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

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt: Awakening his Shy Vet, by Shelley Rivers

Hello!

What makes an idea suddenly jump into your mind and spur you into creating? Where do you search for that illusive imaginative titbit that you hope will grow into a full artistic treat?

I have a confession to make. I love to paint, but I’m really bad at it. For me, the whole act of painting isn’t about ending up with a pretty and recognizable picture. My pleasure comes from the actual act of slapping paint all over a blank canvas. Swirling vibrant colours this way and that in a wild fun frolic.

I’m not scared to use bright shades and tones. The more colour the better. I also never worry about making mistakes, because if something goes wrong, well, I’ll just wait for the mess to dry and then paint over it and start again.

You know writing can be like that, too. I sometimes think we tend to forget that.

For my latest book, Awakening His Shy Vet, I found creative stimulation on social media.

I was deep in the unexplored layers of writing the book, and it wasn’t going well. The first lock down had just kicked in and it seemed to be permanently raining. Life was feeling more than a tad grey. Well, the story had stalled and the whole thing just felt like a huge ugly mess.

There I was wasting time on social media when I should have been researching. In desperation, I typed ‘horses’ into the search box and after passing over a couple of tweets, my eyes fell upon a photograph that just melted my heart.

It also fired up my imagination and kicked my muse off her sulky butt and into work mode. I had found the visual nudge that I needed to get the words flowing and the ideas gushing again.

So when your inspiration is waning and your muse doesn’t know where to head, try searching in the most unexpected of places. You may just find that one spark that shoots your imagination to a new and exciting level. That special place where your characters truly need to be.

Happy inspiration hunting dear readers and writers. Let’s hope that this year is the one where our dreams fly high and our stories make our hearts happy.

Best wishes,

Shelley. xxx

Here’s a small extract from Awakening His Shy Vet.

(Ruby and Kern find themselves roped into cleaning out an old barn.)

Extract –

Attraction wasn’t for her. In the past she’d purposely avoided such emotion, preferring to keep acquaintances – male and female – in the friend zone. At first because she’d feared her past would become known, but eventually because it was easier just to place everyone in the same group and leave them there. Anyway, between studying and working, what little spare time she’d had left had tended to go on sleeping and eating.

Besides, she wasn’t even sure she liked Kern MacKinley very much. The way he sneered every time he opened a box or unearthed a piece of furniture was a clear indication that he saw this afternoon’s work as nothing but a chore.

For a moment, though, when he’d studied that old newspaper cutting, she could have sworn she saw something like regret in his expression. She’d probably imagined it. Thought she’d seen something in him just because she wanted to believe that, despite his odd behaviour at times, he was a decent person.

“You okay, Ruby?” Kern asked.

Startled from her musings, Ruby glanced up to find him regarding her.

“You appear to be off in a private dream world.”

No, not dreaming – just reinstating some common sense. Attraction to anyone was a weakness which led to mistakes. She didn’t want to repeat the hurt of misplacing her trust. She’d survived it once – better not to test her resolve a second time.

He reached out and touched her chin. His long fingers were warm against her skin. “Hey, where’s your smile gone?”

She tilted her head thoughtfully. “Smile?”

“That pretty one you showed me last night,” he said softly. His thumb slid along the curve of her jaw before he let it fall away.

She returned her gaze to the box and frowned down at the contents. “I did not smile at you.”

“Yes, you did. Almost stopped my heart, it was so unexpected.”

9780008915209

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

The horse whispering hero who saved me in lockdown

Becky

My latest shiny book babies have arrived! And they’re not just any copies of Falling Again for the Animal Whisperer. They’re LARGER PRINT. So you can stand reeeeeeally far away and keep your book at a proper social distance from your face while you read it. Good, huh? You can never be too careful these days.

This one was my favourite to write so far.  Not just because I love Dorset, where it’s set, but because my hero, sexy horse whisperer and talented vet Cole Crawford helped me through lockdown in the later part of last year. The world went on, masked up and moving in slow mo around me while I holed up with him, bringing him to life in my head, hearing his words and imagining his sexy ass in the saddle of a horse. Aaaah, the fantasy man, every woman has to have one right?

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

I’m glad you asked. After inheriting half of her late uncle’s veterinary practice in the Dorset countryside, single mom Jodie is horrified to learn her ex Cole Crawford has inherited the other half. What the heck was her uncle thinking? He knew their intense love affair exploded into flames 12 years ago and the pair haven’t spoken since! Cole wants to prove he’s changed, but Jodie must protect her heart, and her daughter Emmie. The thing is… you know when you know, right? Cole’s the one and he always has been. But he’s hiding something about their break up….

EXCERPT

‘Paracetamol… Asprin… I need something.’ Her nerves were shot. ‘Cole, where do you keep your medicine?’ She knew he couldn’t hear her, he was in the shower. 

She pulled open the middle drawer, the top drawer, the bottom drawer… Nothing but cutlery, pens, cables, dog treats. He hadn’t told her where it was. He’d insisted he was fine, but she knew he’d be in pain soon enough, if he wasn’t already. 

They’d ridden the horses back slowly, with Blaze beside them. Cole was bleeding under his jacket, she’d seen it when she’d peeled it off him as soon as they’d reached the cabin, but he’d brushed off his injury. ‘Go shower, get warm,’ he’d told her.

So she had, and now she was back. How could she leave him? 

You could have lost him. He could have drowned. 

The thought was a knife wound to her heaving chest as the tears threatened to consume her.

Her eyes caught on something under the bench covered in jackets, by the door.

Dropping to her knees in her track pants she pulled out the bright red medicine kit and flipped the latch under the huge white cross. Paracetamol. That would have to do. 

She slid the box back, but it was stuck now, jammed halfway out. Reaching behind it her hands landed on something smooth, made of glass. She pulled out a photo frame covered in dust and swept a hand across it.

Her and Cole, sitting on Mustang, bareback. 

She fell to her bottom, holding it. 

There was another box, she noticed now – the box his stetson had arrived in. She slid it out from under the bench and sifted through photos from their summers together. He’d kept all these? 

One fell out.

There was Cole, looking up at her from the floor, leaning with his arms crossed and his leg kicked back against a red tractor. She was behind him in the photo, grinning from the driver’s seat. It must have been taken the first summer they’d met. 

Another photo. Her and Cole at twelve or thirteen. She recognised Chesil Beach; this must have been the day they’d gone on a fossil hunt. She held it closer, studying his tanned hand wrapped tight around hers on their bucket of treasures. That was around the time that parts of her had started tingling in anticipation of his touch. Just his hand, hauling her up to a rock for a photo, had felt like another moment in heaven.

Another photo. Her and Cole at fourteen. Cole was even more tanned in this one, holding a pitchfork like a guitar out in the stables. He’d been skinny before but now he was filling out. He had muscles from labouring with hay bales and farming equipment, and a wild mop of curls. This was right before he’d taught her to ride bareback, solo, she remembered with a smile. 

This was the summer she’d thought Cole was finally going to kiss her… but he didn’t. The kiss came at fifteen. There was no photo from that year, but she could see it clear as day. They’d been wild-swimming in the river, looking for kingfishers. Cole had swum right up to her beneath the wrought-iron bridge. 

She thought he’d been about to dunk her; she’d been laughing and splashing him in his new blue board shorts. She’d been self-conscious of her new womanly body, and awed by his new broad chest and the thick, dark hair in places he hadn’t had hair before. But his hands had found her waist under the water. Without a word, he had pulled her into the shadows under the bridge and kissed her. Her first kiss. Cole had been her first everything.

Jodie pressed her bare feet to the cold tile floor, clutching the photos to her heart. They’d had their disagreements and spent the last twelve years apart but if anything happened to him she knew she would die herself, even after all this time.

By the time Cole stepped from the bathroom, running a towel over his hair in nothing but clean jeans, she was stoking the fire, trying to dry her eyes, as well as her wet hair and damp tank top.

‘How are you feeling?’,’ he asked her, dropping to the leather couch, then wincing at the pain to his shoulder. 

‘Better than you, I think,’ she said, still fighting to gain control of her shaky voice and limbs. He was here, he was OK, but he wasn’t hers anymore, and she had to pull herself together… 

Super excited for this story to be out on Kindle from February 18. It’s already up for pre-order on Amazon!

Till next time folks, thanks for reading, stay safe out there!

Becky x

Excerpts

Excerpt – ‘Forgotten Pain’ by Josie Metcalfe

Josie Metcalfe is joining us today with an excerpt – if you missed Josie’s blog last week you can find it here and ‘Forgotten Pain’ is available now from Amazon.  Welcome again Josie, and over to you…    

I know personally that not all injuries and disabilities are immediately visible and that sufferers will often find ways to hide their problems when they have no other options. If they’re lucky they’ll find someone like Sally with the intuition to recognise that hidden pain, no matter how fraught the circumstances.

CHAPTER ONE

41sMduzowkL‘DOCTOR?’

In spite of her best intentions, Sally had just been dropping off to sleep in the corner of her big squashy armchair when the phone rang, jerking her back to full wakefulness.

‘Doctor Webster?’ the voice in her ear seemed to reach her from a long way away.

‘Yes. I’m sorry,’ she blinked rapidly and shook her head to clear away the cobwebs of sleep. ‘Dr Webster here. What is it?’

‘Accident at the gravel pits out at Abbey Meads,’ the woman said tersely.

‘How many involved and what’s the nearest access?’ Sally’s feet hit the floor and she bent forward to search around with her free hand to find the trainers she’d kicked off when she’d sat down to have a much delayed lunch. She forced her feet into them hurriedly as she stood up, belatedly reaching out for her bag.

‘Two mountain bikers racing downhill. Came off a ledge. Probable spinal injuries. You’ll have to go out past Priory Park towards open countryside. I’ll give you an accurate GPS as soon as I get it but there’s a turning on the left signposted Abbey Meads and a track almost immediately on the right taking you towards the gravel pits.’

‘Emergency services alerted?’ The surge of adrenaline meant she was firing on all cylinders now, her brain clear, her pulse rate elevated and her whole body ready to race into action.

‘Ambulance already on their way with a paramedic on board,’ the calm voice confirmed, ‘but they have to come across town. You’re closest.’

‘On my way,’ Sally dropped the phone into her pocket, swung her pack up on one shoulder and took off across a room cluttered with half-unpacked boxes, barely slowing her stride as she grabbed her jacket off the convenient hook beside the door the fluorescent word ‘doctor’ emblazoned across the back.

She reached back to grasp the handle to pull it shut but paused for the rapid scrabble of claws on the polished wooden floor as an eager canine nose followed her out onto the step.

‘Come on, then, girl,’ she invited, just missing the long-plumed tail as the catch clicked shut.

Within seconds she was turning the key in the ignition, her free hand reaching for her seat belt. ‘Down, Amber,’ she ordered, and her companion subsided obediently into the footwell on the passenger’s side.

She glanced at the map that had automatically displayed on her sat nav to confirm that she was going to be taking the most direct route and set the vehicle in motion, a flick of a newly-installed switch on the dashboard activating the flashing blue light on the roof. This was her first call-out since she’d joined the group practice at Abbey surgery and she needed to do well; she needed to prove that she’d made the right decision in coming here, if only to herself…

The GPS directions came through seconds later, before she’d even exited the driveway, and she was soon heading well away from the town through all-but deserted lanes before the automated voice sent her bumping along a rough track leading around the edge of the abandoned quarry, grateful for the superb suspension of the car provided by the practice.

‘Come on. Come on. Where are they, then?’ she muttered, the chilly wind tugging at loose strands of hair through the half-open window as she pushed her speed as hard as she dared over the unfamiliar terrain.

‘Shoot!’ She braked and swerved as a young man leapt out of no-where, his arms flailing like windmills.

Her tyres slithered to a stop on the loose gravel and she thrust her head out of the window, barely waiting for it to open fully.

‘What on earth do you think you’re…’

‘Down there!’ the youth broke in, pointing frantically at a faint track she’d almost missed. ‘They’re down there. Hurry!’ He whirled away from her and disappeared over the lip of the quarry as quickly as he’d appeared.

‘Right,’ Sally turned the wheel and moved forward gingerly until she could see the state of the track then increased her speed when she found it was an old access route to the floor of the quarry, wending its potholed way down the side.

By the time she reached the bottom she’d spotted the small knot of people grouped round the victims, the buckled remains of their brightly coloured bikes mute testimony to the event.

‘Stay!’ she ordered as she flung herself out of the vehicle, grabbed the smallest pack off the back seat, hooked it over one shoulder and took off at a run.

By the time she reached the injured boys, both of them were conscious but one was lying very pale and still, his shattered crash helmet evidence of the severity of the accident.

‘There’s an ambulance coming,’ she announced. ‘Can someone run to the top to direct them down here, please?’ then she knelt down on the gravel-strewn quarry floor shifting awkwardly as the cold dampness and small sharp stones cut through the sturdy denim covering her knees.

As she cast a rapid eye over the more seriously injured of the two she realised that she would need help with his care. The lower part of his face and neck had taken part of the force of his fall and she would need another pair of expert hands to stabilise his head while she put a cervical collar on him and maintained his breathing.

At least his pulse and respiration were within reasonable bounds, considering the state he was in.

The distant sound of a siren was drawing rapidly closer as she turned towards the second victim, hoping to have him ready to move by the time assistance arrived for his friend.

‘What’s your name?’ she looked up at the carroty-haired gangly youth hovering over her.

‘Andy,’ his voice wavered between tenor and soprano and his cheeks flamed with embarrassment.

‘Right, Andy,’ later she’d have time to smile at his adolescent trauma, but for now… ‘I’m going to need your help.’ Immediately, his shoulders straightened importantly. ‘Take one of your friends and bring out the two zipped bags behind the driver’s seat. Carry them carefully…’

He’d grabbed a husky dark haired lad by the elbow and they were sprinting towards her car almost before she’d finished speaking.

As they opened the door of the vehicle there was a low warning growl from Amber.

‘It’s all right, girl,’ Sally called, barely looking up from her task. She hardly had time to confirm her diagnosis of a broken leg before the two of them returned and she opened the bags to select the equipment she’d need.

A shadow fell over her as the surrounding group of lads pushed forward and she looked up at them. The concern they felt for their friends was so clear on their faces that it prevented her from snapping at them to stand further back.

‘Has any of you done any first aid?’ Most of them shook their heads as she glanced round at them but two raised their hands as if answering a question in school.

‘Right,’ she continued, her voice decisive. ‘The ambulance is on its way and we need to get your friends ready to go to hospital. This young man,’ she put her hand on his arm…

‘That’s Jimmy,’ Andy volunteered quickly.

‘Thank you,’ she nodded, ‘Jimmy has broken his leg. He needs to have both his legs splinted together…’

‘I can do that,’ one of the lads who’d raised his hand broke in eagerly. ‘We had that in our test.’

‘Good,’ Sally praised. ‘Take it slowly. Move him as little as possible. Ask me if you need help.’ She turned towards the second still form beside her, steadying herself with a mental reminder to check A, B and C again. She could hear her long-ago instructor drumming it into them. ‘Airway, breathing and circulation…’

‘What’s wrong with Wayne?’ Andy demanded.

‘He’s hurt his face and I think he’s hurt his back,’ she said quietly as she leant over him and carefully took hold of one hand.

‘Wayne?’ her voice was soft but carried clearly in the still air. ‘Can you hear me?’

‘…ss…’ she heard and tightened her hand gently.

‘Good,’ she encouraged. ‘Keep very still but can you squeeze my fingers?’ She waited for a response while she noted down the figures for his respiration and pulse and was rewarded by a deliberate pressure. ‘Well done. What about the other one?’

She was just taping the IV line to the back of his hand when her concentration was broken by the hurried arrival of two large pairs of feet topped by dark navy trousers at the edge of her vision.

‘Where do you want us, Doc?’ one voice panted as he lowered the stretcher he was carrying to the ground. ‘We had to leave the vehicle up on top.’

She looked across at the blond owner of the cheerful voice, his eyes as blue as the shirt of his uniform showing between the edges of his brightly flashed jacket.

It took very few words to direct him towards loading Jimmy and carrying him back up the hill with the willing assistance of his friends but before Sally had time to turn her attention back to Waynethe second paramedic knelt down swiftly on the opposite side.

‘He needs a neck brace,’ the deep voice was accompanied by a searing gaze from tawny eyes and for just a moment Sally was unable to look away. His breathing seemed unaffected by his rapid descent to the quarry floor, the only sign of his exertion the rumpled state of his dark hair.

When he looked back down at the young man between them on the ground she was left with a strange feeling of breathlessness before his forceful words finally sank in.

‘Of course…’ she began speaking, then stopped. There was no point telling him that she fully intended to protect young Wayne’s neck because he’d already taken a cervical collar out of his kit and was preparing to position it.

‘Hold his head without touching his jaw,’ he instructed, his deep voice curt as he concentrated on his task. ‘He’s bleeding from his nose so we can’t do a blind nasotracheal intubation and he’s partially conscious so we can’t do an œsophogeal…’

Sally subdued the momentary surge of resentment at his high-handedness with the silent reminder that it was the patient who mattered, not her pride.

A little imp of mischief had her watching his technique critically, but his procedure was faultless, as was his management of the boy’s transferral to the scoop.

‘When we’ve got him strapped down, we’ll load him into your vehicle,’ he said decisively, barely glancing in her direction as his hands moved competently about their business. ‘It’ll save time carrying him up the quarry track and your four-wheel-drive will smooth out some of the bumps.’

By now Sally was gritting her teeth but there was little she could do in front of their avid audience. But, she promised herself, once their patient was safely delivered…

The stretcher was locked securely in position behind the driver’s seat in the specially adapted vehicle and Sally was stowing her bags underneath it when there was a warning growl from Amber.

Glancing over the head restraint of the front passenger seat she was treated to the unusual sight of her one-woman dog sniffing at a lean male hand and she straightened up in time to see his head disappear into the vehicle.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ she snapped as she wrenched her own door open, resenting this further evidence of his intrusion into her territory, both physical and professional. ‘Travelling with you to monitor the patient – unless you intend me to do it while I run along behind.’ Sarcasm filled his voice as he swung his long legs round and tucked his feet carefully beside Amber, his reassuring words to the dog spoken in a totally different tone to the one he’d used with her.

‘Of course,’ Sally muttered under her breath and bit the inside of her lip as colour surged up her face at her own stupidity. What on earth was it about this man that seemed to rub her up the wrong way?

Admittedly, her recent heartbreak meant that she was less than happy with the male half of the human race at the moment, but she’d managed to keep her antipathy under control in a work situation until she’d met him – or was there another reason for the sparks flying between them?

The journey up the winding track called for all her attention, the gravel loosened by a recent winter of rain and storms causing the wheels to spit stones in all directions as she guided the vehicle steadily upwards.

From the corner of her eye she was conscious of her passenger turning towards her and tensed, expecting him to make the same sort of chauvinistic comment most men made about women drivers. When he remained silent she glanced across quickly to find that instead of watching her driving, he’d reached one hand back to offer silent reassurance to their patient.

They lurched their way to the top of the quarry to find that the ambulance had already left for the hospital and it wasn’t long before Sally had reached the metalled road and was pointing the vehicle back towards the town.

Beside her, the silent paramedic was one-handedly noting his findings on the checklist clipped to his board, his pen moving swiftly to fill in the columns of sequential observations. Once they reached the hospital, the duplicate copy would be handed over with the patient to form the start of his case notes.

‘Stop!’

The sharp command broke into her concentration and she automatically put her foot hard on the brake.

‘What…? Why?’ but her words were spoken to his back as he flung himself out of the vehicle and wrenched the back door open.

By the time Sally reached him he was crouched over Wayne’s unconscious body probing the base of his throat, a fresh pair of gloves covering his long-fingered hands.

‘What…?’ Sally began.

‘Apnoea,’ his voice was distracted for a moment as he concentrated on what he was doing, giving Sally time to register that Wayne had stopped breathing. ‘Either his larynx has swollen or the rough track has shifted something to press on his trachea…’ he paused to reach into the opening of one of her bags and withdrew a familiar instrument.

The blade was exposed and the incision performed in less time than it took to blink and he was inserting the tracheostomy tube in the neat hole he’d made into Wayne’s trachea before the significance of what he’d done dawned on her.

‘Dammit, you’re a paramedic,’ she snapped. ‘You’re not allowed to do a cricothyrotomy.’

There was a frozen second before his eyes snapped up to meet hers, blazing.

‘He’s alive, isn’t he?’ he looked back down to tape the tube into position and dispose of the used scalpel blade.

‘That’s not the point,’ Sally argued. ‘Paramedics aren’t allowed to do that. What you did was illegal without certification.’

‘But essential,’ he broke in, his voice hard, ‘like getting him to hospital, preferably without brain damage due to oxygen starvation.’ Pointedly, he looked back down at Wayne, his hands moving surely over him as he checked his vital signs again.

Her teeth gritted angrily together, Sally backed out of the vehicle and climbed behind the wheel, reaching across to pull the passenger door shut before she put the engine into gear. In her rear-view mirror she could see him change position so that he could travel safely beside their patient for the rest of the journey.

Sally had activated the siren and flashing lights as soon as they’d encountered the start of the town traffic, the ululating sound only slightly muted when she closed her window up tight as she radioed their position through.

They had nearly reached the hospital when the thought that had been going round and round in her brain surfaced – the life-saving manoeuvre he’d done had been text-book perfect and he’d performed it as if it was second nature to him.

‘Where were you taught to do a cricothyrotomy?’ the words emerged unannounced into the intimate space of the vehicle, clearly audible in spite of the noise of the siren.

Her eyes flicked up to the mirror and caught the fleeting reflection of a bitter expression on his face before it was wiped smooth.

‘I watch a lot of television.’ His deep voice was as mocking as the twist to his mouth but there was no time for Sally to challenge him as she drew up outside the hospital emergency entrance.

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

The Amazing Adventures of Two Annies, A Dog and a Tennis Ball

I guess we’re all getting used to video conferencing these days.  How not enough light can make you look as if you’re speaking from a dungeon, and too much light can turn you into a shadow puppet.  The very lovely Annie O’Neil and I put all of our skills to good use the other day when we were asked to do a Facebook Live chat with Vic Britton, the Commissioning Editor for Mills and Boon.  Did we have an amazing time?  Yes, we did! 

We had a few hiccups, of course, because that’s what live chats are for 🙂  Those of you who wear varifocal glasses will recognise my rather faraway look in the first few frames, which comes from trying to find the right part of the lens to read something on my screen.  Annie had a special guest with her – Skye the border collie – who almost caused a disaster by sitting on her computer cable.  When my connection dropped suddenly, Vic and Annie valiantly kept going until the internet fairies flew to my rescue.  Oh, and if you want to know about the tennis ball, you’ll have to watch the video… 

 

A huge thank you to the ladies at Mills and Boon, who invited us and made this possible, and to Vic who was our wonderful host.  And, of course, wild appreciation for Annie O’Neil who is always a star in any given situation.

To round off Annie’s and my trip to Dolphin Cove, I’ll end with a short excerpt.  Drew has been recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident, but is keen to get back to work.  He’s taken his new puppy Phoenix to scout out the Veterinary Centre, early one morning, before anyone’s due to arrive for work…

***

The deserted reception area smelled of wax polish and hope. The consulting rooms were still the same, one of them filled with a mass of photographs of Ellie’s canine patients, and another with a more restrained set of framed photographs that belonged to Lucas. Drew’s was…empty. Neat and tidy, without a speck of dust. Drew smiled. It was ready and waiting for him.

‘Drew! What the blazes are you doing here?’

Ellie’s tone generally became firmer, in proportion to the size and momentum of the animal she was dealing with. This must be the one she reserved for charging rhinos.

Drew did the only thing possible and let go of Phoenix’s lead. When he turned, he saw the puppy barrelling along the corridor, the lead trailing behind her, and Ellie fell to her knees, scooping Phoenix up into her arms. Worked every time.

Or… Every time apart from this one.

‘Come on. What are you doing here?’ Ellie stood to face him, trying not to smile as the puppy licked her neck.

‘I could ask you the same question. Shouldn’t you and Lucas be staring into each other’s eyes over your cornflakes? You are technically still on your honeymoon, even if you are at work.

Ellie flushed slightly, presumably at the mention of Lucas’s eyes. ‘You do know what you’re doing, don’t you? Deflecting one question with another. It so happens that I didn’t have cornflakes for breakfast, and Lucas isn’t here. He’s doing the school run this morning.’

‘So you’re letting him in gently to the joys of parenthood.’ Drew grinned. He imagined that the other parents at the school gate were more of a challenge to Lucas than the whole six years he’d spent as TV’s favourite vet.

‘He said that yesterday was a bit like running a gauntlet of meerkats.’ Ellie shrugged. ‘He doesn’t mind, really.’

‘He loves it. You know that.’

Ellie nodded, smiling. She’d been in love with Lucas ever since the three of them had studied together at veterinary school. Lucas had left to become a celebrity vet, and Ellie had returned to Cornwall, where she and Drew had set up in practice together in Dolphin Cove. When Ellie and Lucas’s son, Mav, had been born, he had been so like his father, and a constant reminder that something was missing in all their lives.

But now Lucas was back. Ellie had never loved anyone else, and Drew was happy for them both.

‘You still haven’t answered my question.’

He hadn’t counted on springing this on Ellie today, but since she’d asked, he may as well grasp the nettle. ‘Why don’t we go and sit down in my office.’

‘I’m really getting worried now. You’re trying to butter me up by sitting down, aren’t you?’

Drew chuckled. ‘Yep. And I don’t want Phoenix running around here until she’s had her second set of vaccinations.’

He let Ellie tuck his hand into the crook of her elbow, but Drew was careful not to lean on her as they walked. He’d leaned on Ellie far too much already and he appreciated her support, but it had to stop. Leaning on the people around him was beginning to weaken him.

Ellie plumped herself down into a chair, keeping Phoenix on her lap for more cuddles, and Lucas lowered himself into the seat behind his desk. The surface looked as if it had been polished every day while he’d been away.

‘I’m coming back to work, Ellie.’

Ellie’s eyebrows shot up, but she took a moment to moderate her reaction. ‘We weren’t expecting you till the end of the month. Are you sure you’re well enough? What does your physiotherapist say?’

‘She says that if I think I can manage it I should give it a try, just for a couple of days a week for starters. She told me to take things slowly and stop if anything gets too much.’

Relief showed in Ellie’s eyes. ‘That…doesn’t sound so bad.’

‘You know I’ve been going crazy at home, Ells. I really need this and I’m going to need your support. I know you and Lucas can do with a helping hand here.’

‘Yes, we could.’ Ellie’s gaze softened suddenly. ‘Lucas isn’t replacing you, Drew. You know that’s never going to happen.’

It might. The complex animal surgery Drew excelled at took stamina and strength, and no amount of concentrating on the positive could tell him for sure that he’d ever be able to do that again. But he still had a lot to give, and if anyone was going to replace him, he wanted it to be Lucas. And if anyone was going to replace cool Uncle Drew in Mav’s affections, he wanted that to be Lucas too.

But the late-night fears about being of no more use to anyone were just paranoia. They weren’t what Ellie needed to hear from him at the moment.

‘You’re not the only one who’s pleased to see Lucas back, you know. We were all friends, and I’ve missed him too.’

‘You never said…’

Drew rolled his eyes. ‘Of course I didn’t, not while you were missing him on a completely different level. And being remarkably tight-lipped about it.’

Ellie heaved a sigh. ‘Okay. You have my support, just as long as you don’t overdo things. If you do, I won’t hesitate to escort you off the premises.’

‘It’s a deal.’

‘I suppose…the accounts need signing off.’ Ellie shot him a mischievous look. No doubt it had crossed her mind that checking them through involved sitting down.

‘I can do that.’ Drew called her bluff. ‘Although I haven’t forgotten that it’s your turn this year. Or maybe we should give them to Lucas, since he’s our newest partner in the practice.’

Ellie didn’t take the bait. ‘We’ll both owe you one, then. Mrs Cartwright’s coming in this morning, with Tabatha…’

‘Okay. You take Tabatha, and I’ll take Mrs Cartwright.’ It was well known that whenever Mrs Cartwright made an appointment for someone to look at her cat, she really wanted to sit in the waiting room and chat for an hour. The vets at the Dolphin Cove Clinic always made sure that she got a cup of tea and that someone was available to listen to her.

‘You’re a darling.’ Ellie frowned. ‘I suppose you’re not allowed to drink welcome-back champagne…?’

‘At eight in the morning, and with painkillers, probably not. We’ll do that another time.’

‘Welcome-back coffee, then? Your mug’s in your top drawer….’ Ellie gave Phoenix one last hug and got to her feet.

‘You go and get on. I’ll make the coffee.’ Drew opened the drawer of his desk, finding pens and his coffee mug stacked neatly inside. He was going to have to do something about all this tidiness.

‘All right.’ Ellie planted her hands on his desk, leaning over to kiss his cheek. ‘I’m so glad you’re back, Drew.’

‘Don’t get sloppy on me Ells…’ Drew could feel a lump forming in his throat.

‘Tough guy, eh?’ Ellie shot him a speculative look.

‘Not really. I just don’t want you to get me started.’

‘That might not be such a bad idea, Drew. You’ve always been there for me, and now Lucas and I both want to be there for you.’

‘You are. And I appreciate it.’ He just didn’t want to talk about it. ‘White no sugar?’

Ellie rolled her eyes. ‘That’s right. Glad to see you haven’t forgotten.’

When Ellie left, he took a moment to soak in the feeling. He was here, sitting behind his desk, and already had a few things to do with his day. Looking at the accounts, making the coffee and chatting to Mrs Cartwright might not be quite at the cutting edge of veterinary practice, but it was a start.

Excerpts

The Bush Telegraph, by Fiona McArthur

Hello again and welcome to the Love Is The Best Medicine Blog. Fiona McArthur here.

Today, I’d like to chat about The Bush Telegraph, my latest Penguin contemporary romance fiction. I loved the setting and the people in this book so much it was hard to let them go. If you haven’t been to outback Australia, and I’m talking past Longreach, which is twelve hundred kilometres from Brisbane, across to Winton, and further to Boulia and down the back way to Windorah (a loooong way) then there’s some amazing Australia you still need to see.  If you possibly can, then I sincerely hope you manage to do so. If you have or can’t, enjoy the visions though my eyes and meet some amazing people in the book and I wish you an experience you will never forget. I thought I’d share an excerpt from Chapter 2, because it talks about the distances from the point of view of eleven-year-old Bridget, and I loved being eleven again. Love Fi.

The Bush Telegraph

Chapter Two

Welcome to MiddletonPopulation one?’ Bridget’s mother slowed the car as she read the sign out loud. ‘Gotta love outback Queens- land.’ 

Her mum smiled, but at eleven years old, Bridget felt more horrified than amused. As she stared at the poo-brown emptiness, she couldn’t believe she’d been born out here somewhere. 

Soon they drove past the roadhouse/pub, the only remotely house-like building in the sad excuse for a town. The wide gravel drive held two dark cars out front like two black teeth in a yawn of boredom. 

‘There’ll be more people at Spinifex, Bee. And it’s only for twelve months. Don’t worry.’ 

Bridget looked at the tin roof radiating heat and couldn’t help imagining an egg sizzling sunny-side up. It was so hot! 

Her mother said, ‘A hundred and fifty years ago, this was a changing station for Cobb & Co horses between Winton and Boulia.’ 

Bridget sat straighter at the mention of horses. One of the possible upsides of her mother’s nursing contract in western Queensland was the chance that she could have a horse – her mum had said she’d think about it. She couldn’t have her best friend, Millie, or any of the friends she had on the island, but maybe a horse . . . 

Bridget pressed her face to the window again and stared at the single-building village. ‘That has to be the smallest town ever.’ 

Her mum laughed again as she sped up out of the ‘built-up- area’ speed zone. It wasn’t funny, but at least one of them was in a good mood. Bridget couldn’t even begin to compare the last town they’d passed through after driving for hours, Winton, with Lord Howe Island. 

She wanted her old world with people she knew. Not this empty world. She’d seen Darling Harbour, the zoo, lots of places really, when she’d spent holidays on the mainland while her mum had been nursing there. Bridget was still in shock that they’d left the island where she’d grown up. 

She couldn’t believe she wouldn’t be going back to the Island Central School, where you didn’t have to wear shoes if you didn’t want to. Out here, she’d bet her feet would burn right off if she went barefoot. And they’d be here for twelve months! Year Six had been the year she’d been looking forward to. She puffed out a worried sigh. Finally, she’d be a senior girl, but now she’d be in a new school, with people she didn’t know. What if they’d all learned stuff she hadn’t? 

This place out here in the centre of Queensland would be horrid. These huge distances you had to sit in the car for. Long, straight roads that went over the horizon and then over the next and the next. Her gaze tried to stop the shimmery mountains wiggling like mirages in front of her. This just felt all wrong. 

‘Look at the baby emus!’ 

Her mum’s words shifted Bridget’s dark thoughts and her eyes widened. Wow. ‘The mother emu’s so tall.’ The flightless bird’s long neck turned to look at them with suspicion as the car slowed again and her spotty followers quickened their pace. 

Bridget laughed out loud at the three speckled emu chicks as they trotted beside their mother parallel to the road. 

‘The landscape’s changed a lot since yesterday, hasn’t it, Bee?’ Mum offered the obvious statement. 

Bridget’s brief excitement died. Der. 

They’d flown into Brisbane, a city like Sydney, where they picked up her mum’s almost-new car and their sent-ahead belongings. That had been exciting. 

Last night they’d stayed in a long, skinny cabin at a place called Longreach. She knew why they called it that – it had taken ages to get there. But they’d had pizza delivered to their little house at the end of a row of tiny overnight houses, and that had been fun. 

But that was last night. Now they were approaching their destination from an angle Mum said even she hadn’t seen. Bridget hoped they were on the right road. Granny usually gave the direc- tions if they drove anywhere. 

A pang of too-recent loss tightened her throat. How odd it felt, to have just Mum and her on the road, and it would be even stranger to be in a house on their own. 

Their home on the island with Granny had always been full of friends. Bee loved impromptu parties, and when Mum flew out to work for the week Bridget had always had Granny and company. 

Bridget remembered the funeral, the day they’d poured Granny’s ashes and special tree oil into the hole under the fig. What had they called it? A Living Legacy Planting Day. Something about converting ashes into living molecules that would help the tree grow, like the circle of life. Weird. But it was what Granny wanted. 

There was something comforting about how Granny could be a part of the magnificent tree she’d always loved outside her beach house on the island. Bridget could see in her mind the little plaque staked in next to it with Alma Toms written on it. 

Granny was still on Lord Howe.
Bridget wasn’t.
Bridget sucked air through her teeth and turned to face her mother, trying to get the message across. ‘It’s different from the island.’ 

There’d be no dashing off to follow a lizard into the bush. No sitting on a high rock watching the waves. She spread her hands. ‘It’s so empty. So far between places. We can’t tramp around the place, like we’d normally do on the island.’ Tramp. She sighed – that was what Granny used to say. 

The words made her remember everything she’d be missing all over again. There would be no Granny. No beach. No ocean. This was the never-never, like in the books she’d read at school. With the heat and dry, where Mum said people died in the desert. 

‘There are other things to do.’ Her mum waved at the window. ‘Though exploring out here in the hot sun isn’t safe. Promise me you’ll remember that. And if you ever decide to take off without telling me’—she gave her a stern look—‘you have to also remember that without water or shade, your life will be in danger.’ 

‘I’ve got it, I promise, Mum.’ Like she hadn’t said that before. ‘Don’t go anywhere without telling you. Shade. Water. But what will we do when you’re not working?’ Bridget’s worry made her voice crack. 

The silence stretched. Even her mum couldn’t think of anything at the moment. ‘We’ll have an adventure,’ she finally said.

‘Small towns and gossip go together like trees and birds.’

It’s been more than ten years since Maddy Locke left Spinifex, the small outback town where she gave birth to her daughter, Bridget. Now she’s back to prove she’s got what it takes to run the medical centre and face the memories of that challenging time in her life. But everything’s changed – the old pub is gone, her new colleagues aren’t pleased to see her, and it’s drier and hotter than ever.

Station owner, Connor Fairhall, thought he’d left the drama behind in Sydney, but moving back to Spinifex with his rebellious son, Jayden, hasn’t been the fresh start he’d envisioned. His brother, Kyle, is drinking too much and the only bright spot on the horizon is meeting Nurse Maddy, who’s breathing new life into the weary town up the road, little by little.

Can Maddy ignore the rumours about Connor and risk her heart again? Or will the bush telegraph spread along the wire fences and stand in the way of trust?

From Australia’s renowned midwife and bestselling author of The Desert MidwifeThe Bush Telegraph is a romantic drama about love, friendship, community and the joys and challenges of life in the outback.

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

Friends on the Long Road to Publication

NA CoverIt is hard to believe that I am getting to write the blog post for my second Mills and Boon Medical! An author may dream up the characters and write the stories, but, if they are lucky, the bumpy road to seeing their name on the cover of a book isn’t done alone. And I am incredibly lucky to have had more than a few people hold my hand or give me a shoulder to cry on when that long road felt never ending.

This book fulfills a promise I made years ago to my very first beta reader, Sarah. I always said that my first book had to be dedicated to my supportive husband, but if I was ever lucky enough to write more than one, the dedication would be to Sarah.

Sarah read works that have never, and may never, see the light of day. Though she is a good friend; she also never held back on telling me when something didn’t work, or when a hero was coming off a might (or a lot) evil! She cheered me on as rejections piled up and never hesitated to say she’d love to read what I had.

There are not enough words to say thank you for all Sarah read and her continued encouragement. But I hope this dedication makes a small dent in the enormous debt I owe her.

For Sarah, who lovingly read my early works and cheered me on.

An excerpt from Falling Again for the Single Dad – available September 1st: 

Chapter One

DR. ELI COLLINSS breath caught as he stared at the gaggle of new employees. The first night was always a bit disorienting for the new hires, and they tended to arrive in packs for the first week or so. A petite woman, with long dark hair, lagged behind the rest.

The graceful way she moved sent a pulse of need through him. Amara? He hadn’t seen her in years.

And he wasn’t seeing her now.

Still, Eli’s heart pounded as he tried, and failed, to control his reaction to the miniscule possibility she was here. Hope, need, love, all wrapped around him before pain dismissed the fantasy.

Amara Patel was the best part of his past—and the worst. Any time he saw someone who bore a vague resemblance to her, Eli would stare for just a moment. It was never Amara, but after nearly a decade of trying, he still couldn’t break the habit.

“The new crop of nurses and doctors start tonight.” Dr. Griffin Stanfred slapped Eli’s shoulder as he slid in front of him.

“I know.” Eli shifted, trying to catch another glimpse of the woman. But she’d disappeared with the rest of the group. He wanted to run after them, force his mind and heart to realize that the mystery hire was just another look-alike. A beautiful, graceful, jet-haired woman, a talented nurse or doctor, sure, but it wasn’t his Amara.

His—that was a ridiculous thought. Amara hadn’t been his for nearly a decade. It was just a symptom of Eli’s loneliness.

He had let his desire to be the perfect son of the great Dr. Marshall Collins cost him his happiness. At least he’d come to his senses before taking on a surgical residency he didn’t want. That decision had been the right one, but Marshall had refused to speak to Eli during the entire duration of his residency and subspecialty training or the years that came after.

Only after Eli had given a keynote address at the second-largest emergency medicine conference in the country, eight months ago, had his father reached out to him. Their relationship was still more professional than personal, but Eli couldn’t stop the hope that one day Marshall might finally soften toward him. If Eli just achieved enough…

He let his eyes linger on the staff lounge door for a moment longer. Eli took a deep breath. Amara wasn’t at his hospital—she couldn’t be.

She’d landed a job at a prestigious university research hospital a week before graduating with her nursing degree. And two weeks after they’d broken up. Eli had watched from the corner of the room as she celebrated with their friends.

He’d wanted to reach out to her, to tell her how proud he was, celebrate with her. But he’d worried that if he said anything, he would beg her to take him back. Instead, Eli had made his excuses and left the party. It was one of the many moments in his past he wished he could change.

But life didn’t have a rewind button.

Eli hadn’t gone into surgery, but every activity he did was weighed against what it could do for his career. How it would improve Boston General. Make the institution great. Get it noticed.

Get him noticed.

Because no matter Eli’s achievements, he couldn’t stop the questions about his father. Even when he was surrounded by emergency professionals, someone always asked if he was related to Dr. Marshall Collins. Their eyes inevitably widened when Eli admitted he was his son. And part of him evaporated as they peppered him with questions about his father’s legacy.

You’re enough…

Eli’s soul lifted a bit. Even after all these years, Amara’s voice still floated through his memories just when he needed it. That constant kept him sane and yet sometimes drove him mad.

Eli had considered calling Amara so many times. Just to check in, say hello. See if she’d like to catch up; if she’d gotten the life she wanted; if she’d moved on. But he couldn’t, because if she had, then the tiny ball of hope Eli had never managed to extinguish would die. His heart didn’t want to accept that final loss.

It was easier to imagine Amara in the ER than at home with a husband and family who loved her. Safer… They’d both believed emergency medicine was their calling. Even if he’d doubted it for a brief period.

“Gina quit. Took a job in Baltimore.” Susan Gradeson, the ER’s head nurse, sighed as she laid her laptop on the charging pad at the nurses’ station. “Luckily, one of the new hires agreed to take her shift.” Before Eli could ask any questions, Susan hustled away.

Boston General’s emergency room had one of the highest trauma rates in the nation. It was used by physicians and nurses as a launching pad to one of the nationally ranked academic hospitals that dotted the city. If only they were recognized on that list, then maybe the other hospitals wouldn’t have such an easy time siphoning away Boston Gen.’s talent.

Eli had been offered a position at several of those academic hospitals too. But he loved the chaotic nature of Boston Gen. He thrived on the constant challenges, and even took pleasure in turning down the jobs. He’d bring in the offer letter and let the staff help him draft a blistering no-thank-you note. Eli never sent those, but it was an excellent way to let his friends and colleagues blow off steam.

His cell dinged with an image of his niece, Lizzy. She was waving at the camera; her cheeks covered in chocolate pudding. Eli darted around the corner and video called his mother. She’d taken to the role of grandma the minute Lizzy was born. And she’d refused to allow him to hire a nanny when Lizzy came to live with Eli eight months ago. He didn’t know how he would have survived without his mom’s calming presence.

He’d never expected to be a father. Marshall hadn’t set a great example, but Eli was doing his best. Which mostly meant Googling everything and hoping the mistakes he made were minor. His insides relaxed a bit as Lizzy waved again. Lizzy looked a lot like her father—a man she’d never remember.

Eli pushed his grief away. The months since his brother’s passing had dulled the pain, but there were still moments where Eli had to remind himself that he couldn’t call Sam after a hard day. Or text him a celebratory note after an unexpected success.

At least he had Lizzy.

“Hi, cutie!” Eli cooed as his niece played with the chocolate pudding on her high chair tray. Lizzy needed a happy parent, not a concerned, uncomfortable uncle who was still terrified that he was going to screw everything up.

He smiled and laughed at her silly antics as worries niggled at the back of his brain. Eli never wanted Lizzy to see how terrified he was to be a father. He may not have planned to be a dad, but he couldn’t fail Lizzy now that he was.

“Did she eat any of that?” Eli shook his head as he stared at the messy, almost two-year-old.

“A bit.” His mother laughed. “I was just getting ready to put her in the bathtub. Figured she might as well have some fun. Every kid loves to play with pudding at this age. I’ve got pictures of you and—” she paused for just a moment “—and Sam covered in the sweet stuff.”

A nurse with dark hair passed by in Eli’s peripheral vision. Amara? She’d already slipped into a patient’s room by the time he turned to get a better look.

Why was his mind playing tricks on him tonight?

“Look!” Lizzy giggled as the pudding dripped off her fingers.

Focus, he reminded himself. Smiling at Lizzy, Eli shook his head. “You really are a mess—a cute mess.”

“Daddy!” Lizzy stuck her tongue out at the camera.

Eli’s stomach clenched. That title still felt off. Like he was robbing Sam somehow. “It’s Uncle Eli, sweetheart.”

“Daddy,” Lizzy repeated.

“Well, I’m going to get her cleaned up.” His mom offered a soft smile, though he could see her blink away a few tears. “It’s okay to be daddy, Eli. Maybe it’s what she needs. Sam would understand—even give you a hard time about it.”

“Probably.” Eli agreed, then waved one last time before his mother shut off the video connection. Eli wasn’t Lizzy’s father. Sam was…always would be.

But he was gone.

He’d been killed in a plane crash along with his wife, Yolanda, heading to a surgical conference, just as Lizzy was starting to say her first words.

Like Daddy.

Daddy… It held so much meaning. Eli still felt lost, but Lizzy was his responsibility. No, she was his daughter. When she was older, he would make sure that Lizzy knew as much about her parents as possible.

Sam was the good son, after all. The one who’d followed in his father’s footsteps, though he’d refused to take on any roles at his father’s research facility after Yolanda announced she was pregnant. It was unfair that Eli was now the one putting Sam’s daughter to bed, getting to watch silly pudding videos, planning her future.

And hearing the word Daddy.

When Sam and Yolanda had asked him to be Lizzy’s guardian less than a week after her birth, Eli had agreed without thinking about it. But he’d never expected to take custody of Lizzy. He loved Sam, though watching him with his wife and daughter had always sent a wave of jealousy through him. But Eli’s goals didn’t include a family.

Hadn’t included a family.

In the horrid days after the accident, Eli had held their sleeping child feeling devastated. But he’d sworn to raise her with all the love Sam had shown for her. Somehow, Eli was going to be both an amazing father and a top emergency room doctor. The patients and Lizzy came first. He could do this—he had to.

Turning, he stared at the room where the dark-haired nurse had disappeared a few minutes ago. Eli didn’t think she’d exited yet. If a patient was being difficult, she might need help. That was why he was moving toward the room. Not because he needed to prove to himself that it wasn’t Amara.

Just before he got to the door, Susan grabbed his arm. “I’ve got a kid in room 7 that needs stitches and an elderly man in 4 that probably needs to be admitted for pneumonia. Any chance you can clear either of them out of my ER?”

Your ER?” Eli echoed. “Last time I checked, I was the senior doctor on staff this evening.”

“That supposed to mean something?” Susan quipped as she marched toward another room.

That was Eli’s running joke with Susan. The head nurse had worked at Boston General longer than anyone, and she ran a tight ship. Everyone fell in line when Susan Gradeson ordered it.

Eli looked over his shoulder one last time. But the nurse, or more likely, the figment of his imagination, still hadn’t materialized.

He tried to convince himself that it wasn’t Amara. It wasn’t.

Eli had a few hours left on his shift. He’d see the dark-haired woman before he went home. Then his brain could stop hoping that a miracle had occurred. He had never stopped loving Amara, but that was a feeling he’d learned to live with.

***

Amara held her breath as Dr. Eli Collins finally walked away from the room where she was hiding. Her pulse rate was elevated, and she could feel the heat in her cheeks. Eli was here…here.

She’d already double-checked on the patient, a young woman waiting on her release papers following a minor fender bender. Amara had gone over the concussion protocol with her and made sure she knew the indicators for internal bleeding. Now Amara was hovering. Her stomach twisted as she tried to work out what to do.

She’d left Massachusetts Research after her relationship with Dr. Joe Miller had crashed and burned in full view of all her colleagues. No matter how high she’d held her head, there’d been whispers when Joe immediately started dating her ER colleague Kathleen Hale. Louder whispers when they’d eloped a few weeks later.

Amara had been considering a change for years. If Joe’s affair was the catalyst for it, so what? But now she was facing working with another ex—and she’d never fully recovered from their breakup…

Amara was independent. That was the word she used to describe herself. Independent…that word sounded so much better than afraid of commitment. Terrified of losing your dreams to someone else’s goals. Of disappearing in the one relationship where you were supposed to stand out.

That was the fear that had driven her to walk away from Eli. It had been the right choice. But it didn’t stop the regret that sometimes seeped deep into her bones as she lay awake at night. They wouldn’t have worked. It was the mantra she’d repeated for years. He wanted to chase glory, like her father. Eventually, that need destroyed everything it touched.

She’d watched her mother give all of herself to her father. All her dreams, her goals had been sacrificed to support him. And she’d gotten almost nothing in return.

Even after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, Amara’s father hadn’t put away his bid to secure funding for his newest start-up. Her mother had fought for her life without her husband by her side. And it had been Amara holding her hand at the end, not the man she’d stood beside for nearly forty years.

The patient coughed, and Amara’s cheeks heated again. The young woman hadn’t commented on her extended presence—yet, but she was watching Amara count the supplies in the cabinet. Amara made a note to restock the extra-small gloves, and wanted to shake herself.

Coward! her brain screamed. She should march out of the room and pretend that Eli was just any other doctor on the ER floor.

Boston General was supposed to be her fresh start. Her new place.

And Eli was here.

Did he still have to look so handsome?

Amara hated the selfish thought. Eli had been gorgeous in college, and the last decade had been very kind to the man. No beer belly or receding hairline for him. No, he was still the tall, broad-shouldered, dark-haired medical student that had been every woman’s dream date. Except now, he was an ER doctor. Not a surgeon.

Joy tapped across Amara’s skin. Eli had evidently followed his own path. That didn’t make it any easier to walk out the door and say hello, but she was surprised by how much it warmed her heart.

Amara once believed they’d grow old together. That they’d work in the same ER and go home to a small house with a couple of kids. It had been a good fantasy, and for a short period, she thought those dreams were enough for Eli too. But what was a happy home life compared to medical glory?

Amara’s heart clenched as she forced the past away.

What was Eli doing at Boston General?

She’d assumed he’d gone to Chicago. It was ridiculous, but every year she checked the online annual hospital report to see if he was listed with the other top surgeons. He’d wanted to be like his father so much, but working at Boston Gen. wasn’t likely to land Eli on that list.

In a city full of prestigious academic hospitals, Boston Gen.’s administration wasn’t interested in attracting investors that would make demands that took resources away from the hospital’s patients. Which meant it was chronically underfunded in its quest to provide quality care. Eventually, many of its talented physicians and nurses sought out the hospitals with research dollars, beautiful new buildings and better hours.

The low retention rate for employees at Boston Gen. was well-known. It was one of the reasons why, when Amara figured she needed a change to jump-start her life, she’d applied here.

If she’d known Eli was working at this hospital… She forced that thought away. It didn’t matter. Amara was not going to be another retention statistic on Boston Gen.’s ledger.

Squaring her shoulders, she marched from the room and ran directly into the head nurse, Susan.

“Sorry!” Amara grabbed her to keep them from tumbling to the floor. She instinctively looked over Susan’s shoulder. Eli was gone—at least he hadn’t witnessed her bout of clumsiness.

What would he say when they finally crossed paths?

Amara ignored that thought. She didn’t want to think about Eli, now. Or ever, though there was little hope of that.

“No harm done…?” Wrinkles ran along Susan’s forehead as she stared at her.

“Amara,” she said helpfully. She’d stepped in at the end of their orientation yesterday when Susan had announced that the ER was short-staffed for this evening’s shift. Amara doubted the head nurse had even bothered to write her name down before rushing back to her post.

She looked around Susan one more time and then mentally chastised herself. Amara needed to get Eli out of her head.

“Looking for someone?” Susan raised an eyebrow.

“A doctor… I…no,” she stuttered.

Amara suspected Susan knew she was lying, but at least she didn’t press her. “While we have a lull, I wanted to see if you’d help with the health fair in a few weeks. All the hospital’s departments have a few booths. Several of the ER doctors always run their own. There is a competition—the winner gets two extra vacation days.”

Eli would love that. He’d thrived in competitive environments in college—always pushing himself to come out on top. But Amara hadn’t been the right prize. She knew that wasn’t fair, but a decade later, she still woke up from dreams where he was holding her. Her subconscious refused to give up the whisper of hope Amara was too scared to voice while awake.

Pain rippled up her spine, but she ignored it. Amara was starting a new chapter, and it did not include Dr. Eli Collins. Straightening her shoulders, she gave Susan her full attention. “Put me down for whichever booth needs help.” Her voice didn’t sound as strong as she wanted, but at least it was a start.

A man walked behind Susan, and Amara made sure to keep her gaze focused on the head nurse. She was not going to look for Eli again—she wasn’t.

“You might want to get to know the doctors who are participating first. Like I said, this helps the community, but the competition…”

Amara waved away Susan’s concerns. “It’s fine. I don’t need extra vacation time.” Her father and his new wife lived in California now, and she had no desire to visit.

Not that she’d been invited.

Jovan Patel had barely waited until her mother was gone to set a wedding date. No long mourning period for him.

“We’ve got a four-car pileup coming in!” one of the nurses cried as she ran past Amara and Susan.

Susan turned and yelled, “Dr. Collins was talking to his daughter over by room 3, but he might be in room 7, putting in a few stitches now, and Dr. Stanford is in room 6.”

Amara’s insides chilled. Eli had a daughter. Perhaps even a wife. Her heart raced as she headed for the ambulance bay doors. It was her body prepping for the incoming wounded, not because of Eli.

How simple would life be if she could believe that?

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