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

The Army Doc’s Secret Princess

 

The Army Doc's Secret Princess, UK Aug 2020 large Emily Forbes

Could her royal fling…

…last a lifetime?

Princess Viktoria made a promise: do her duty and marry a duke. But she wants one final adventure first! So she welcomes the freedom that working incognito at the Legion’s Games gives her. There’s only one tall, dark and brooding problem – surgeon and medical team leader Campbell Hamilton. Because the delicious-yet-damaged army doc leaves Viktoria wondering if the adventure she really wants is forever with the man she’s falling for…

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

Two years ago

Campbell’s headphones blocked out most of the engine noise, but he could still hear a faint rhythmic thump-thump as the chopper blades beat the air and he could feel the vibrations as they shuddered through his body. After almost six months he thought he’d be used to the overwhelming assault on his senses—the smell of fumes and dust, the incessant noise, the constant jarring and jolting—but he had yet to get used to the tension. He was always on edge when he was in flight, despite knowing that one of the Australian Army’s best pilots was in control of the aircraft, and he was looking forward to getting back on the ground.

Cam kept his eyes cast down, focusing on his patient. He kept up a one-sided conversation despite the fact that his patient was heavily sedated, and the engine noise would make conversation almost impossible even if he were conscious. He gave him a rundown of his situation—only the positives though. His IV line was running smoothly and his vital signs had stabilised, he told him. He avoided the specifics of his injuries. The soldier was badly wounded, but he didn’t need to be reminded of that. He’d live, at this stage that was the important information, but he’d be getting sent home for a while. Home to Australia. Where he’d have a chance to recover physically, if not mentally.

Cam knew the soldiers would always be haunted by their experiences fighting a war on the other side of the world. Some would cope better than others. He knew he’d have scars too. Mental, not physical. This war wasn’t what he’d anticipated or expected.

Gemma had warned him, but how did you warn someone who had grown up in rural Australia? A land of dust and dirt but safe enough. Hot, and at times desolate, but it had been a different sort of barren. A different sort of danger.

Apart from the snakes and some angry rams or falling off a motorbike or a horse, Cam hadn’t really had anything to worry about. Now, every day was a battle. Here, there was always a chance of getting hit by a bullet, being on the wrong side of an IED, being wounded or killed by enemy fire or even by a civilian on a suicide mission. Life here was stressful.

His job as a medical specialist with the Australian Army meant he was responsible for lives in a country where lives were not highly regarded. Lives here were seen as disposable, which went against everything he believed in and made his job difficult and, at times, impossible. He still had access to First World medical facilities but, more often than not, he was trying to save lives in the middle of a dustbowl, trying to do his best while war raged around him. Gemma had tried to explain it to him but, until he’d seen it with his own eyes, until he’d lived through the experiences she had told him about, he knew he hadn’t understood.

He glanced towards the cockpit to where Gemma sat in the pilot’s seat. As if she had felt his gaze, his fiancée turned and looked back at him and smiled.

Cam was looking forward to getting back to base. He was looking forward to dinner with Gemma, even if it was just in the mess tent. He could pretend for a moment that they were a normal couple, looking forward to making a life together, planning a family. He needed that idea of his future—it was what kept him going on tough days. Gemma was the bright spot in his world. He loved his job but, if he was asked, he’d have to admit he preferred to do his job in the sterile environment of an Australian medical facility. He didn’t mind dust and dirt, he was country born and bred after all, but practising medicine in these conditions was challenging, often unpleasant and definitely not fun.

But no one was interested in his opinion and if he wanted to be with Gemma, this was where she was.

He wondered if he had any chance of convincing her to quit the army and return to Australia. She loved flying but it would be years before she would achieve flight instructor status with the army. Years before she wouldn’t have to fly combat missions. Perhaps she could work privately instead.

He wondered when it would be safe to have that discussion. Would it ever? Could he ask her to give up something she loved? How would he feel if she started to tell him how to live his life or run his career?

He knew he wouldn’t be happy.

He blew her a kiss just as a bright light burst in his peripheral vision.

The chopper lurched as Gemma’s head whipped around and even through the headphones Cam could hear the sound of tearing metal.

The chopper shuddered and he could see Gemma and her co-pilot fighting to keep control as the bird started to spin.

It took him a few seconds to work out what had happened. It felt like an eternity.

They’d been hit.

There was a second explosion, the burst of light so intense that Cam closed his eyes against the glare.

He could feel the chopper spinning wildly. He opened his eyes and saw the ground rushing towards them as the machine fell from the sky.

Black smoke filled the cabin, making Cam’s eyes water. He couldn’t see Gemma. He couldn’t see anything. He lost all sense of space and time.

He threw himself over his patient as the helicopter plummeted. He knew it was a ridiculous gesture. He wasn’t going to be able to protect him. He wasn’t going to be able to save him. The situation was completely out of his control.

There was nothing he could do.

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

Present day

Campbell’s leg ached and he fought hard against the urge to stand up. The meeting had been long and he was beginning to get restless. He’d never been good at sitting still and these days it was almost impossible. He needed to stand and stretch; prolonged periods of sitting disagreed with him. Irritated his mind and his body. If he sat still his leg complained and his mind wandered. He needed to be moving, he needed to be busy. He wanted to keep his mind occupied. He didn’t want time to dwell. Too much time to think had proven to be difficult.

He stretched his right leg out under the boardroom table as he tried to ease the cramp in his hip. He needed to get in the pool. Swim a few laps. He would prefer to swim a few laps in the ocean, but he knew from experience that he’d fare better in a warm pool. The heated water would ease his aching muscles. It had been two years since the chopper crash and he didn’t need ice baths any more.

It had been twenty-four months since the incident, but he was still adjusting to his new life.

A life as a solitary man.

He brought his attention back to the meeting as Douglas began to wrap it up.

Thank goodness it was almost over. Cam hoped no one had any additional items for discussion. He looked around the table at the ten other men and women, trying to gauge if any of them looked like they had something on their mind. He’d had enough experience with meetings, ward rounds as well as military discussion groups, to know that there was always one person who seemed to delight in dragging meetings on for far too long but today, for once, it appeared as though everyone was just as eager to escape as he was.

He stood up the minute Douglas officially closed the meeting. He stretched, knowing that if he didn’t take a moment to ease the stiffness in his back and leg his limp would be far more pronounced, and he preferred not to draw attention to himself.

He was used to being noticed but he didn’t want to be noticed for the wrong reasons. He knew that was ironic and he’d never say it out loud, not when he was surrounded by so many others with far more severe disabilities and injuries than he had, but he knew that perception was a very personal thing.

‘You okay?’ Doug was beside him.

Cam knew Doug would have noticed his attempt at surreptitious stretching. Doug was one of his closest friends in the service and had been a good support to him during his rehabilitation and recovery phase. His family and friends had helped get him through the past year. He felt he owed it to them to pull through, although there had been times when it had seemed like too much effort, but he was having better days now.

‘I didn’t think it was possible to have this many meetings.’ Cam had made no secret of the fact that he liked to be busy and when he’d agreed to be on this committee he’d imagined that he’d be doing something practical like overseeing the medical facilities and programme for the games, not sitting around talking.

‘We’re almost done,’ Doug said, making an effort to appease him. He knew full well Cam’s opinion about meetings. ‘The Games start next week.’

The countdown was on until the Legion’s Games began, when hundreds of injured veterans from twenty countries around the world would descend on Sydney to compete in a dozen different events across ten days. The Games were the brainchild of Prince Alfred, an army captain himself, and the Games Committee was responsible for the event but, as the host nation, the Australian defence force was heavily involved. It was a massive exercise and the logistics of the Games fell to the Australians, which was how Cam found himself involved.

‘Not much longer and your suffering will all be over,’ Doug added with a smile.

Cam doubted that. Sure, he’d have fewer meetings to attend but his current life was still so far removed from what he’d thought it was going to be; he wasn’t sure that his suffering was ever going to be over.

He’d hoped the Games would be a good distraction, a way to mark the passing of time. He’d expected to be consulted over the details of the medical facilities, but somehow, he’d found himself dragged along to every damn meeting in existence. He tried to be positive. He’d put his hand up for this project after all, but he’d put his hand up for any work that had been offered to him over the past year. Exhaustion was the only way he could get even a half-decent night’s sleep. A few hours when he could shut out the horrors of everything he’d experienced during his tour of duty in the Middle East.

‘Before you go, can I have a word with you about tomorrow’s schedule?’ Doug asked.

‘Don’t tell me there are more meetings—I’m consulting tomorrow and I know my list is pretty full.’

‘I know you’re out at the rehab centre tomorrow; that’s why I need to speak to you. I have a favour to ask. The Prince’s social media manager has arrived in Sydney ahead of the Prince and has asked for a tour of the facilities.’

‘Which facilities?’

‘All of them. But I thought we could start with the old barracks first.’

One of the old inner-city army bases had been repurposed as a rehabilitation facility when the site had needed updating. The active units had been reassigned to a new purpose-built base in the outer suburbs of Sydney and the old base had been upgraded and was now home to the medical facilities, including doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists, exercise physiologists, a purpose-built gym and pool for the injured and returned soldiers, along with outdoor sporting facilities. The repurposed base was going to serve as the venue for the majority of the events in the Legion’s Games.

‘You’re out there tomorrow,’ Doug continued. ‘Can they go out there with you?’

‘You want me to babysit the Prince’s—what did you call them—social media manager?’

Doug nodded and sweetened the deal. ‘If you can do me this small favour, I promise I won’t drag you into any meetings for the rest of the week.’

Cam sighed and ran his hand through his thick, dark hair. A day out of the boardroom was preferable to another day of meetings. Even playing tour guide to a stranger would have to be better than that. ‘All right,’ he agreed.

‘Okay, I’ll send you the details,’ Doug said as he took out his phone and tapped away. ‘Can you collect her from her hotel at o-nine hundred hours?’

‘Her?’ he asked as his phone pinged with the incoming email. Prince Alfred had a military background and Cam had, incorrectly it seemed, assumed his social media manager would be a man.

Cam had met the Prince once while he’d been deployed in the Middle East. Once, in the days before the incident. In the days before his life went down the toilet.

‘Yes—’ Doug grinned ‘—see if you can dredge up some of your old charm. Be nice.’

Cam looked at the email on his screen and noted her name, along with the hotel address, with a raised eyebrow. Apparently, Viktoria von Grasburg was staying in one of Sydney’s five-star hotels on the Harbour. He wondered who was paying for that.

‘Sure,’ he said as he sighed and stuck his phone back in his pocket, before massaging his hip subconsciously.

 

*

Viktoria had woken up well before sunrise, unsure whether to blame her excitement or her body clock which still hadn’t adjusted to the Australian time zone. She was on the other side of the world and about to start her first day ‘on the job’. A job that had nothing to do with her being a royal, a princess. Nothing to do with cutting ribbons, shaking hands or making speeches.

She was working for her cousin, the Prince, but no one in Australia actually knew who she was. No one here knew she was a princess. As far as the organisers of the Legion’s Games were concerned she was just running the Prince’s social media campaign.

Freddie had told her no one would be bothered anyway but she hadn’t believed him. She was about to find out.

‘There’s a Dr Campbell Hamilton here to escort you,’ her assistant informed her as she handed over a small bag. ‘I’ve put your phone, a credit card, a make-up purse and your sunglasses in there. Your schedule is on your phone.’

Viktoria took a deep breath to calm her nerves, suddenly realising this was it. She was doing this. Going off to work like a regular person, out into the world.

She took the lift down to Reception. She stepped out, wondering how she would know who to look for, before realising the reception staff would advise her. She looked to the front desk and her attention was caught by a man in army uniform standing near the concierge.

‘Miss von Grasburg?’ he addressed her, and she was momentarily flummoxed. She wasn’t used to being addressed so casually. There was no Your Highness or even ma’am.

No, this was what she wanted, she reminded herself. He knew all he needed to know. She smiled to herself and swallowed her surprise.

She was Miss von Grasburg.

‘Please, call me Viktoria,’ she said as she nodded and held out her hand to shake his.

‘Campbell Hamilton.’

He was tall, over six feet, with thick dark hair which was a little longer than she thought would meet standard army regulations. He looked lean and muscular, fit without being too bulky. He had wide blue-grey eyes and a dimpled chin. He was clean-shaven with a full mouth and she could see a small scar running through his bottom lip. He was handsome. Very handsome.

She wasn’t sure who she had been expecting but she had never imagined this.

His handshake was firm, his skin cool, but she wasn’t prepared for the heat that spread from his fingertips into her hand and up her arm. She managed to maintain her composure even while her skin tingled and flared under his touch.

She waited for him to say it was a pleasure to meet her, but he didn’t. Was that something people only said to be polite?

‘I understand you want to see the Games facilities?’ he said as he released her hand.

She nodded. The power of speech had deserted her momentarily. Dr Campbell Hamilton was tall, dark and handsome and made her feel strangely nervous.

She had an odd sensation that this man was the reason she was here. That he was what she’d come for. She had an overpowering sense that he was going to play an important role in her days here. Or was she just getting caught up in the excitement of the day ahead?

*

‘My car is out the front,’ he said as he turned and began walking towards the exit. He was quite abrupt, and Viktoria was a little thrown. While she had the sense that he was important, that there was some sort of connection between them, he didn’t appear to share her thoughts. She got the impression she had annoyed him. He seemed to wish he was somewhere else. Doing something else. Her bubble of enthusiasm deflated slightly but, refusing to be completely crushed, she followed him outside.

He was standing beside a white SUV, holding the door open for her.

She hesitated.

‘Is there a problem?’ he asked when she made no move to climb in.

Viktoria looked down the driveway and saw Hendrik pulling to a stop.

‘I arranged for Hendrik to drive us,’ she said.

‘Who?’

She gestured towards the black luxury SUV that was now stationary behind Campbell’s car. ‘Hendrik. My driver.’

‘You have a driver?’

‘Oui.’

‘No one said anything about a driver. This is my car. I will be driving.’

Viktoria made a split decision. She didn’t want to irritate him further and she wanted to live like a normal person. She’d let him drive. That would be safe enough, surely? After all, he was a government employee. ‘Do you have some identification?’ she asked.

‘Identification?’ He was frowning.

‘Oui. If you can show Hendrik some identification to verify yourself, I will give him the day off and let you drive me.’ She knew Hendrik wouldn’t be happy, but she’d deal with him later.

‘You’ll let me drive you?’

His tone was frosty, but Viktoria nodded even as she wished they could begin this conversation again. They were not getting off to a great start.

 

*

Cam bit back a sigh and resisted the urge to run his hand through his hair in frustration. He should have taken the meetings. This was going to be a nightmare. They already seemed to be at cross purposes, working off different briefs. He couldn’t care less if she came with him or not, but he had gone out of his way to collect her this morning and he didn’t appreciate finding out that it hadn’t been necessary. He could have easily met her at the barracks and sorted out her credentials and visitor’s clearance then. But he knew he had to be polite. This woman worked for the Prince. It wouldn’t do to get her offside. He suspected she was going to be demanding. She probably had every right to be, but he wished he wasn’t going to be the one who had to meet her demands.

And then she smiled at him.

The photo provided for her clearance documents hadn’t done her justice. It had been a flattering photo—she’d looked attractive—but he’d been mistaken. She wasn’t just pretty; she was absolutely stunning.

Her smile was like the sun coming out and it burnt through the fog that had surrounded his psyche for the past two years. As the fog lifted, he felt as if he could see clearly for the first time in months…and what he saw made him catch his breath.

 

***

 

The Army Doc's Secret Princess, USA Aug 2020 Emily Forbes

The Army Doc’s Secret Princess is available here

and also

Mills&Boon Aus,

Mills&Boon UK

Harlequin USA

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels, Origin Stories

How the truth in foreign places inspires fiction in a lockdown

Lockdown might be over in some places, but hasn’t it been a long stretch stuck in our living rooms, unable to go anywhere further than the supermarket?

Thankfully we have books and stories (and puppy dogs – that’s my little Cockapoo fur-baby Ziggy in the photo below. She’s a prized new addition to our household!)

Becky

As well as picking up poop and yelling “please don’t eat that” across the kitchen, I’ve been scribbling away at a new story set in the veterinary world. I’ve been so lost in it that I almost forgot I have another book coming out next month! I’m posting a sneaky excerpt from ENTICED BY HER ISLAND BILLIONAIRE below, to tease you into Mila and Dr Sebastian Becker’s world.

She’s an ex Army doc, working out on a remote Indonesian island, assisting Sebastian in his pioneering scar tissue surgery at his exclusive clinic. The thing is, he’s met her before, hasn’t he? Mila is quite sure he hasn’t. Could he really be remembering her dead twin sister?!

I set this book on an Indonesian island because it’s very close to my heart. I was lucky enough to live and work out in Bali for a couple of years in my mid-30s, writing a travel book called Balilicious, so I got to know and love the land, and the people.

In fact, random places and adventurous strangers from my time as a travel writer/author have inspired a lot of my fiction. My first Mills & Boon medical TEMPTED BY HER HOT-SHOT DOC was set in the Amazon, where the Spanish-speaking locals were some of the most gentle, kind souls I’ve ever met… though I had to leave out the week I spent with a shaman drinking hallucinogenic tree sap (aka ayahuasca).

My second, FROM DOCTOR TO DADDY was inspired by the time I was lucky enough to board a cruise ship for 10 days in Australia. While the book is set in the Caribbean, I was able to draw on my experiences on the ship. The staff were very accommodating, especially the amorous chef who chased me round the ship asking for a kiss one night after too many drinks in the bar, (I managed to escape).

The world is a big, big place full of beauty and stories waiting to be told, even if we chop, twist and edit them sometimes. I experienced so many acts of kindness from strangers on my travels, in all corners of the world. There was also the time I got mugged in a back alley in Bogota and had to bribe getting my phone back by buying a bottle of vodka for the perpetrator, but that’s another story… most people are shining stars of humanity.

Maybe I’ll share a few more tales of how travelling, and people of different origins and cultures have inspired me over the years. (If you’d like?) But for now, please do enjoy this little excerpt set in Indonesia….

 

EXCERPT FROM ENTICED BY HER ISLAND BILLIONAIRE

A rush of air-conditioning blasted Mila’s face as the door swung open to admit Dr Becker. ‘Agung, how’s she doing?’

He was pulling on a coat, arm by long, bulked-up arm, striding towards the bed in black sport’s sandals. He was every bit as striking in a white coat as he was in a wetsuit.

He made to pass her, stopped, placed a hand on her shoulder. ’Thank you for what you just did.’

‘You’re welcome.’ The words came out smoothly, calm like she’d intended, but she didn’t feel calm. The way he was looking at her now had suspicion all over it. He only looked away from her when the anaesthetist entered the room.

‘Put this on,’ he told her now, throwing her a white coat from a hook on the wall. ‘Nurse Viv is with another patient, so I hope you don’t mind staying a bit longer here. I just need you to cut the suit,’ he said, motioning to a pair of scissors on the tray.

Mila snipped carefully at the girl’s wetsuit, and discarded the flimsy material. She was following commands, where she’d usually be giving them but that was OK. She wasn’t a hundred miles from base in Ghazni. No one had been blasted by shrapnel from a rocket propelled grenade, there were no wounded soldiers crying out for attention. There was only this one girl, right here, right now.

She put a gentle hand to Gabby’s leg still and soothed her as the meds kicked in.

Agung’s radio made a sound. ‘Excuse me Doctor Becker, Doctor Mila.’ he said. He left the room and instantly the air grew thicker. Sebastian was appraising her again.

’Mila?’ he said in a surprised voice, as soon as it was only the two of them. He stepped towards her.

‘She looks much better,’ she told him, looking up to see his eyes narrow. ‘I think we got to this bite just in time. She just needs to sleep it off now.’

He folded his arms, towering over her. He must have been at least six foot two inches to her five foot three. ’Why Mila? I thought your name was Annabel?’

All the breath left her body.

’I couldn’t remember at first, back there, it was at least six or seven  years ago, right? Before this Clinic, or the MAC existed,’ he said. ‘You were late to our snorkelling party, you’d had too much to drink remember?’ He grinned, laughing at a memory that wasn’t hers.

Tears stung her eyes. She still could have wrestled him to the ground when he reached for her wrists, but his long, tanned fingers ran gently over her scars and she felt bolted to the floor.

He was turning her arms in the harsh overhead light, studying the faint, silvery lines like they were clues to a mystery game. ‘You didn’t have these before,’ he said, frowning. ‘What happened to you?’

She bit her cheeks as the tears threatened to spill over. He’d met Annabel. This must be the same guy her sister had come back talking about, all those years ago. Sebastian. It all made sense now. Doctor Sebastian Becker was Bas. All of this, and she had to work with him?

She had to set him straight, it was unbearable.

‘I’m not… who you think I am,’ she managed. The room felt suddenly way-too-small. She took a step back, pulling her arms away. ’Doctor Becker, I’m Doctor Mila Ricci. I’ve come to work at the MAC for a while and learn your techniques. I would have met you earlier but I missed my transfer, I apologise for the confusion.’

She watched him rake a hand through his hair as she struggled for composure. He paced the room, then stopped. ‘Am I going crazy here? I met you before, didn’t I? Did you change your name?’

‘I’m not Annabel,’ she said through a tight throat. ‘Annabel was my twin sister. She’s dead, Sebastian. She died three years ago. It was her you met, not me.’

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt – From Hawaii to Forever, by Julie Danvers

Jack Harper has been showing Kat Murphy that sometimes the best way to relax is to seek out a thrill.  But Kat’s already decided that the thrill she wants is him.

Medical2JuneThey approached the edge of the cliff at the golden hour—the hour before the sun set and cast everything with a luminous glow. It was one of Jack’s favorite spots in all Hawaii: a stretch of coastline on the island’s north shore. This part of the shoreline was made of high cliffs, with deep water below. It was an ideal spot for cliff jumping, if Kat decided she wanted to go through with it.

Being so close to the shoreline awed Jack, as it always did. And as he looked at Kat he could tell that she was just as taken by the island’s beauty as he was.

“It’s incredible,” she said. “I’ve never seen water this shade of blue before. It’s like looking at liquid lapis lazuli.”

Jack realized he’d never really taken in the islands through someone else’s eyes. Kat’s response to the wild beauty of Oahu made him feel as though he were seeing it all again for the first time.

“You love this place,” he said.

“I think I do,” she replied. “Even though I haven’t spent much time here. From the moment I got off the plane I felt like I was home. Chicago is a great city, but it’s very…flat. I’ve never seen a place that radiates so much natural beauty as Hawaii.”

Speaking of radiating beauty, Jack thought, she should see how her face softens and her eyes shine when she looks out over the cliffs.

Somewhere along their hike to the cliffs she’d plucked a plumeria flower and placed it in her hair. The effect was breathtaking now, as Kat looked out over the coast, framed by the sea and sky, her tangled red hair waving in the wind. She turned toward him and somehow, before he knew what had taken hold of him, he’d reached out and she was in his arms, her face tilted up toward his.

He felt as though she’d always belonged there—as though he’d reached out for some lost piece of himself that he hadn’t known was missing. But to have her so close was confusing. He couldn’t think clearly with her pulled into his arms, pressed against his chest, her hair smelling of flowers.

He found himself saying, “There’s no reason to be scared,” and he couldn’t be sure if he was saying it to her, or to himself.

“Scared?” she said. She looked up at him, confused. “Why would I be scared?”

A fair enough question. She rested securely in his arms and he would damn well never let any harm come to her if he could help it. She was in the safest place she could possibly be, even if she didn’t know it. So why should either of them be scared?

He searched his mind for an explanation of what he’d said—something that would make sense. “I was talking about the cliff-jumping, if you decide you want to try it,” he said. “It’s always scary the first time, but there’s nothing to be afraid of here. The water’s deep, but we’re close enough to shore that we can swim back safely, and the current isn’t overpowering.”

She looked up at him, still folded in his arms, her eyes filled with emotion. “Jumping off a cliff doesn’t scare me,” she said. “I know that might sound strange. But you were right, Jack! I was never going to learn to relax from a book. I need to try new things, and I need a thrill. I’m the kind of person who relaxes by finding excitement—not by sitting in a quiet room meditating. But before coming to Hawaii I never realized that about myself because my whole life has been about studying. I never even had a chance to experience an adrenaline rush until I started working in the ER. I don’t think I ever realized that that’s what I love about medicine: the excitement, the unpredictability, having to think quickly. At least, I didn’t realize it until I met you.”

Jack wondered if Kat could feel his heart beating underneath his shirt. He’d pulled her to him and she hadn’t pulled away. She was still resting in his arms, her head against his chest, as though she belonged there. As though she wanted to be there. As though whatever was between the two of them wasn’t about being friends, or having a physical relationship with no emotions.

She held him as though she wanted him.

She held him the same way he was holding her.

“I’m not scared of jumping off a cliff, Jack,” she continued. “Why would I be? I trust you. But I’ll tell you what I really am scared of.” She locked her eyes with his. “I’m scared of the two of us hiding from how we really feel about each other.”

And then she was kissing him, her lips seeking his with ardent desire, and he found himself kissing her back just as passionately, his tongue desperate to explore every last corner of her mouth and his arms pressing her against his body, right where she belonged.

Some time later their kisses became shorter and softer, until they simply held each other close, their foreheads pressed together.

“What do you think?” he said. “Should we take the leap?”

She looked over the cliff. “The relationship leap or the actual leap?”

“Both,” he said.

“I want to, but I’m not sure I know how,” she said.

He held her close. “I think there’s only one way to do it,” he said. “Take a running start, hold hands, and jump together.”

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt: Tempted by the Single Mum by Caroline Anderson

41mX8cT+AJL.jpgCHAPTER ONE

Why? Why today, when she was already running late before she’d even started, did someone have to make it even worse?

          She glared at the car reversing neatly into the one remaining doctors’ space—a car she didn’t recognise, and she’d never seen the driver, either. He certainly wasn’t one of their doctors, so whoever he was he had no business parking there.

          Didn’t seem to bother him. He either didn’t know, or didn’t care, but he flashed her a smile as he got out of the car, then locked it and headed for the surgery without a backward glance.

          Who did he think he was? Cocky, arrogant—argh! There weren’t words for what she felt. The expensive car, the confident stride, the easy charm—not to mention the insanely good looks. Clearly a man for whom everything had always gone his way. Well, not now. Whoever he was—probably a drug rep—he was about to get his comeuppance.

          Still fuming, she reversed into the last available space in the car park, not really wide enough but doable—or it would have been, if she hadn’t been so cross.

          She heard the scrape, closed her eyes and breathed, then shuffled the car slightly further from the offending wall, squeezed out of the ridiculously narrow gap she’d left herself, slammed the door and headed across the car park.

          Seriously, could today get any worse? Well, his could. If he was still in Reception—

          He was. He was chatting to the receptionist, leaning forward engagingly as he spoke, and that easy charm was obviously working on Katie, which just infuriated her more. His hands were shoved casually into the pockets of immaculately cut trousers that fitted his neat, strong hips to perfection. Of course they did. They wouldn’t dare do anything else.

          She eyed his shoulders, broad and yet not heavy, the legs strong and straight below firm, taut buttocks. He probably worked out in a fancy gym somewhere. You didn’t get a neat, sexy bottom like that by accident.

          She dragged her eyes up to head height.

          ‘You’ve parked in a doctor’s space,’ she said crisply to his back, keeping a lid on her temper with difficulty, and he straightened up and turned towards her, that infuriating smile still on his face.

          ‘Yes, I—’

          ‘I know parking’s tight, but that is just not on. There was another space, so why not park there yourself? Or anywhere else, frankly! Or was that the only space big enough for your ego? Thanks to you I’ve scraped my car, I’m now ten minutes late and I’ve got patients waiting!’

          An eyebrow rose a fraction. Over his shoulder she could see Katie gesturing wildly, but she ignored her and stood her ground, and he shook his head slowly.

          ‘Maybe you need to get up earlier,’ he murmured, and she stifled the urge to growl at him.

          ‘And maybe you need to learn to read!’

          ‘Ellie! Dr Kendal!’ Katie chipped in, getting to her feet and looking even more flustered, and his eyebrow went up a little further, a lazy smile now playing around his aggravatingly beautiful mouth.

          ‘I think we’d better start again,’ he said, holding out his hand, the smile tugging at his lips. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dr Kendal. I’m Nick Cooper. Dr Nick Cooper.’

          The new—and desperately needed—member of their team.

          Brilliant.

          Why didn’t the ground just open up and swallow her?

*

He had to stifle his laugh.

          Her jaw sagged, and for a second she was speechless. Then she shook her head, mumbled what could have been an apology and fled through the staff door as Katie opened it, her face flaming.

          He dropped his hand back to his side, shrugged and smiled at the receptionist who was looking horrified and fascinated all at once.

          ‘So, that’s Dr Kendal,’ he murmured, vaguely intrigued.

          ‘Yes. Ellie. I’m so sorry, she’s normally lovely. I don’t know what’s got into her.’

          He pulled a face and walked through the door into the back of Reception, closing it behind himself. ‘I do. I took the last doctor’s space, and now she’s scraped her car. Oops. If I’d known who she was I would have moved, but I didn’t have a clue.’

          ‘She’s only part time, so if she wasn’t on duty when you came for your interviews you wouldn’t have met her—and she does normally walk. You weren’t to know.’

          He nodded. ‘No. Ah, well. I have no doubt we’ll have time to catch up later.’

          Katie gestured towards the other doorway, still looking flustered. ‘Come in and I’ll introduce you to the admin team, and I’m sure Dr Gallagher will be out in a minute to talk to you. I’ve let her know you’re here.’

          She led the way, and he followed her into the office and scanned it for any sign of his fiery new colleague, but she’d gone.

          Pity. Never mind. He was here all day, there was time, and he could look forward to what was bound to be an interesting conversation…

*

Why had she done that?

          Torn him to pieces without even giving him a chance to speak? And if he’d been a patient, he would have been well within his rights to complain. No, it was even better than that. He was a colleague, her senior, and she’d just hurled abuse at him in their first interaction.

          Marvellous. Just marvellous.

          Not that he’d been exactly polite himself, telling her to get up earlier. She’d been up before half five as it was to do the laundry, and if Maisie hadn’t been a diva and Evie hadn’t needed her nappy changed again and Oscar hadn’t lost one of his shoes and then had a meltdown, she wouldn’t have been late and then none of this would have happened.

          She felt her eyes prickle, and clamped her jaw shut hard, blinking furiously as she closed her consulting room door behind her and leant against it. It could have been worse. There could have been a whole bunch of patients in Reception, so at least she hadn’t had an audience while she’d made a total fool of herself.

          ‘Breathe,’ she said softly, and closed her eyes, sucking in a long, slow breath through her nose and out through her mouth. In…and out… In…and out—

          The quiet tap on the door made her jump, and she leapt away from it and wrenched it open, to find herself face to face with her worst nightmare, no doubt coming to tear her apart in private. Well, it was certainly justified, and he probably hated her already.

          Or maybe not…

          ‘Katie thought you’d want this,’ he said quietly, holding out a mug of tea without a trace of a smile, and she stared at it suspiciously.

          Beware of strangers bearing gifts…

          ‘Why are you bringing me a peace offering? I’m the one who should be apologising—or have you slipped something into it?’

          His mouth twitched. ‘Don’t tempt me,’ he murmured, and gave her a wry smile. ‘It’s not a peace offering. Katie was about to bring it to you, and I suggested I do it. I thought we could do with clearing the air.’

          She took it from him with fingers that weren’t quite steady, then made herself meet his eyes. He held her gaze, his searching, thoughtful, the smile gone now. She was quite glad she didn’t know what he was thinking…

          She felt her shoulders drop in defeat. ‘Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t know who you were, which is no excuse whatsoever, I know that, but—’ She broke off, still mortified and wondering if there was any way she could rescue the situation. ‘I hadn’t realised you were coming in today, I thought you’d be starting on Monday, so I wasn’t expecting you, I didn’t recognise you, and then you took the last reserved space, and as if that wasn’t enough I scraped my car parking by the wall, which was just the icing on the cake—’

          ‘Ellie, breathe! It’s OK. Forget it. You’re right, I am starting on Monday, I’m just having an induction today, learning the ropes a bit, finding my feet before I start. I guess nobody told you. And I’m sorry I took your parking place, but Lucy told me to park there because you usually walk to work. Obviously not today.’

          ‘No. I should have been, I nearly always do, but I got—held up,’ she said, for want of a better way of putting it.

          ‘So it seems. Parking’s tight, isn’t it? Lucy said it’s a regular occurrence with the building work going on.’

          She nodded, sighing with relief because he had every right to be unreasonable about this. ‘It is, but they should be finished soon and the builders’ vans will be gone, and not a moment too soon. Look, I’m sorry, can we do this later? I don’t mean to be rude—again—but I do have patients waiting and I’m already on the drag.’

          ‘Of course. And I’m sorry about the parking—and your car.’

          ‘Don’t be sorry. You had every right to park there, as it turns out, and I massively overreacted. And thank you for the tea. I haven’t had time for one today.’

          His eyes softened at the corners, that flickering smile sending strange little shivers through her body. ‘My pleasure,’ he murmured. ‘We’ll catch up later.’ His lips twitched again. ‘You can teach me to read, and I can teach you to tell the time.’

          She rolled her eyes. He might have forgiven her, but he clearly wasn’t going to let it drop.

          ‘Oh, I can tell the time,’ she told him wryly. ‘I was up at five twenty-seven, for what it’s worth.’

          A silent ah, and he backed out, fingers waggling. ‘Better not hold you up any more, then. I’ll see you later.’

          She nodded, and the door closed softly behind him.

          Shaking her head and wishing she could wind the clock back, she put the tea down, washed her hands and fired up her computer, her mind refusing to let go of that lazy, sexy, fleeting smile.

          Stupid. She was nearly twenty minutes late now, and it would have a knock-on effect on the rest of the day. She didn’t have time to daydream, and particularly not about a man who probably practised his smile in the mirror!

          ‘Get a grip, Ellie,’ she told herself, took a gulp of her tea and pressed the button to call her first patient.

*

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Reunited By Their Secret Daughter, Emily Forbes, March 2020

3MedicalMarch

Her three-year-old secret…

…is about to be revealed!

Between her job with Queen Victoria’s Air Ambulance and raising her three-year-old daughter, midwife Chloe Larson’s too busy to find love. Only maybe love has found her… Xander Jameson—the gorgeous Australian doctor she had a fling with and who disappeared without a trace—has joined her team! The attraction is definitely still there. But first, Chloe must tell Xander he’s a father.

 

 

Excerpt

The barman served Chloe’s gin, placing it on the bar. She couldn’t believe Xander had remembered her favourite drink and the idea that he had pleased her.

Xander picked up her glass and put it in front of her. His leg brushed against hers and the contact made her jump. It was nothing really, his knee just brushed the outside of her thigh but she could feel his body heat and her body responded to his touch.

She took a sip of her drink and tried to ignore the fact that his leg was still resting against hers. Sitting at the bar with Xander felt the same but different. Familiar but strange. Things had changed. At least for Chloe. She was no longer young and carefree. She was a single mother with responsibilities. But the chemistry was still there. She was still drawn to him. She longed to touch him properly, to see if her memories were real.

He was still gorgeous. Still a Norse god. His grey eyes still held a trace of melancholy. She’d always attributed that to his divorce but surely that couldn’t still be the case. He’d been divorced almost five years now. He must have put that behind him?

She forced herself to focus on the present. She couldn’t dwell in the past.

‘How long have you been living in Wales?’ she asked when she recovered her power of speech. She was desperate to know where he’d been and what he’d been doing for the past four years but she couldn’t ask such a direct question.

He frowned, his grey eyes cloudy. ‘I don’t live in Wales.’

‘Oh, I thought Rick said you had come down from Wales to cover Eloise’s sick leave.’

‘I’ve been working in Wales with their air ambulance unit but it wasn’t permanent. It was a six-month rotation. I was glad to get out of there to be honest. I didn’t mind Wales but it wasn’t the smartest move, spending winter there. I should have timed it better.’

‘And what are your plans when you finish with us?’ she asked. She needed to find out where he was going next. Did she need to tell him about Lily if he had no plans to stay in England? Was there any point in disrupting everyone’s lives? She and Lily were fine, they’d been fine for years on their own. They didn’t need Xander and he might not need them.

He might not want them.

He might not want her.

The drink he had bought her could be for old time’s sake. He wasn’t wearing a wedding ring but that didn’t mean he didn’t have a wife or significant other waiting for him somewhere.

‘I haven’t worked it out yet.’

‘Are you travelling with family?’ she asked as the barman cleared the remnants of Xander’s dinner away.

‘No. It would seem we’re both still single. What are the chances?’

‘Coincidence?’ She said with a smile.

‘I don’t believe in coincidences.’

‘Me either.’

He was holding her gaze and she was lost. She couldn’t think. She could only feel.

He reached for her and the clocks stopped.

He tucked a stray curl behind her ear and Chloe’s knees trembled. ‘It’s been a long time,’ he said as she held her breath. ‘It’s good to see you. Did I mention I’m staying just around the corner?’

The invitation was unspoken but there was no mistaking it. But she couldn’t accept. She had to get home. To her daughter. Their daughter.

‘You did.’

‘Would you like to come back for a coffee?’

Chloe smiled. ‘You know I don’t drink coffee at night.’ She wondered if he remembered that too.

‘I do.’

Her smile got wider. ‘Will you take a raincheck? I’m on an early tomorrow.’

He nodded as she slid off the barstool and picked up her coat. She needed to get out of there while she still could. Before she made a hasty, hormonal decision that she would more than likely regret when her head overtook her heart again.

‘I’ll walk you out to a cab.’

‘It’s ok, I’m taking the Tube.’

Xander shook his head. ‘No, it’s late. That doesn’t sound safe.’

‘I do it all the time after work.’

‘Really?’

She nodded as he held the door for her.

She stopped on the footpath, reluctant to walk away but knowing she had to go. A cab pulled up on the street beside them.

‘Please, let me pay for a cab,’ Xander offered. ‘I’ll feel better.’ He reached out and opened the door, ensuring the cabbie couldn’t drive away, but then he took her hand, holding her back before she could step inside.

She turned to him. Instinctively. Her breath caught in her throat as he stroked the palm of her hand with his thumb. She was pinned by the force of his grey eyes. Held immobile by the intensity of his gaze. She couldn’t breathe. The air was thick with tension. Her mouth was dry, her skin warm, her cheeks flushed. Her heart was beating quickly and her stomach was fluttering.

‘Are you sure you have to go?’

She nodded.

He bent his head until his mouth was next to her ear. His breath was warm on her cheek as he repeated her earlier words back to her. ‘Are you sure you don’t want to find out what happens next?’

She knew what was coming and she was powerless to resist. She didn’t want to resist.  She turned her face towards him and whispered. ‘I know what happens next.’ And then his lips were on hers. Warm, soft. Then harder.

She parted her lips and tasted him. He tasted familiar. He tasted sweet.

Her body remembered his touch. Her skin remembered the softness of his mouth. Her tongue remembered his taste.

The years fell away as the memory of him returned.

Xander’s fingers were on her face, on her bare arms, her skin was on fire and she melted against him as her body responded to his touch. She was aware of nothing else except the sensation of being fully alive. She wanted for nothing except Xander.

One hand was pressed to her spine, holding her close and she could feel the heat of his palm through the thin fabric of her shirt. She felt her nipples harden as she pressed herself against his chest instead as she kissed him back. All her senses came to life and a line of fire spread from her stomach to her groin. She deepened the kiss, wanting to lose herself in Xander.

‘Do you want the cab or not?’

She jumped as the cab driver’s voice interrupted their moment. Her eyes flew open as Xander straightened up. He was studying her face as if committing each of her features to memory.

He smiled as his fingers trailed down the side of her cheek sending a shiver of desire through her. Her heart was racing in her chest and her breaths were shallow.

‘Are you sure you don’t want to come back to my apartment?’

She hesitated. The kiss was wonderful. Magical. She felt as if time had stood still and brought her back to Xander, back into his arms but she couldn’t stay with him.  She had responsibilities.

‘I can’t,’ she said as she stepped back, breaking their connection. ‘You promised me a rain check, remember?’

She waited for him to agree before she made herself get into the taxi. Made herself leave him.

He closed the door and blew her a kiss.

Chloe gave the driver her address but scarcely recalled getting home. Her world suddenly felt full of possibility but she needed to be sensible. She needed to be careful not to get carried away.

Last time she got carried away she’d wound up pregnant.

***

3MedicalMarch

 

Reunited by Their Secret Daughter is available hereMills&BoonAusMills&BoonUK and Harlequin USA

Read a review here https://harlequinjunkie.com/review-reunited-by-their-secret-daughter-by-emily-forbes/

 

London Hospital Midwives quartet

Book 1 — Cinderella and the Surgeon by Scarlet Wilson
Book 2 — Miracle Baby for the Midwife by Tina Beckett
Book 3 — Reunited by Their Secret Daughter by Emily Forbes
Book 4 — A Fling to Steal Her Heart by Sue MacKay

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

Taming Her Hollywood Playboy, Emily Forbes, December 2019

Taming Her Hollywood Playboy, Emily Forbes, Dec 2019

My new book in time for Christmas 🙂 A taste of the Australian outback in Coober Pedy, South Australia where my hero, Hollywood actor, Oliver Harding has been sent in order to keep him out of trouble. Needless to say – it doesn’t work!

I have some photos of Coober Pedy taken on my recent visit/ research trip on my facebook page if you would like to see more.

Book available here  and Mills&BoonAus plus Mills&BoonUK and Harlequin USA have Black Friday sales (use code BLACKFRIDAY19 at checkout).

 

CHAPTER ONE

Oliver massaged the lump on the side of his head. He’d taken a couple of paracetamol for the dull headache but fortunately he’d escaped serious injury yesterday. The bump on his head and some slight bruising on his shoulder were minor complaints and he had no intention of mentioning those aches and pains. The ATV had taken a battering but could be fixed. The repairs meant a change in the filming schedule but nothing that couldn’t be accommodated. A serious injury to him would have been far more disruptive.

Despite his luck, however, the incident had made George, the director, wary and Oliver had agreed to hand over some of the stunts to the professionals. The movie couldn’t afford for anything to happen to its star and he didn’t want to get a reputation as a difficult actor. George had been good to Oliver; he’d worked with him before and he’d been happy to give him another role when other directors had been reluctant, but Oliver knew that being argumentative, disruptive or inflexible wasn’t a great way to advance a career. He wasn’t stupid, he knew actors were a dime a dozen. He wasn’t irreplaceable. No one was. A reputation as a ladies’ man was one thing; a reputation as being problematic on set was another thing entirely.

He stretched his neck from side to side as he tried to rid himself of the headache that plagued him. The schedule change caused by his accident meant he wasn’t required for filming this morning, but now he was bored. He wandered around the site, knowing that the heat was probably compounding his headache but too restless to stay indoors.

A whole community had been established temporarily in the middle of the desert just for the movie. Transportable huts were set up as the production centre, the canteen, the first-aid centre, lounge areas for the cast and crew, and Oliver, George and the lead actress all had their own motorhome to retreat to. Marquees surrounded the vehicles and more huts provided additional, and much needed, shade. The site was twenty miles out of the remote Australian outback town of Coober Pedy, which itself was over three thousand miles from the next major town or, as the Australians said, almost five hundred kilometres. No matter which way you said it, there was no denying that Coober Pedy was a mighty long way from anywhere else.

He’d been completely unprepared for the strangeness of this remote desert town. He’d imagined a flat, barren landscape but the town had sprung up in an area that was far hillier than he’d expected. The main street was tarred and lined with single-level shops and a few taller buildings, including his hotel, with the houses spreading out from the centre of town and into the hills. Along with regular houses there were also hundreds of dwellings dug into the hillsides. He’d heard that people lived underground to escape the merciless heat but he hadn’t thought about what that meant in terms of the town’s appearance; in effect, it made the town look far more sparsely populated than it actually was.

He knew he should hole up in his trailer and stay out of the heat but he wanted company.

Generators chugged away in the background, providing power for the film set, providing air-conditioning, refrigeration and technology. He was used to having a shower in his trailer but because of water restrictions apparently that was a no-go out here in the Australian desert.

If he moved far enough away from the generators he knew he would hear absolute silence. It should be peaceful, quiet, restful even, and he could understand how some people would find the solitude and the silence soul-restoring, relaxing, but it made him uneasy. He needed more stimulation. He wanted crowds, he wanted noise, he didn’t want a chance to be introspective. He was an extrovert, a performer, and as an extrovert he wanted company. He needed company to energise him and as a performer he needed an audience.

He wasn’t required on set but he decided he’d go and watch the filming anyway. It would kill some time and give him someone to talk to.

He slipped his sunglasses on as he stepped into the heat. Rounding the corner of his trailer, he heard an engine and noticed a dust cloud billowing into the air. He stood in the shade at the corner of his trailer and watched as a car pulled to a stop beside the mess hut. It was an old four-by-four, its brown paintwork covered in red dust, like everything else out here. A haze rose from the bonnet of the car, bringing to mind the story about it being hot enough in Australia to fry an egg in the sun. He believed it.

The car door opened and he waited, his natural curiosity getting the better of him, to see who climbed out.

A woman.

That was unexpected.

She stood and straightened. She was tall, slender, lithe. Her hair was thick and dark and fell just past her shoulders. He watched as she scraped it off her neck and tied it into a loose ponytail, in deference to the heat, he presumed. Her neck was long and swan-like, her limbs long and tanned.

She was stunning and the complete antithesis of what he’d expected, judging from the car she was driving. She reminded him of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.

He blinked, making sure it wasn’t the after-effects of the bump to his head causing his imagination to play tricks on him.

She was still there.

She wore a navy and white summer dress, which must have been lined to mid-thigh, but from there down, with the morning sun behind her, the white sections were completely see-through. He wondered if she knew but he didn’t care—her legs were incredible. Magnificent.

Oliver was literally in the middle of nowhere with absolutely nothing of interest to look at. Until now. The middle of nowhere had just become a far more attractive proposition.

He watched as she walked towards him. Graceful. Ethereal. Sunglasses protected her eyes but her skin was flawless and her lips were full and painted with bright red lipstick. The shade was striking against her olive skin and raven hair.

He’d seen plenty of beautiful woman in his thirty-two years, he was surrounded by them on a daily basis, but he didn’t think he’d ever seen a woman as naturally beautiful. The ones he worked with had all had some help—a scalpel here, an injection there—and he’d swear on his father’s grave, something he hoped he would be able to do sooner rather than later, that she hadn’t had any assistance.

He watched, not moving a muscle, scared that any movement might startle her, might make her shimmer and disappear, mirage-like, into the desert.

Maybe his headache was affecting his thought processes; maybe he’d been out in the sun for too long, or simply in the outback for too long. Other than the cast and crew he’d barely seen another person for days. The hot, dusty streets of Coober Pedy were, for the most part, empty. The locals hunkered down in their underground dwellings to escape the heat, venturing out only briefly and if absolutely necessary, scampering from one building to the subterranean comfort of the next. But perhaps many of the locals looked like this. Perhaps that was the attraction in this desolate, baked and barren desert town.

She had stopped walking as her gaze scanned the buildings, looking for something or someone. Looking lost. His curiosity was piqued. His attention captured.

Her gaze landed on him and she took another step forward. Belatedly he stepped out of the shadows and walked towards her; he’d been so transfixed he’d forgotten to move, forgotten his manners, but he wanted to be the first to offer her assistance.

‘Hello, I’m Oliver; may I help you?’

She stopped and waited as he approached her.

‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘I’m looking for George Murray.’ Her voice was deep and slightly breathless, without the broad Australian accent that he’d heard so many of the crew speak with. She glanced down at her watch and his eyes followed. Her watch had a large face, with the numbers clearly marked and an obvious hand counting off the seconds. Her fingers were delicate by comparison, long and slender, with short nails lacquered with clear varnish. He was trained to be observant, to watch people’s mannerisms, to listen to their voices, but even so he was aware that he was soaking up everything about this woman. From the colour of her lips and the shine of her hair, to the smooth lustre of her skin and the inflection of her speech. He wanted to be able to picture her perfectly later. She lifted her head. ‘I have an interview with him at eleven.’

‘A job interview?’

She nodded. ‘Of sorts.’

‘Are you going to be working on the film? Are you an extra?’

‘No.’

‘Catering? Publicity?’

‘No and no.’ Her mouth turned up at one corner and he got a glimpse of perfect, even white teeth bordered by those red lips.

He grinned. ‘You’re not going to tell me?’

Her smile widened and he knew she was enjoying the repartee. ‘No, I don’t think I am.’

Two could play at that game. ‘All right, then,’ he shrugged, feigning disinterest, ‘George is out on set but he shouldn’t be long. Filming started early today to try to beat the heat, so they’ll be breaking for lunch soon. Let me show you to his trailer.’ He’d take her to where she needed to go but he wouldn’t leave her.

He bounced lightly up the two steps that led to George’s office and pushed open the heavy metal door. He flicked on the lights and held the door for her. She brushed past him and her breasts lightly grazed his arm but she showed no sign that she’d noticed the contact. She stopped just inside the door and removed her sunglasses, and he caught a trace of her scent—fresh, light and fruity.

He watched as she surveyed the interior. An enormous television screen dominated the wall opposite the desk, which was covered in papers. A laptop sat open amongst the mess. A large fridge with a glass door was tucked into a corner to the left, and a couch was pressed against the opposite wall with two armchairs at right angles to it and a small coffee table in between.

He wondered if this was what she’d expected to see.

‘Have a seat,’ he invited as he waved an arm towards the chairs. She sat but avoided the couch.

‘Can I get you something to drink?’

She nodded and the light bounced off her hair, making it look like silk. ‘A water would be lovely, thank you.’

He grabbed a glass and two bottles of mineral water from the fridge. He twisted the tops off and passed her the glass and a bottle.

‘I’ll be fine waiting here,’ she said as she took the drink from him. ‘You must have something you need to do?’

He shook his head as he sat on the couch. He leant back and rested one foot on his other knee, relaxed, comfortable, approachable, conveying candidness. ‘I’m not busy. The scene they’re filming doesn’t involve me.’

‘You’re an actor?’

He looked carefully at her to gauge if she was joking but her expression was serious. Her mouth looked serious, her red lips full but not moving. But was there a hint of humour in her dark eyes? He couldn’t read her yet. Perhaps she was an anomaly, someone who didn’t immediately recognise him, or maybe he just wasn’t famous out here in the middle of nowhere.

Should he tell her who he was?

No. That could wait. She still hadn’t told him what she was doing here. She’d said she wasn’t publicity but she could be a journalist. He didn’t need more reporters telling stories about him. But if that was the case, surely she would recognise him.

Unless she was a better actor than he was, he was certain she wasn’t a reporter.

He settled for vague. ‘I am,’ he said as the door opened again and George entered the trailer.

‘Kat! Welcome.’ He was beaming. Oliver was surprised; George never looked this pleased to see anyone. George was a little rotund, always in a hurry, and seemed to have a permanent scowl creasing his forehead. Seeing him so delighted to see another person was somewhat disconcerting.

He crossed the room as the woman stood. Kat or Kate, Oliver thought George had said, but he wasn’t quite sure. Oliver stood too; manners that had been instilled in him, growing up as the son of a strict military man, remained automatic.

George greeted her with a kiss and Oliver was more intrigued. There was obviously some history here that he wasn’t privy to. Who was she?

‘I see you’ve met our star, Oliver Harding.’

‘Not formally.’ She turned to him and extended her hand. ‘I’m Katarina Angelis, but call me Kat.’ Her handshake was firm but it was the softness of her skin and the laughter in her eyes that caught Oliver off guard. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you.’

He realised she’d known exactly who he was. Which put him at a disadvantage. He still knew nothing about her. But he did know her name seemed to suit her perfectly. He was sure Katarina meant ‘pure’, and Angelis had to mean ‘heavenly’.

‘The pleasure is all mine,’ he said.

George cleared his throat and Oliver realised he hadn’t let go of Kat’s hand. He also realised he didn’t want to. Beautiful women were everywhere in his world, but there was something more to Kat. Something intriguing. Something different.

Her skin was soft and cool. Flawless. She looked like a desert rose, a surprising beauty in the harshness of the outback, and he found himself transfixed by her scarlet mouth. Her lips brought to mind ripe summer cherries, dark red and juicy. He wondered how they’d taste.

‘If I might give you some advice, my dear,’ George said to Kat as Oliver finally let her hand drop, ‘you should stay away from Oliver.’

‘Hey!’ he protested.

‘You don’t have to worry about me, George,’ Kat replied, ‘I can handle myself.’

George shook his head. ‘You’ve never met anyone like Oliver.’

Kat was looking at him now. Studying him, as if sizing him up and comparing him to George’s assessment. Oliver smiled and shrugged and spread his hands wide, proclaiming his innocence. He had to take it on the chin; he couldn’t remonstrate with George in front of Kat—it would be better to laugh it off. He couldn’t afford to show how she’d affected him. It was safer to return to his usual persona of charm and confidence, of not taking himself or anyone too seriously. She had floored him and he needed to gather his wits and work out what to do about it. About her. But, for now, he’d play along. ‘George is right, Kat, I’m the man your father warned you about.’

She laughed. ‘Don’t go thinking that makes you special. My father is always warning me about men.’

He cocked his head and quirked one eyebrow. This was even better. He had never been one to back away from a challenge.

‘Don’t make me regret hiring you.’ George eyeballed them both. ‘Either of you.’

Oliver laughed; he was used to being told off, but he was surprised to see that Kat was blushing. She looked even more delightful now.

‘I mean it, Oliver— don’t mess with Kat.’ George looked him straight in the eye. ‘There aren’t too many places left for you to run to and if you hurt her you’ll want to start running, believe me.’

So now they were both going to put a challenge to him. Of course, that only served to entice him even more. George could warn him all he liked but Oliver had never been one to steer clear of a challenge. But he knew he had to tread carefully. He couldn’t afford any more scandals.

‘Go and find something to do,’ George told him. ‘I need to talk to Kat.’

Oliver left but he knew it wouldn’t be the last he saw of Kat Angelis. He was glad now that she hadn’t admitted that she recognised him, that she hadn’t said his reputation preceded him. Perhaps she’d have no preconceived ideas about him and he could try to impress her without any rumours or innuendo getting in the way.

He was still none the wiser as to her actual reason for being on set but, if George was hiring her, he’d make sure their paths crossed again. If he was going to be stuck in this town for the next few weeks he might as well have some fun. He knew it was his choice, almost, to be here—George had made him an offer that his publicist thought was too good to refuse—and timing was everything. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy himself. He wouldn’t misbehave, but even if he did he doubted anyone would ever hear about what went on out here. Coober Pedy and the Australian outback seemed to exist in its own little time capsule. It really was a whole other world.

 

 

 

Kat watched on as George shooed Oliver out of his office. Of course she’d recognised him—Oliver Harding was a star of multiple Hollywood blockbusters. He had been the lead actor in several recent box office hits and he played action heroes just as well as he carried romantic leads. He was in the news regularly, if not for his movies then for his off-screen exploits with his leading ladies or other Hollywood ‘It’ girls. Kat may be a small-town girl, living out in the desert in the middle of nowhere, but she had television, magazines, the internet and the local drive-in movie theatre, which showed new movies every Saturday night. Oliver Harding was famous and she would have to be living under a rock not to know who he was. The thought made her smile. She did actually live underground, like so many of the local residents, but that didn’t mean she didn’t know what went on in the rest of the world. Oliver Harding appeared in a new movie every six months, and with a new woman far more frequently. Having met him now, she could understand why. He was handsome on the silver screen but incredibly gorgeous in real life. He had charm, charisma and a twinkle in his bright blue eyes that had made her lose her train of thought on more than one occasion already.

‘I’m serious, Kat,’ George cautioned her again. Had he mistaken her smile to mean she wasn’t paying attention to his warning? ‘I’ve seen that look in his eye before. You really don’t want him to set his sights on you. Stronger women than you have fallen for his charms. He loves the thrill of the chase and he hates to let a pretty girl go unappreciated, but he has a tendency to leave a trail of broken hearts behind him.’

He had a cheeky appeal and amazing eyes and his smile made her stomach tumble, but Kat wasn’t about to succumb to his charm. She’d met charming men before and didn’t intend to be another notch on his bedpost. And she hadn’t been kidding when she’d said she knew how to handle herself. There was no denying Oliver Harding was gorgeous and charming but she was not the type to fall for charming and handsome. Well, that wasn’t technically true but she wasn’t the type to have flings with famous men who were just visiting. That was something irresponsible people did. Spontaneous people. And she’d learnt not to be either of those.

‘Don’t worry about me, George. I really can handle myself. Now, why don’t you explain more about what you need from me?’

She listened as George ran through his ideas. When he finished they made arrangements going forwards before Kat took her copy of the filming schedule and stepped out of the trailer and found Oliver waiting for her.

‘Now are you going to tell me what you’re doing here?’ he asked as he fell into step beside her. His voice was deep and pleasant, his accent neutral. She’d expected more of an American flavour. Had he been taught to tone it down?

‘I live here.’

‘Really? Here?’

She could hear the unspoken question, the one every visitor asked until they got to know Coober Pedy. Why?

She never knew where to start. How did one begin to explain the beauty, the peace, the wildness, the attraction? She loved it here. That didn’t mean she never entertained the idea of travelling the world and seeing other places, but this was home. This was where her family lived. And family was everything.

She had no idea how to explain all of that, so she simply said, ‘Yes, really.’

‘And why do you have a copy of the filming schedule?’

She stopped walking and turned to look at him. She had to look up. She wasn’t short—she was five feet nine inches tall—but still he was several inches taller. ‘Are you always this nosy?’

‘Yes.’ He was smiling.

‘I’m going to be working on the film,’ she said, hoping to surprise him.

‘Doing what?’

‘Keeping you out of trouble,’ she said as she continued towards her car.

‘Trouble is my middle name,’ he laughed.

She didn’t doubt that. She’d only known him for a few minutes and regardless of George’s warning she already had the sense that he was trouble. But she couldn’t help smiling as she said, ‘So I hear.’

Kat reached her car and stretched her hand out to open the door, which she hadn’t bothered locking, but Oliver was faster than she was. He rested his hand on the door frame, preventing her from opening it.

‘And just how exactly do you plan to keep me out of trouble?’ His voice was deep and sexy, perfect for a leading man.

She turned to face him. He was standing close. Her eyes were level with his chest. He was solid—muscular without being beefy, gym-toned. He didn’t look as if he’d done a hard day’s work in his life, and he probably hadn’t, but that didn’t stop him from being handsome. With his chiselled good looks, he could have come straight from the pages of a men’s fashion magazine.

He smelt good. He looked even better.

His blue eyes were piercing, his square jaw clean-shaven. His thick brown hair was cut in a short back and sides, slightly longer on top, like a military-style haircut that had been on holiday for a couple of weeks. She wondered if it was to fit the movie script or if it was how he chose to cut his hair. It suited him. It emphasised his bone structure.

‘I’m your insurance policy,’ she said.

He frowned and raised one eyebrow. She wondered if that came naturally or if he’d cultivated that move. Was it possible to learn how to do that?

‘I’m a paramedic,’ she continued. ‘I’m going to be on set for the stunt work. Just in case.’

She’d expected him to object but he took it in his stride.

‘Good,’ he said simply before he grinned widely. ‘I’ll be seeing plenty of you, then.’

He was so confident, so comfortable. She wondered if he’d ever been told he couldn’t do something. She imagined that if he had he would have chosen to ignore the instruction.

His arm was still outstretched, passing beside her head as he leant against her car. ‘So, Kat, tell me your story.’

‘Why do you want to know?’

She was caught between his chest and the car. She could step out, away from the boundaries he’d imposed, but she didn’t want to. She didn’t feel threatened. He was smiling at her. He looked genuine, friendly, but she needed to remember he was an actor. He was probably trained to smile in a hundred different ways. She remembered George’s warning but she chose to ignore it. Just for a moment. She wanted to see what would happen next. She felt as if she was in a movie moment of her own.

His smile widened, showcasing teeth that were white, even and perfect. His blue eyes sparkled. ‘Because I want to make sure I’m not overstepping any lines when I ask you out.’

He looked like a man who was used to getting his own way and she didn’t doubt that; with women, at least, he probably did. But she did doubt that she was the type of woman he was used to meeting. ‘And what makes you think I’d go out with you?’

‘I didn’t say you would, I’m just letting you know I will ask you to. The choice is completely yours.’

‘What did you have in mind?’ She shouldn’t ask but she wanted to know. She should heed George’s warning and get in her car and drive away but it had been a long time since she’d been asked on a date and she was interested to hear his thoughts. She was interested full stop.

He smiled. ‘I don’t know yet but I’ll think of something.’

There weren’t a lot of options in Coober Pedy and Oliver, not being a local, would know even fewer.

Kat couldn’t remember the last time someone had flirted with her or the last time she’d met anyone she wanted to flirt with. She couldn’t deny she was flattered by the attention. She’d need to be careful. She’d been hurt before; a monumental break-up had left her questioning her own judgement and she’d avoided getting romantically involved ever since. She wanted her own happily-ever-after but she’d been scared to go out to find it. She’d focused instead on her career and her family and it had been a while since she’d even thought about going on a date. George’s warning repeated in her head again but she had no idea if she was going to be able to heed it.

The touch of Oliver’s hand had set her pulse racing and the look in his eye had made her wish, just momentarily, that she was the sort of girl who would take a risk, take a chance.

But that wasn’t her. She’d learnt that taking risks was asking for trouble, and Oliver Harding had trouble written all over him.

 

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Pups that Make Miracles – Book 2

It’s my turn today, to introduce you to the second book in the Pups that make Miracles quartet.  I’m thrilled to be book-buddies with Susan Carlisle this month (our books are both out today!), and next month we’ll be having excerpts from Annie O’Neil and Karin Baine’s books.

This excerpt from Festive Fling with the Single Dad  introduces Flora and Aksel, along with another very important character.  Dougal is a puppy, rescued by Susan’s heroine and his story runs through all four of the books.  I don’t think I’m giving away too much to mention that Dougal will be finding his forever home in the final book of the series!

Chapter One

x500_277403d2-0c69-4134-b65a-8e71cb79fbd9_540x.jpgUp close, he looked even more…

More outdoorsy. Taller and blonder and… Just more. A two-day beard covered a square jaw, and his mane of shoulder-length hair was tied at the nape of his neck. His casual shirt and worn jeans gave the impression of an off-duty Norse god, and Flora McNeith resisted the temptation to curtsey. It was slightly over the top as a greeting for a new neighbour.

‘Hi. I’m Flora. From next door.’ She gestured towards her own cottage, tugging at Dougal’s lead in a fruitless attempt to get him to sit down for just one moment. ‘Welcome to the village.’

He looked a little taken aback when she thrust the food box, containing half a dozen home-made mince pies into his hands. It might be more than three weeks until Christmas, but the lights of the Christmas tree in the village had already been turned on, and in Flora’s book any time after September was a good time for mince pies.

‘That’s very kind.’ His voice was very deep, the kind of tone that befitted the very impressive chest that it came from. And it appeared that whatever kind of deity Aksel Olson was, language and communication weren’t part of his remit. He was regarding her silently.

‘I work at the Heatherglen Castle Clinic. I hear that your daughter, Mette, is a patient there.’ Maybe if she explained herself a little more, she might get a reaction.

Something flickered in his eyes at the mention of his daughter. Reflective and sparkling, like sunshine over a sheet of ice.

‘Are you going to be part of Mette’s therapy team?’

Right. That put Flora in her place. Apparently that was the only thing that interested Aksel about her.

‘No, I’m a physiotherapist. I gather that your daughter is partially sighted…’ Flora bit her tongue. That sounded as if everyone was gossiping about him, which was half-true. The whisper that Mette’s father was single had gone around like wildfire amongst the female staff at the clinic. Now that Flora had met Aksel, she understood what the excitement was all about.

‘You read the memo, then?’ Something like humour flashed in his eyes, and Flora breathed a small sigh of relief. Lyle Sinclair must have told him about the memo.

‘Yes. I did.’ Every time a new patient was admitted a memo went round, introducing the newest member of the clinic’s community and asking every member of staff to welcome them. It was just one of the little things that made the clinic very special.

‘Would you like to come in for coffee?’ Suddenly he stood back from the door.

‘Oh!’ Aksel’s taciturn manner somehow made the words he did say seem more sincere. ‘I shouldn’t… Dougal and I are just getting used to each other and I haven’t dared take him anywhere for coffee yet. I’m afraid he’ll get over-excited and do some damage.’

Aksel squatted down on his heels, in front of the ten-week-old brindle puppy, his face impassive.

‘Hi, there, Dougal.’

Dougal was nosing around the porch, his tail wagging ferociously. At the sound of his name he looked up at Aksel, his odd ears twitching to attention. He circled the porch, to show off his new red fleece dog coat, and Flora stepped over the trailing lead, trying not to get snagged in it. Then Dougal trotted up to Aksel, nosing at his outstretched hand, and decided almost immediately he’d found a new best buddy. Finally, Aksel smiled, stroking the puppy’s head.

‘I’m sure we’ll manage. Why don’t you come in?’

Two whole sentences. And the sudden warmth in his eyes was very hard to resist.

‘In that case… Thank you.’ Flora stepped into the hallway and Dougal tugged on his lead in delight.