waves. She had years of experience as a surfer, growing up in Byron Bay she and her siblings had learned to surf almost before they could walk, but she could see why the tourists and the locals who weren’t familiar with the ocean could be fooled into thinking the rips were safe spots to swim.

She turned to the south to see if she could pick out Lily’s house perched on the cliff before she spun on her heels and headed for the circular lifeguard tower. She knocked on the blue door and waited, if Jet wasn’t in there someone would be able to tell her where he was.

‘Poppy! You’re here.’ Jet grinned as he swung the door open. His welcoming smile was wide, his perfect teeth white and even in his tanned face. His blonde hair was pulled back into a messy man bun but that was all Poppy had time to absorb before he stepped out of the tower and wrapped her up in a tight hug. He stood well over six feet tall, and even with his slim but muscular athlete’s build he managed to make her feel small. She was five feet seven inches, not short for a girl, but Jet made her feel petite.

He released her and dragged her into the tower where he introduced her to the other lifeguards.

‘Guys, this is my little sister, Poppy. Poppy met the guys – Gibbo, Bluey and Dutchy.’

Poppy smiled at Jet’s use of the guys’ nicknames.

‘Are you going to hang around here for a while?’ he asked as Poppy finished saying hello.

 ‘No, I just wanted to say hi. I’m going to have a swim and then head home. I hear you’re coming for dinner.’

Jet nodded and looked as if he was about to say something else when the radio on the desk crackled into life.

‘Central, this is Easy, we’ve got a problem down here, south of the flags.’

He held up one hand in Poppy’s direction, asking her to wait as he grabbed the radio. ‘Go ahead, Ryder.’

‘The tourist I pulled from Backpacker’s, he’s not looking great. I’m bringing him back to the tower for an assessment.’

Poppy’s ears pricked up as she listened to the exchange. Ryder was an unusual name. She’d only ever known one and he had been Jet’s best friend when they were at high school. He’d also been her first crush. But the Ryder she knew had moved away when he was seventeen, breaking her young, impressionable heart in the process – although she’d kept that to herself – and she hadn’t seen him since.

It couldn’t be him though, could it? Surely Jet would have said something.

‘Ryder?’ she said as Jet put the radio down.

‘Yeah, Ryder Evans, you remember him?’

Of course, she remembered him.

She could feel herself colouring as she thought about the last time she’d seen him. She hoped Jet didn’t notice the blush she could feel creeping up her neck.

She nodded. ‘You never told me he was in Sydney.’

‘Didn’t I?’ Jet shrugged. ‘Probably figured you wouldn’t care, you haven’t seen him for the best part of twelve years,’ he said over his shoulder as he went to open the door to the tower.

He had a point. He wouldn’t think it was important. It wasn’t important really, although that didn’t stop a frisson of nervousness from shooting through her at the thought of seeing him again. She hadn’t thought about him for years, had finally let the idea of him go, yet at the mere mention of his name all the old feelings rose to the surface along with all the memories of how much he’d meant to her teenage self. She could instantly recall all her teenage fantasies and the memories made her blush.

The lifeguard buggy pulled to a stop at the bottom of the metal stairs that led from the sand to the tower and Poppy’s jaw dropped as a lifeguard jumped out. Tall and muscular, tanned and fit.

Was that Ryder?

She managed to close her mouth as she watched him help his patient out of the buggy and up the stairs.

She hung back, out of the way, as Ryder got the man into the tower and onto the treatment plinth. Jet went to assist, instructing Bluey to keep an eye on the beach. Poppy stayed near the desk by the windows, the lifeguards had a job to do and she didn’t want to be a nuisance but staying out of the way also gave her a chance to check Ryder out unobserved. She knew he hadn’t noticed her; he was too focussed on his patient.

The last time she’d seen him there had been a hint of the man he would become, of the man waiting to emerge, but he’d still been a gangly teenager.  He’d been tall but he’d yet to have a fast growth spurt or develop the muscle definition that would come with young adulthood. But all traces of adolescence had disappeared now. Now there was no hiding the man.  And no ignoring the feeling of warmth that was spreading through her belly and into her groin. Poppy leant on the desk, taking the weight off her suddenly shaky legs.

Fortunately Ryder had his back to her and wouldn’t be aware of her reaction but she was very aware of him.

He’d grown even taller and he’d definitely filled out. He’d developed muscles where he hadn’t had them before. He wore only a pair of black boardshorts with “Lifeguard” emblazoned across his hips and she had plenty of opportunity to admire the view of sculpted muscles and smooth tanned skin. His shoulders were broad, his biceps bulging, his waist narrow. He looked fit. He looked healthy.  He looked magnificent.

She ran her gaze up the length of his spine and up his neck. She could see where the knobs of his vertebrae disappeared into his hair. He’d always had amazing hair, dark blond and thick, and at almost twenty-nine years of age it seemed he’d lost none of it.

Her gaze traced the line of his jaw. It was strong and square.  He looked good, even better than she remembered, and she felt another rush of blood to her cheeks as her heart skittered in her chest.

Her hands gripped the edge of the desk as she observed him, keeping her fixed in place and she wondered at the involuntary response. Was she stopping herself from crossing the room? While her rational mind might tell her that Ryder’s unexpected appearance was of no consequence it seemed her body had other ideas. Her palms were clammy and her mouth was dry and she suddenly felt like the sixteen-year-old schoolgirl she’d been when she’d last seen him.

When she had kissed him.

And he had kissed her back.

She knew from talking to her girlfriends that first kisses often weren’t anywhere near as fabulous as they’d dreamed about but the kiss she and Ryder had shared had been everything she’d hoped for and more. It had been the biggest moment of her young life. It had changed her life. 

She’d fallen in love.

First love.

She had only been a teenager but that didn’t make it any less real, any less all encompassing, any less all consuming.

And it hadn’t made it any less painful when he’d walked out of her life.

***

Australia

In Australia this book has been released as a print duo with Meredith Webber’s 103rd (and final) book – amazing!!


UK

USA –

https://www.harlequin.com/shop/books/9781488074899_rescuing-the-paramedics-heart.html